Definition and Significance in the Middle Ages

Château de Fontainebleau, medieval manor
Château de Fontainebleau, medieval manor. Phillip Grondin/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0


The medieval manor was an agricultural estate. It was usually comprised of tracts of agricultural land, a village whose inhabitants worked that land, and a manor house where the lord who owned or controlled the estate lived. Manors might also have woods, orchards, gardens, and lakes or ponds where fish could be found. On the manor lands, usually near the village, one could often find a mill, bakery, and blacksmith. Manors were largely self-sufficient.

Manors varied greatly in size and composition, and some were not even contiguous plots of land. They generally ranged in size from 750 to 1,500 acres. There might be more than one village associated with a large manor; on the other hand, a manor could be small enough that only part of a village's inhabitants worked the estate. Peasants worked the lord's demesne a specified number of days a week, usually two or three.

On most manors there was also land designated to support the parish church; this was known as the glebe.

Originally, the manor house was an informal collection of wood or stone buildings including a chapel, kitchen, farm buildings and, of course, the hall. The hall served as the meeting place for village business and was where the manorial court was held. As the centuries passed, manor houses became more strongly defended and took on some of the features of castles, including fortified walls, towers, and even moats.

Manors were sometimes given to knights as a way to support them as they served their king. They could also be owned outright by a nobleman or belong to the church. In the overwhelmingly agricultural economy of the Middle Ages, manors were the backbone of European life.

Also Known As: vill, from the Roman villa.

Examples: Sir Knobbly received a hefty annual income from Staightly Manor, part of which he used to keep himself and his men-at-arms well equipped for military service.