Lord of the Manor: Some Clarification

A trip to Cambridge University Library unearthed an article by J. H. Round on ‘The Manor of Colne Engaine’ published in the Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society in 1903. Round starts by paying tribute to the work of Morant on the history of Essex but adds, ‘more than a century and a half has elapsed since Morant wrote, and there are naturally cases in which fuller knowledge and easier access to records enable us to correct the earlier descent of Essex manors as given in his work’. This might also reasonably be said of the century since Round wrote, but his account of the acquisition of the manor of Parva Colun by Richard Engaine, and thence Vitalis, is in accord with that of the 2001 account in the History of the County of Essex, and so is one I am confident is accurate. Both Round and Janet Cooper, the editor of the History of the County of Essex entry, refer directly to original sources, which obviously I need to consult myself at some point.

Round points out how Morant made the mistake of thinking Sarah, the wife of Richard Engaine, was the daughter of Alberic de Vere. He was misled by an erroneous account in the ‘Fundatorum historia’ of Fineshead Priory, Northamptonshire, which was founded by Richard. Round’s warning: ‘One cannot sound too often the needful note of warning against these monastic genealogies’, sounds rather like the cry of caution about Wikipedia. Some accounts are accurate and useful; others lead you up the garden path, following the whiff of a red herring.

The account given by Round is as follows: Walter de Caen, the under-tenant of Robert Malet continued to hold Parva Colun after Robert Malet forfeited it. I’m not clear whether this meant that Walter now held it directly from the king as a tenant-in-chief; there is no mention of any other overlord. The manor passed through Walter’s son to his grandson, Walter de Cheney. When he died in 1174, he left three daughters, Margery (or Margaret), Clementia and Sara. As was the custom when there was no son to claim the patrimony entire, the inheritance was divided between the three daughters, the youngest, Sara, getting Parva Colun. This was in part to provide her with some property to bring to a marriage. She was subsequently married to Richard Engaine (a marriage probably arranged by her elder sister, or her sister’s husband, Hugh de Cressy) and the rest, as they say, is history.

The confusion with the de Montchensy family probably came about because nearby Stansted Hall was held by Hubert de Monchensy of Robert Malet, and was valued alongside Colne in the Domesday Book.

The story of the inheritance of the three sisters, however, is rather interesting – and complicated. It is one of the cases used by Scott Waugh in a paper on ‘Women’s Inheritance and the  Growth of Bureaucratic Monarchy in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century England’. Not the most exciting of titles, and a paper couched in dense legalistic language but one that nevertheless tells a fascinating tale of the treatment of women in the early-thirteenth century. I am indebted to Professor Linda Mitchell of the University of Missouri, Kansas City, for heling me understand it.

Sara, it seems, swapped the land she was left for the manor of Colne Engaine. She was at the time of her father’s death unmarried and her service for her property was performed through her eldest sister’s husband. In effect, he became the overlord although she performed neither homage nor fealty to him. There was also concern that an older sister should not be involved in the choice of husband for a younger one since the sister was also her heir, and committing the younger sisters to her would be like ‘committing sheep to a wolf, as a writ of Henry III in 1236 explained’ (Waugh, p. 73). This, however, was long after the date of Sara’s father’s death and it seems likely that her sister Margaret and her husband, Hugh de Cheney, chose Richard Engaine as her husband.

Sara’s son by this marriage, Viel or Vitalis, sued his aunt, Margaret, for property from his mother’s inheritance in Blythburgh. Margaret responded that this was the property previously exchanged for Parva Colun; we don’t know the eventual outcome of the case but the Engaine family retained the manor of Parva Colun, which became known as Colne Engaine, while Margaret’s son, Roger de Cressy, and his descendants continued as overlords. Margaret, now the widow of Robert fitzRoger, also was in dispute with this son over her dower.

J. H. Round, ‘The Manor of Colne Engaine’, Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, n.s. 8 (1903), 192-8.

Scott L. Waugh, ‘Women’s Inheritance and the Growth of Bureaucratic Monarchy in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century England’, Nottingham Medieval Studies, 34 (1990), 71-92.

Magna Carta, with a new commentary by David Carpenter (London: Penguin, 2015), chapter 5 ‘Magna Carta and Society: Earls, Barons, Knights and Free Tenants’,  pp. 124-154.

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