Social Classes

In the mediæval period, the ranks of society were sharply defined. Each person was born into a specified rank and was likely to stay there for most of their life.


1086: At the time of Domesday Book

  1. King

  2. Tenant in chief responsible directly to the king

  3. Sub tenant responsible to Tenant in chief

  4. Burgess and Royal Knight both responsible directly to the King

    • Knight responsible to the Tenant in chief

    • Sokeman responsible to the Sub tenant and to the Tenant in chief

  5. Villeins

  6. Bordars

  7. Slaves

The 12th-14th Century

Information ascertained from documents of the period.

  1. King

  2. Prince of the blood / Archbishop

  3. Duke

  4. Marquis (originally commanders of the marches) / Bishop

  5. Earl (equivalent to the Norman count in Norman French).

  6. Viscount (representative or deputy of an Earl in the government of a district – a sheriff

  7. Baron (the lowest order of hereditary nobility. Held land by military service).

  8. Knight. Knights were usually of noble birth which governed their social status. Knight of the Shire represented the Shire or County at court.

    • Minor Nobles: Titles used in local documents varied area to area and over time, as sometimes it seems, did their exact meaning and the status given to the men named. One can find the same man being given differing titles in different documents

  9. Thane / Lord / Franklin

  10. Mesne Lord / Marchaunt / Gentleman

  11. Tenant

  12. Villager (?) - people appear in the Manor Rolls identified only by the Vill in which they lived, or their father's name, John son of James or by trade, John the carpenter. In the subsidy rolls they are listed by name only, with the added and wife where appropriate.

  13. Bondsman

This & associated entries use material contributed by Joanne Backhouse

© Malcolm Bull 2024
Revised 12:33 / 3rd April 2024 / 4802

Page Ref: X357

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