Lord of the Manor: A Conundrum and some Confusion


The story of who Vitalis, or Viel, Engaine, the lord of the manor in 1219, was is the first thing to sort out, and there are at least three accounts which differ. It seems difficult to reconcile them:

Vernon Clarke in 1986 wrote ‘Richard de Engaine of Blatherswick, Northants. became connected with Little Colum [or  Parvum Colum, the name of Colne Engaine before the Engaine name was adopted] when he married Sarah, Lady of Colne (d 1222), daughter of Aubrey de Vere, 1st Earl of Oxford. Their son Vitalis (Viel) de Engaine (d 1248) bought 40 acres of land at Little Colum in 1218. The 1974 Colne Engaine: Story of an Essex Village, revised in 1992, starts further back, with Robert Malet who owned Little Colne at the time of the Domesday book. According to this account, his estates were confiscated and handed to Alberic de Vere, from where Little Colne passed to the de Monchensys of Suffolk.

Both seem agreed that Viel de Engaine bought forty acres of land in Little Colne in 1218. But if, the following year, he presented Peter de Feria to the living of the Rectory then he must have been the patron and, one would assume, the lord of the manor. There is also the question of where the de Monchensys come into the picture. The Story of an Essex Village follows the line of descent of Vitalis de Engaine from his mother Sarah, the daughter of Alberic de Vere, and claims that, while Vitalis de Engaine bought forty acres of Little Colum in 1218 the manor only became the property of the Engaine family in 1279 when Vitalis’ son John bought it from Walter de Colchester who had married Joan de Monchensy.

A different account is provided by the entry on ‘Colne Engaine: Manors’ in A History of the County of Essex, edited by Janet Cooper in 2001. She agrees that the estate of Little Colne was held by Walter of Caen of Robert Malet, who was over-lord and who, as the Story of an Essex Village, explains forfeited his lordship for ‘backing the wrong horse’ and siding with Robert Curthose against Henry I. On his forfeiture, it looks as though the overlordship went to Walter of Caen, and from him seems to have passed down to his son William de Cheney. According to this account, it was William de Cheney’s youngest daughter who was called Sarah and married Richard Engaine. She inherited the demesne lordship of Colne [Parva Colun], the manor thereafter being named after the Engaine family. Their son was Viel [Vitalis], who inherited the manor (and the advowson) and presented Peter de Feria to the living in 1219. The over-lordship, meanwhile, had passed to William de Cheney’s oldest daughter, Margery; I explain the inheritance by the sisters in a later post.

I assume that this de Cheney family are the de Monchensys mentioned by Vernon Clarke, but where did Vernon Clarke (and, I presume, before him Arthur Chilton, rector of Colne Engaine 1932-45, who wrote a book in 1941 on Colne Engaine and St Andrew’s Church) get their account of the history from?

We also need clarification of the difference between overlordship and demesne lordship. A demesne (a variation of ‘domain’) is land attached to the manor and used by the lord rather than rented out. The definition given in A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases is as follows: ‘Demesne. Property owned freely; land held for the lord’s own use rather than let or leased. This land would have been worked for the lord by his serfs, occupying between a fifth and a third of the land available. It was likely that this *manor was the *caput honoris.’

This, of course, leads me to check the definition of manor and caput honoris. The manor is the whole estate, both demesne land and that which was let out for rents and services. The caput honoris (Latin for ‘head of the honour’) referred to the main set of the honour of a lord owning several manors, the honour being the group of manors or fiefs held by one lord. The caput was where the court was usually held. The manor of Colne Engaine had its own court, but that part of the story comes later.

It is important to understand the hierarchical nature of the feudal system that operated in England at this time. Everyone owed service or duty to someone above them – until the top of the pyramid is reached at the throne with the king. Viel Engaine inherited the demesne lordship of Colne Engaine from his parents (I am assuming that Sarah’s ownership passed to her husband – this was also a patriarchal society) but he owed fealty to his overlord, who was a descendent of his mother’s older sister and a member of the de Cheney family.

Bibliography (in order of reference):

Vernon Clarke, Colne Engaine, Essex: Village Church and Parish (Colne Engaine: Vernon Clarke, 1986)

Colne Engaine: The Story of an Essex Village ed. Peter Watson (Colne Engaine: Colne Engaine History Society, 1974; rev. ed., 1992)

‘Colne Engaine: Manors’, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe, ed. Janet Cooper (London, 2001), pp. 107-110. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol10/pp107-110 [accessed 15 February 2017]

Christopher Corèdon with Ann Williams, A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2004)

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