Lordship Title Law

The law that covers lordships and lordship titles has been created across over 2,000 years. It is complex and has evolved over the years, as the law givers have gained a better understanding of how to deal with this unusual property. As the law has built over time we will add the legal authorities that affected lordships and lordship titles in chronological order. Please do not assume that the last entry here represents current manorial law. 

Current law states that to prove ownership of a lordship requires a set of consecutive deeds dating back to when the lordship was granted by the Crown, normally over 700 years.  At Manorial Counsel Limited we do not pretend to sell you the lordship, we use other legal authorities to just bring the lordship title back into exclusive legal use.

This may not answer every question you may have, so please contact us if you have a other questions.

Lordships Originate from Roman Times (Pre 383AD)

A Roman would be given responsibility for collecting taxes from surrounding smaller properties and adding it to their own taxes. The Roman would be called a signior (or Lord in English).

Saxon England (383 - 1066)

When the Saxons invaded England and the Romans left, the Saxons did not want to have to create their own taxation system, so they kept the Romans’.  They did make some adaptions. All land transactions required the authority of the King and most were recorded in a charter. This was referred to as "bookland". King Athelstan, whom was effectively the first King of all England, made a law that all freemen must have a lord, lords must have an overlord and they in turn had the King as their lord. In certain circumstance a freeman could choose his lord, who did not have to be the local lord. The relationship between the lord and his freemen was mutual, the lord received a service and in return he provided law and protection. 

Under Saxon law any man who had more than 5 hides of land had to serve in the national army.

English Custom Law

Over the centuries the Lord would exercise rights over all of the manorial land eg. Mineral.  Once these rights had been exercised for centuries English Custom law made these rights defendable against all others.

Elements of a Manor/Lordship

A manor/lordship was made up of distinct elements.  The manor was the area of land which was split up into the demesne (the land farmed by the lord), free of tenures land, tenanted land, and common or waste land (available for all to use to graze animals and small pieces of land that joined the farmed pieces of land eg roads).  The rights that had been created into English Custom law became known as the lordship.

Post Conquest England (Post 1066)

William the Conqueror introduced the first mass application of manors/lordships in England. He appointed himself as the superior lord of all land in England.  He kept many manors for himself but divided up the rest of the land for barons and earls to manage. They subenfeuded (created subordinate lordships) manors to lords who would manage the land, residents and provide fighting men at time of war. 


Male heirs 21 and over and female heiresses 14 and over could inherit a lordship/manor.  Under these ages their wardship was owned by the Crown together with their right to marry.  The Crown would sell most of these wardships, as the custodian invariably would misappropriate a large proportion of the income.

Domesday Book (1086)

In 1086 William the Conqueror felt he was not receiving sufficient value for the grants he had made to his barons after the Conquest.  He therefore ordered the compilation of a record of all land holdings as known at the death of Edward the Confessor and at that time.  This became the legal basis upon which William the Conqueror received services from his barons.  This legal record survives today and is one of the most famous pieces of surviving documentation from nearly 1,000 years ago.

Time Immemorial (1189)

3rd September 1189 was the date King Richard the Lionheart was crowned.

One of the most important dates for manorial law. No new customs or customary tenures cannot be created after this date.

To demonstrate ownership of a lordship/manor a consecutive set of deeds is required back to 1189.

Under the legal doctrine of lost modern grant a claimant to a lordship/manor needs to demonstrate that they have enjoyed the lordship/manor for living memory but also that the lordship/manor has existed through the centuries from 1189.

The doctrine of prescription was created to allow users of rights over land to gain a legal right they could enforce/protect. The user needs to demonstrate they have enjoyed the right for at least living memory and the law assumes the right has been enjoyed since 1189. Some claims have been made that this can be used to claim a lordship/manor however the presumption only works if there was a person capable of granting the right. No one apart from by Act of Parliament has been capable of granting a lordship since the 16th century. There is NO LEGAL AUTHORITY TO ENABLE PRESCRIPTION to be used to prove ownership of a lordship.

Both lost modern grant and prescription are known as legal fictions. They are confirming something that probably is false.

Magna Carta (1215)

Clause 34 preserved the right of a lord to hold his own court.

Magna Carta (re-issued) 1225 – Chapter 32

Lords cannot subinfeudate manors (grant freeholds in return for a service) held by the Crown.

Statute of Merton 1235 (or Commons Act 1236)

This is the first statute of limitations to be repealed and replaced many times over the centuries.   If an owner had lost their deeds, or their ownership pre-dated deeds, they could recover the land by writ if held for 70 years. There was no differentiation between land and land rights.  Land rights at this time were always enforced thus proving the right. 

De Donis 1285

Introduced the use of entails.  An owner of a lordship/manor could restrict the ownership of the lordship/manor after their death.  The most common entail was male entail.  If a lord died with only daughters they could not inherit and the lordship/manor would pass to the closest male heir.

