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A Brief History of English Titles

After the Norman Conquest
After his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, became King William I of England and introduced feudalism into the country. From the Conquest, the King alone owned all the land of England, except for land he gave to Earls, Barons and others in return for their support, especially in providing military resources.

The person holding feudal land directly on behalf of the King was known as a tenant-in-chief. To obtain Knights for the King's service, the tenants-in-chief "sub-infeuded" some of their land (that is, permitted men to manage land on their behalf). The sub-infeuding process continued downwards to a lord of a single manor.

The Manor
The manor was the basic unit of estate administration. Typically the manor contained a village church, and agricultural land usually consisting of three large arable fields in which the inhabitants (tenants) held scattered strips. Manor houses were built on land near rivers or streams, often where grass was grown for hay. An important part of manorial administration was the manor court, a periodic meeting of the tenants, presided over by the Lord of the Manor or his steward. The purpose of the court was to administer the agriculture of the manor, the Lord's and tenant's rights and duties, and disputes between tenants.

Over succeeding centuries, many of these Manor communities grew into villages and towns.  The important historical role of the Manor has largely been overlooked, but Manors, and their Lords, were the seeds of many important English towns and villages.

The Register of Manorial Titles
After the Law of Property Acts 1922 and 1924-25, the Master of the Rolls (one of the judges in the English Court of Appeal) had responsibility for maintaining a register of Manorial Documents, as the Keeper of the Records of the Public Record Office.   The register records the location of original documents relating to those manors which had Manorial Courts.  The registers have been held at various locations throughout the country, but in recent years there have been moves by the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts to centralise the information into a single database.   This may seem an inappropriately modern approach to something so ancient, but it shows how important a job the government consider it to keep good records of the location of historical Manorial documents.