Need Help With Medieval English Land Terms

+11 votes
I am trying to understand some information from 13th century England, could someone explain what these two statements mean.

1. The Jury says that Alfynton is escheat of the King of the Normans. Matthew Besilles holds it of the gift of the King.


2. Grant to Matthew and his heirs of the manor of Alfynton which is in the hands of the Normans, which Payn de Chaoiciis previously held of the Kings bail to hold until the King restore it to the right heirs of his free will or by peace.
in Genealogy Help by Jeanie Roberts G2G6 Pilot (128k points)

2 Answers

+8 votes
Best answer

William the Conqueror was Duke of Normandy who became King of England and rewarded many of his followers with lands in England. But 150 years later Normandy had been conquered by the King of France and he became the King of the Normans. Nobles owning land on both sides of the Channel had to decide to which king they were going to pay homage. This meant there was now a lot of ownerless land in England that could be redistributed known as 'The Land of the Normans'.

Payn de Chaworth was just holding the land on a temporary basis as the king's bailiff but Matthew de Besilles has now been given the land as a grant. Grants were for life and theoretically the land reverted to the king on death (escheat) however in practice the land almost invariably passed to their heir on payment of a fee and confirmation of allegiance.

I found this website explaining the historical background with details on Alvington

by Matthew Fletcher G2G6 Pilot (113k points)
selected by Iain Cooke
thank you Matthew. Good explanation on the Land of the Normans.
+7 votes
1.  The manor of Alfynton (West Alvington, Devon I believe) was reverted back to the king (escheat) on the death of the previous owner without known heirs.  The king gave it to Matthew Besilles to hold.

2.  This is the grant to Matthew Besilles.  It implies that if the rightful heirs of Payn can be found it will be restored to them; until then it belongs to Matthew.

King of the Normans is an interesting term for the 13th century, but I think it still just refers to the king of England.  Though Normandy was by this time lost to the king of France, the English kings did not want to concede this fact.
by Joe Cochoit G2G6 Pilot (232k points)
so when some land is held of the Kings bail, it is just given to them on a temporary basis? They pay rent to the King for it while they have it? Is that right?
All land was ultimately held of the king.  If it was held directly of the king it was said to be held “in chief.”  There could be any number of feudal tenants between the final person who held the land, and the king himself.

So, no one actually owned land, they held it by some feudal right.  The tenant might owe rent, but commonly it was held by some service to the king (such as providing knights in time of war).  So, the king always had the right to take land back; however, from a practical standpoint this wasn’t done.  Land was transferred from heir to heir according to the common laws of inheritance.  Inquisitions post mortem were held whenever a feudal tenant died to determine the rights of the king and who the right heir was.

Here, the gift was permanent to Matthew Besilles and his heirs, assuming no one came forward with a rightful claim.  He likely did not pay “rent” the way we think of it, but he would owe taxes and some feudal obligation to the king.   If Payn had a rightful heir which the IPM failed to identify, that heir likely would have sued, won, and recovered the land (this was extremely common).

I hope that helped.

You'd think.  The odd thing is though, Chaworth-67 did have heirs.  He was the ggf of the toddler-heiress Maud, who married royalty.

It would make more sense if Pain had his kids by his other wife.  But we show them all as the kids of the Ferté girl, and the land was hers.

Very strange.

PS MedLands doesn't think he had another wife.  It doesn't give him a daughter Eve either.


Thank you Joe!

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