It is in this function that we find the origin of copyhold tenure. The manorial court acted as a registry of an active land market, and, provided the fees on transfer were paid, lords evidently made no effort to maintain static conditions. On some estates we find an almost complete replica of the system of royal writs for pos sessory and even proprietary actions. Litigation became so com mon that the written record takes the place of the testimony of the old men or of the court. Court rolls were constantly pro duced in court, as evidence, and from the first half of the 14th century, we find tenants in possession of a copy of court roll. By 1400 the possession of a copy is often enforced, and the exist ence of the copyholder is thus acknowledged. Besides land ques tions, the manorial court dealt with any other civil suits that might arise, such as questions of debt, detinue, damages, or con tract. In semi-urban manorial courts, which might have to deal with fairs or with industry, these civil cases became of consider able importance. Occasionally, the manor court would appear to encroach upon the province of the courts christian—e.g., in deal ing with wills of villeins and copyholders, and in proceedings against usurers.
During the 15th century, the villein slowly developed into a copyholder, and the importance of the manorial court was corre spondingly diminished. After ten well-known decisions of Danby, C.J., and Bryan, C.J., in 7 Ed. IV. and 21 Ed. IV., it was estab lished that the courts of law could entertain an action of trespass brought against his lord by a customary tenant. From this time onward, the courts, both of law and of equity, began to intervene, and the records of the courts of Chancery, Star Chamber, and Requests show that in the Tudor period equitable suits brought by tenants against their lords were not infrequent. The few remaining "bondsmen" of the i6th century were constrained to pay heavily for their manumission. Gradually the manor ceased to have any social or economic importance, and its few remaining privileges and peculiarities of tenure were swept away by the Law of Property Acts 1922.
It is clear that the manor court as here described consisted of conflicting elements of very different origin and history. Founded partly on express grants of franchises, partly on the inherent right of a feudal lord to hold a court for his free tenants, partly on the obscure community traceable among the unfree inhabitants of the manor, it is incapable of strict legal definition. All these ele ments, moreover, contain in themselves reasons for the decay which gradually came over the system. In some cases of urban development, the manorial court was strengthened. But for the most part only a shadow of its former powers survived to control the few remaining copyholders, until the passing of the Law of Property Acts 1922.
Apart from the change in the court of the manor, the most im portant thread in its later history is the process, mentioned above, which converted the villein into the copyholder. Although it seems hardly accurate to describe the villein of the 13th century as holding at the will of the lord, yet he could claim no protec tion from the king's courts. If, however, the villein were a tenant on the king's Ancient Demesne, his condition was distinctly more secure. He was protected by the writs of monstraverunt and the little writ of right close from the improper exactions of services and from ejection by the lord. But in ordinary manors there was no such immunity. That ejection was legally possible has already been shown, and it was not until the well-known decision of Danby, C. J. and Bryan, C. J. in 7 Edw. IV., and 21 Edw. IV., that the courts of law would entertain an action of trespass brought against his lord by a customary tenant. There was nothing, how ever, to prevent a customary tenant from proceeding by way of petition to the king, and there are cases of such petitions as early as the end of the 14th century.
Moreover, in 1381 royal justice had come to the aid of the lords against their villeins, and it was not unknown that a lord should call in the private aid of a distinguished justice or counsel. In time the process is reversed, and the royal courts begin to help the villein or copyholder against his lord. From the decision of Bryan and Danby onwards, the courts, both of law and of equity, begin to intervene and the records of the courts of Chancery, Star Chamber, and Requests show that in the Tudor period equitable suits brought by tenants against their lords are not infrequent. The 16th century also saw the manumission of the few remaining "bondsmen," who were constrained to pay heavily for their per sonal freedom. From that period onwards the manor ceased to have any social importance, and survived merely as the nucleus of a peculiar form of land tenure.
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