The Wingfield Family Society’s Manorial Title is Authentic!

by Jocelyn Wingfield, & Bob Carr

Of the many English manorial lord­ships – including Wighefelda/Wineberga [Suffolk] – recorded in the Domesday Book (1086), and despite mergers and additions, at least 25,000 remain today. Of the four mediaeval Wingfield (Suffolk) lordships, it is possible that fewer than four remain – but we do know that as late as 1859 that Wingfield Old Hall Manor and Wingfield Frumbalds Manor, both then held by Lord Bemers, were still separate. This must have been Henry W. Wilson, the 3rd Lord Bemers who sold Wingfield Castle in 1856. [Aldwell, Wingfield, Its Church, Castle & College, WFS, 1994, p.118].

Regardless of this, since 1989-90 one Wingfield Manor has been “held jointly by four WFS Directors, but vested in the President of the WFS”­. There used to be twelve Wingfield and one Winkfield lordship in England in Tudor times [see Newsletter of Spring 1995, p.11]. One former Wingfield-owned Manor, Laxfield near Wingfield, recently was owned by a Pension Fund.

The word manor in Domesday de­noted (1) a single administrative unit of landed estate, with or without the lord’s residence (or one of them), or (2) a substantial farmhouse. From the 15th century manor also acquired an exten­sion of the first meaning, coming to de­note a substantial piece of land with living on it tenants over whom the Lord of the Manor held jurisdiction – that is to say he could hold a Court Baron.

An English manorial lordship, probably costing now between $10,000 and $50,000 or even $160,000 is often held today as an investment, as is a Scottish barony – which means the same as the English word manor and costs between $16,000 and $800,000. With English lordships the holder remains for example just plain John Brown (Mr. John Brown or John Brown, Esquire – which ­ever the holder prefers), followed by the territorial lordship title.

As the Lord you can put “Lord of the Manor of –” on your passport, writing paper and checks, and maybe use it for reserving tables in restaurants that claim to be full; but you don’t get a seat in the House of Lords or a coat of arms and no one will be touching their forelock to you on the manor – as that actual land or most of it, unless you have purchased land as well as the lord­ship – belongs to someone else.

We say “most of it” as with a very few manors, it has been discovered from ancient records by astute new Lords of the Manor that they have rights to gather acorns, hold fairs [Beaconsfield, also Stowe] or graze swine; or have a reduced electricity bill if you actually live on the manor land, or (as in the case of the Lord of Liston (Essex), “the ancient right to serve wafers at the monarch’s coronation banquet”. One Kings Lynn manor Lord of the Manor is paid 24 cents a year Brewing Rights by the local brewery. If Common land was ever enclosed, sporting rights were some­times reserved to the Lord of the Manor.

One or two manorial lords even dis­covered they held rights to mineral exca­vation royalties, and one made annually 80 cents a ton on 50,000 tons of gravel excavated. The new Lord of the Manor of Lynford claimed $288,000 on trees felled on “his” 980-acre manor.

With Scottish baronies all sorts of possibilities open up. With some, such as the Barony of Airlie, you can call yourself Earl of Airlie. With the Barony of Chirnside, the holder is permitted to style himself “Much Honored Baron” and his wife “Baroness of Chirnside”. But none of these baronies entitle the holder to a seat in the House of Lords.

The Lordship of Wingfield (the manor “includes” Wingfield Castle and is indeed sometimes [Copinger, IV, 1905-1911, p.108] called The Manor of Wingfield Castle), featured on November 8, 1989, as Lot #2 of in a Sale of 32 Lordships and Baronies by the reputable Surveyors, Estate Agents & Valuers, Bemard Thorpe of 19-24 St. George Street, London W1A 2AR [Fax: 0171 49 1776 6] in the Fanmakers’ Hall, St. Botolph’s Without, EC2, in the City of London. [A very fitting venue since this was the very site of the christening on July 19, 1591, of Robert Wingfield, son of Sir John Wingfield of Eresby, Lincs & his wife, Susan Wingfield, Countess of Kent (she retained her title from her first marriage). The godparents were the great Earl of Essex, the formi­dable Earl of Ormonde and the unfortu­nate Lady Fitzwalter. [WM, p.53 q. in Virginia’s True Founder, pp.87,109)1.

For the WFS, Jocelyn Wingfield at­tended the auction, authorized to bid up to $8,000 for the Lordship of Wingfield. The opening bid for Lot #2 was $9,500 and so Jocelyn was astounded when the auctioneer finally received a successful telephone bid from a mysterious “Mr. Wingfield of the USA”. It was Vance Wingfield, the current WFS vice-presi­dent, from Fort Worth, Texas! After taking the risk of having to pay the full sum himself, Vance was successful in raising by the 30-day deadline with one day to spare the full sum required – by voluntary contributions from just under 100 Wingfields and their kin world-wide (a few of them not even WFS members). Vance was the first WFS Lord, transfer­ring the title next to Wilsie Wingfield Carr, the then President. It went next to her successor as WFS President, Bob Wingfield of now of Buffalo Grove, IL.