Quia Emptores 1290

  • No new manors can be created after 1189
  • No new sub-manors (common freeholds) can be created after 1290. All tenants who wished to alienate their land only have the option of substitution (they relinquished their right in favour of someone else). 
  • Manors could not be divided between co-parceners (a person who shares equally with others in the inheritance of an undivided estate or in the rights to it) EXCEPT where there were co-heir daughters.
  • Manor demesne and waste could not be granted by subinfeudation (to be held of the lord). The effect being that the land that was sold left the manor
  • Any copyhold land could only be enfranchised at common law by granting the freehold and the land left the manor
  • No new freeholds could be granted in fee simple
  • No new customary holding could be created after 1189 which meant that there could thereafter be no new tenancies within the manor
  • Land leaving a lordship cannot be added to another lordship, so manors can only reduce in size
  • Land cannot be added to a lordship
  • Customs cannot be created after 1189.

1302 Testa de Nevill

The Book of Fees is the colloquial title of a modern edition, transcript, rearrangement and enhancement of the mediaeval Liber Feodorum (Latin: 'Book of Fiefs').  This was an update of the Domesday Book.  It listed the feudal landholdings or fief (Middle English fees), compiled in about 1302, but from earlier records, for the use of the English Exchequer.

1399 Duchy of Lancaster Act

When Henry Bolingbroke became King Henry IV the Duchy of Lancaster would have been dissolved, as the law stated that if a lord acquired the rights of the superior lord the lower lordship dissolved.  Parliament enacted a charter to prevent this from happening so that the Duchy could be managed separately from the other crown estates. It remains to this day.

1483 - Copyhold Sale and Purchase. 

A seller would take their copy of the court roll (proof of his ownership) to the manorial court and surrender it.  The lord would then issue a fresh court roll in favour of the purchaser.  The problem with this, is that the seller’s ownership might have been defective and therefore the purchaser was not getting good title.  Surrenders could not be for multiple pieces of land or rents, they had to be done separately.  Eg. Two rents of 5 pence and 3 pence could not be surrendered and the purchaser be issued with a court roll for 8 pence.

1536 - Statute of Uses

King Henry VIII removes entails (restrict the heir of a property eg. male only) and owners now liable for taxes.

1534 English Reformation

The English reformation made King Henry VIII the head of the Church of England.  Up until now England had been Catholic and churches were subject to the rule of the Pope.  King Henry used his new authority to seize church lands and grant them to his loyal subjects. The church held approximately one third of all manors in England so this was the biggest transfer of ownership of land since the Norman Conquest.

1540 – King Henry VIII Statute of Limitations

Until this point, if you have lost your title deeds, you had to prove ownership of land and rights over land back to Time Immemorial. This act introduced a requirement of 60 years to prove ownership under adverse possession.

Statute 35 Henry VIII c16 1543

Church customs can no longer come into existence. and be enforced on tenants and freeholder of manors.

Crown Lands Act 1557

Queen Mary, a staunch Roman Catholic, reverses some of the dissolution by King Henry VIII and returns lands to the church.

Religious Houses Act 1558

Queen Elizabeth reverse the Crown Lands Act 1557 and church lands once again returned to the Crown.

Hutton V Gifford 1582

A manor can only be extinguished if the tenants acquire the rights of the lord or a lord acquires the rights of a superior lord.

1585 – The Court of Common Pleas

The Court of Common Pleas stated that, “a manor cannot be created at this day, neither by a common person nor by the Queen.  A manor could not be created by a commoner from the 13th century however this also confirms the ability is no longer vested in the Crown.

Late 16th Century

It was not until late in the sixteenth century that  estate plans started to be produced.  Before this time the only way to tell from the title deeds was by description.  Most boundaries would be set by a road, river or other landmark. It is not until the nineteenth century do they become common.

Complete Copyholder published 1630

Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice probably the most influential judge in English history. Wrote the Complete Copyholder. In  Chapter 4.1 Crown Stopped Creating Manors he writes “a custom cannot be alleged generally within the kingdom of England for that is in common law”. This is still regarded as a legal authority in relation to manorial rights.

Pigg V Caley 1677

This was the last case including bondsman/villeinage (slave).  After this residents of a manor were all free.

Limitations Act 1623


The common legal justification was that under the Limitation Act 1623, just like a cause of action in contract or tort had to be used within a time limit, so did an action to recover land. This promoted the finality of litigation and the certainty of claims. Time would start running when someone took exclusive possession of land, or part of it, and intended to possess it adversely to the interests of the current owner. Provided the common law requirements of "possession" that was "adverse" were fulfilled, after 12 years, the owner would cease to be able to assert a claim.  As a lordship has no physical presence it does not provide the requirements of "possession" and thus whilst physical land falls within Adverse Possession, lordship do not. 

Abolition of Tenures Act 1660

This act converted all tenures into free and common socage with the exception of frankalmoign (which became obsolete) and copyhold.  This meant the services owed no longer had to be provided. No more knight’s service.  This was long overdue as the last time there was a feudal muster of knights was in 1385.