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Some typical manorial records

Three main types of information are provided in the documents - fiscal, social and regulatory. The illustrative examples in the links given below all display relevant images from the Crick manorial documents in Muniment VII of the St John's College archive, which are shown here by kind permission of the President and Fellows of St John's College.

Fiscal information: compotus rolls, accounts and rentals

Social information: court rolls from different periods, and suit rolls

Regulations: custumnals, and the 'rules and pains' sections of the court rolls

Reading the palaeography

Deciphering the text presents 3 quite distinct problems: firstly, reading the handwriting; secondly, filling in the missing text (there are extensive scribal 'shorthand' abbreviations, for greater speed in recording the minutes of court sessions etc.); and finally, translating the Latin.

There are many examples of medieval and early modern handwriting styles on the Internet, including an excellent site covering many aspects of palaeography, operated by Dr Dianna Tillotson. The books listed below under 'Glossaries' also illustrate some typical medieval and early modern scripts.

Filling in the scribal shorthand

A good way to get to grips with this topic is by taking one of the excellent online tutorials offered by The National Archives;  and here is another set of useful TNA online tutorials. Each of the tutorials also describes the 'suspensions' and 'contractions' used by scribes to abbreviate the text.

Glossaries of medieval Latin words

Glossaries of the Latin words used in manorial documents are given in several of the standard reference books on this topic, such as Denis Stuart's 'Manorial Records', and Elieen Gooder's 'Latin for Local History'. Charles Trice Martin's 'The Record Interpreter' is another excellent resource, though now mostly obtainable only second-hand. Among the online sources of Latin glossaries, a particularly helpful one is that prepared by Dr Christopher Harrison of Keele University, which he makes available to other researchers, and which may be downloaded from this site by kind permission of Dr Harrison and subject to his copyright and other conditions as set out in the download document.

A typical transcript

To illustrate the transcription process, we will consider a specific example:

Crick court roll, Easter 1543We start with the digital image of the document, as seen here.

A first draft is made of the transcription of the palaeography, filling in scribal elisions wherever possible.  In many cases, it is possible to fill in short passages of illegible text by cross-reference to other documents - the court rolls in particular follow a very repetitive pattern, and many words that are illegible in one document can be easily deciphered in a comparable document from another year.  Where uncommon words are used, the glossaries given by Gooder, Stuart, Trice Martin, Harrison et al can often give an explanation.

The end result is a fairly complete transcription, as shown here.  Note the comments at the top of the document, which explain the conventions adopted for expansion of elisions and for indicating indecipherable text.

If relevant, the Latin text may be translated into English, as follows:

Crick: Easter in the 34th year of the reign of King Henry VIII.
View of frankpledge with court of the noble lord Henry, Marquis of Dorset and Lord Ferrers of Groby Harrington, Bondvill and Astley, held at Crick on the 26th April in the 34th year of the reign of King Henry VIII, by the grace of God king of England and France, defender of the faith, lord of Ireland, and supreme head on earth of the Church of England.
Apologies for absence:

Ambrose Jones sends his apologies.
Jury of the Court:
Thomas Mason, Leger Banbury, William Whitehead, John Chapell
Henry Mills, Richard Garrett [ie Garrard], Alexander Law, William Herbard
Robert Faux, Robert Donnkley [ie Dunckley], Richard West, Henry Atkins
Robert Purser, Richard Kilworth, Thomas Mills, jurors

Richard Grosse, Ambrose Jones and Freeman Eyton made their vow of frankpledge in the court, in the presence of John Smith, [space for forename] Andrews, Richard Garrard and Thomas Rokeby, freemen.
[Fines and Receipts]:
Item Margaret Rokeby [ie Rugby], Elizabeth Atkins, Agnes Mariott, Agnes Stevens, Joan Donckley, Agnes Banbury and Elizabeth Whitney were all presented [to the court] for [grinding and brewing excess] malt [at home using their own querns] in contravention of the assize; they all came before the court in person, and were each fined two pence.
Item Two pence (paid?) [at] St Martin the Apostle’s [day].
Item A hogerell [ie a one-year old sheep] [was captured] as a stray
Item It was represented [to the court] that Richard Perkins turned out (… …) so that it does not flow in the public street before the feast of Pentecost, on pain of a 12 pence fine.
Penalty That William Whitehead and Thomas Mason clear out (… … … … …) in front of their houses and clean out the gutters, on pain of a fine of 12 pence for each offence.
Item It was represented [to the court] that George Cole had assaulted Richard Whitehead, and he [came before the court] in person.
Item Thomas Mariott was presented [for miller’s tolls, and his] excess totalled two pence.
[Total fines to the] court: 20 pence.”

However, since it is assumed that most scholars will have the necessary Latin skills, the transcripts do not include translations except as occasional footnotes.  The transcripts sometimes include notes on the persons named, or on aspects of the detailed text - this is merely for later guidance when carrying out analyses.

Work on the transcriptions is iterative - that is, clarification gained from one document is fed back into other transcriptions on a continuous basis. Thus, older versions of specific transcripts may be updated by later versions.The transcriber does not profess to be an expert in this discipline (though work on the transcriptions has led to some improvement in his meagre skills!), and would welcome advice, comment or assistance from any scholars who may be interested in this work.

Each original manorial document is transcribed as a separate document in MS Word 97(c), to preserve a one-for-one correspondence between original and transcript. For a list of all the images and transcriptions made so far, please click here. If you are interested in seeing more of the transcriptions in connection with specific research work or studies, please This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The document images are reproduced here by kind permission of the President and Fellows of St John's College Oxford.  The copyright in the transcriptions is owned by G.W. Hatton.


Of course, the transcription work is merely a first stage - the real gold at the end of the rainbow lies in the analysis work that can be carried out on the transcripts, revealing in often minute detail the everyday lives of the entire community of Crick in the late medieval and early modern period.  Some aspects of this analysis work are illustrated in the next section.