The Wingfield Manor Schedule reads:

“The Lordship of the Manor of Wingfield Suffolk (as is described in a Vesting Deed dated 20th March 1946 and made between Sir Robert Shafto Adair (1) Alan Henry Shafto Adair (2) Charles Richard Britten and Samuel Patrick Laurence Aveling Lithgow (3) Edmund Apsley Treherne and Evelyn Ronald Moncrieff Fryer (4)), was con­veyed for £8,000 [$12,800 today] to Vance G. Wingfield by Michael Anthony Hayes of Macfarlanes, Solicitors, 10 Norwich Street London EC4A 1BD and Sir Jeffrey Darell of Denton Lodge Harleston Norfolk [signed and sealed, 8th December 1989] in the presence of Paul Lennard, architect, of Raydon Cot­tage, Orford and of G. Ritchie, steward, of 86 Low Road, Wortwell, Norfolk.”

The Conveyance of the Lordship of the Manor of Wingfield to Four Trustees in Perpetuity: the president, vice-presi­dent, treasurer and historian director (one of the four to be England-based in accordance with manorial custom) with the WFS President being the Primus inter Pares [first among equals] i.e. entitled to bear the manorial title, was conveyed for £287:50 [now $460:00] by G. Andrew Crouch, a partner of the reputable Lon­don city firm of solicitors Bower Cotton & Bower, of 36 Whitefriars Street, London EC48BH. [Tel: 0171-3533040, ref:17/ 520352, p.803.WP/CD]. On change of President of the WFS, the title of Lord (or Lady) of the Manor of Wingfield is for­mally documented (and includes the names of the other three trustees by appointment) and transferred in plenary session of the Society, with the incoming Lord formally guaranteeing that he/she will not sell the Lordship.

Manorial Lordship, this very special possession (and invest­ment), and would like to salute the follow­ing in particular for their very special contributions: Dale & Ray Ruf, the late  Herschel Wingfield, Jr., Vance Wingfield himself, Linnie Mills, Mary Wingfield of Worthing (former part-owner of the WFS’ Bobby Wingfield scroll), and Robert M. Wingfield of Burlington, Ontario. We feel sure that Herschel, who enjoyed the manorial Courts Baron so much and who was our first Reeve of Wingfield Manor, would particularly like to be remembered in this connection.

[The definitive books on Manors are: The Evolution of the English Manorial System by J.W. Molyneux-Child, Book Guild, Lewes, ISBN 0 86332 258 1; & H.S. Bennett, Life on the English Manor, Cam­bridge, UK, reprinted 2-yearly in USA].

What does a manorial title mean

Many members have been curious as to exactly what an English manorial title means, how they developed from medieval times and the extent of authority and responsibil­ity that remains today.

It was customary for a victorious king to grant vast land allotments to his generals who in turn subdivided it further into smaller parcels to the less important officers and the most deserving of the rank and file soldiers. These land allotments were called “feoda”, fiefs or fees, which indicates property held under certain conditions, one being that the possessor should serve faithfully, both in peace and wartime, to the person who allotted them the land or suffer forfeiture. Thus the relationship began between bene­factor and beneficiary, the lord and tenant and introduced a system of military
subordination, in such a way that every individual was already enlisted and in a stage of readiness to muster for the defense of his own property, and that of his lord and king which constituted the original feudal sys­tem.

In the eleventh century, the clergy divided the people into three classes; the oratores, bellatores and laboratores, or those who protected the society with their prayers, with their weapons and all others who tilled the land to support the first two groups.

The manorial system was the easiest way to obtain from the peasantry the re­courses necessary to maintain the clergy and warriors. The warriors held land in return for fighting for the king or their lord. The peasants cultivated the land which the wealthy or powerful gave them or allowed them to use. They tilled the fields and transported the produce to the monastery or palace. Some of the men, subject to these obligations, were descended from bonds­men whom their lords had settled on small­holdings, to make them self supporting in food. while still retaining their services. Others although free in law, had surrendered their holdings to a powerful neighbor to receive them back in return for assistance in times of scarcity and for protection from others in times of crisis.

