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The Somborne & District Society

Medieval Landowners in Lower Test Valley

Phoebe Merrick gave the November lecture to the Somborne and District Society entitled ‘Medieval landowners in the Lower Test Valley’. She has studied the ownership of estates in medieval times from 1068 to 1485 but the surviving documents only refer to the upper strata of society including the aristocrats and ecclesiastics. In medieval times most land was owned by the King who could grant it to favoured individuals such as the great barons who then in return owed him certain obligations. The great barons could themselves grant land to underlings who then had obligations to the baron or they might give it to a religious establishment. In the 11th century the hereditary principle was not well established so when an owner died the land would revert to the king unless the heir to the rights paid a fee to the king. However in the case of the church (which never dies) the fees never were paid so the churches gain was the Crown’s loss and was one reason why the church became so wealthy. Phoebe considered four main groups of landowners which were in order, the church, the crown, the barons and the lesser aristocracy.

When the Normans invaded in 1066 they found large monastic houses which had been founded by the Saxons and they also founded many new monastries. Mottisfont  was established in 1300 as an Augustinian Priory by William Briewe and but it was the last house to be founded in our area. Over the centuries these monastic houses became much wealthier as rich individuals gave them land (this was one reason why Henry V11th was so anxious to gain control of them) and between 1068 and 1485 the monastic holdings in the Lower Test Valley increased dramatically. Although the Crown in 1068 was the biggest landowner in Hampshire and the king did have land in Broughton and Kings Somborne he did not have large holdings in the Test Valley area and by 1485 the Crown holdings were much smaller.  In contrast the area of land held by the great Barons although under threat at times when there were no male heirs generally stayed much the same over 400 years. The lesser aristocracy came and went but did not establish dynasties which lasted more than one hundred years and the documents do not refer to people such as rich merchants who generally moved in a different world. Phoebe’s talk was academically very well researched and gave us an insight into the feudal system of land inheritance.

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