Alarmed European princedoms seeing this system found it necessary for exactly the same reasons to copy it. After the Norman invasion in 1066, William realized he was without grassroots defense other than that provided by his army brought over from Normandy. The Conqueror found this The nobility and principal land holders hence submitted their large and extensive possession to the yoke of military tenure swearing thereafter to hold them for the king as if they were his. This became the fundamental principle of English tenure, that the king was the original proprietor of all the lands in the kingdom.

At the time of the Domesday surveys (1086), many manors had slaves, who worked full time on the land, but chattel slavery soon died out as villeins (men in tenant bondage) evolved. The lords drew the necessary labor thereafter, partly from ten­ants (free and bonded), and in part from a small group of permanently hired men, some trained as ploughmen or shepherds. The permanent farm workers received yearly payments in corn, besides a small money wage. There was usually a manor house or farmstead where some permanent agent such as bailiff, if not the lord himself, lived surrounded by enclosures of meadow and pasture. The freeholders paid their dues to their lord mainly in cash rents. The villein tenements were less secure and heavily burdened. They were held entirely at the lord’s will.

In practice, the status passed from father to son. If a villein tenant was ejected or denied succession by the lord, he had no legal redress. Tenants had to use their own cart and oxen or horses to carry the lord’s crops to home farm or nearby markets. Villeins could not leave the mano­rial boundaries without the lord’s consent. The divergence gave the manorial lord considerably more power over some men than others. Few of the peasantry had protection for unjust treatment by their lords. The lords knew land was unprofitable without men to farm, so this tempered arbitrary unfairness, but it still happened.

The manor, by English law. is defined as an estate in land to which the owner has right to a manor house, to take profits from the land and the obligation to hold certain courts involving the tenants, called courts baron. It might be described as the unit of tenure under the feudal system.

The legal theory of the origin of manors refers to a grant from the crown. Heading the lord’s administration was his appointed steward. Stewards for the large land owners would act for them as their agents for groups of lordships, assisted by one or more deputy stewards. In the smaller manors, the lord himself presided, especially when the work of the court was light.

A manorial court was supposed to be held every other three weeks and in larger manors continued to be held fairly fre­quently until the 15th century when the business was often concentrated into two main sessions the spring and autumn. Although held in the lord’s name by his steward, he was not formally judge and jury. Before the Conquest, English kings allowed the landowners wide legal powers over their peasants, reserving only jurisdiction over serious cases of robbery and violence.

Feudal custom gave any manorial lord the right to try before a court composed of the manorial tenants, disputes arising between them. The peasantry could sue one another in the manorial count for minor cases of debt and contract, trespass and assault. The court could enforce the lord’s rights against those who failed to render their dues to him or had encroached on his property.

The lord provided land to build the church and a parsonage house, perhaps also some funds and building materials. Once built, the church depended upon the manor for its income in the form of tithes. The bishop was content, in return for these benefits, to allow the lord of the manor to nominate the clergy.

People seem to think of manor houses as rather grand dwellings, but many were not beyond the size and status of a large farm­house. Some manor houses were walled, moated and set within an enclosed court. It would seem the Wingfield Castle in Suffolk, walled and moated, was more of a manor house than a defensive fortification. Prior to it’s construction, there was probably a less impressive manor of Wingfield.

The most important people in the 13th century England were the magnates, the great men of thesystem to be the best for resisting and indeed, preventing future invasions from the continent, by being able to provide a continuous state of defense.  kingdom. These included the holders of earldoms and the greater barons who were roughly speaking the wealthier nobility, below the rank of earl, but powerful enough to carry weight as individuals in the politics of the kingdom.

On the ecclesiastical side they included the bishops and the abbots of the greater ab­beys. Below the magnates were the lesser nobility, many of whom were knights, that is to say men who were trained in the art of warfare on horseback, and who had received the ceremonial order of knighthood. Knights would equip themselves with splen­did horses, weapons and armor, far superior to those employed by their rank and field soldiery. Knighthood was not universal among the well to do men, however the title “sir” or “lord” was commonly given to all men of superior wealth or status. Contrary to the suggestion by the title “lord” does not ensure a seat in the House of Lords.

From the 16th century the manorial court gradually declined into a land register­ing and rent collecting organization, al­though it could still, and did in many cases appoint manorial officers. By the early 20th century there were only traces of that seignoral system involving authority and protection on one side, service and respect on the other.

The ownership of the land and title, Lord of the Manor, gradually separated. Although manorial titles still remain, they do not carry ownership of real property.

Today Lordships are often disposed of at auction with extremely keen bidding some going for as much as £15,000 each. The Lord of the Manor of Wingfield title was sold at auction to the Vance Wingfield and fetched £8,000.

In 1086 there were 12,998 manors listed in all of England. Since then perhaps another 25,000 lordships were created with no possibility of the numbers being in­creased.