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pointing out as briefly and clearly as I am able, some of the
more interesting features : —


The powers which the tenants exercised in the disposal
of their customory lands were very extensive and very
varied. 1. — They had power of sale, by absolute surrender.
2. — By what was termed a dayne-surrender, a tenant of the
Manor was able in his lifetime to dispose of his customary


lands to any of his family or others, on condition that a
fixed annuity was paid to him during his life, or some
specific provision made for his sustenance and support. In
surrenders of this character clauses were inserted which
gave the surrenderer power to resume possession of the
estate in case conditions specified were not fulfilled. 3. —
The tenants had power to make conditional surrenders.
These forms wxre universally employed in the place of, and
for the same pui'pose as, marriage-settlements. They were
also used, and still are used, for mortgages. Whenever any
tenant of Taunton Deane borrows money on the security
of his customary land, he surrenders that land to the mort-
gagee, on condition that when the debt is discharged the
surrender becomes void. Thus all mortgages of Taunton
Deane lands are on record, and a public and authentic
registration of mortgages is secured. 4. — Lastly, the
tenant had power to make a dormant surrender — that is, a
surrender to certain trustees for the purposes of his will.
This surrender remained valid for seven years, and became
void if not renewed after that time. Before the passing of
the Act (55th Geo. HI.)? by which the necessity of such
provisions was repealed, no disposition of Taunton Deane
lands by will was valid without this dormant surrender. I
know of a case in which an old lady left all her customary-
hold land in this Manor to be equally divided between her
nephews and neice. She had made the dormant surrender
in due form, but it was found to have expired a few weeks
before her death. When the provisions of her will came
to be carried out it was found that as to her customary
property she had virtually died intestate, and her land
descended to her youngest nephew according to the Cus-
toms of the Manor. I have made copies, by way of
illustration, of all these several surrenders, which are


extremely interesting and instructive. I need not trouble
the audience with them at present, but I shall be happy to
show them to any of the members who may be specially
interested in such studies.

Further, it is to be observed that these surrenders are
not valid unless they are made in the presence of the
steward or his deputy, and witnessed by tenants of the
Manor. The place and time are not material. Not long
ago, as a tenant of this Manor, I was called upon in
London to witness a surrender, and thereby I was able
to save the surrenderor a long and expensive journey to
Taunton. Now that the three weekly courts are not held,
in order to facilitate surrenders, I hear it is not unusual
to admit a certain number of attorneys practising in
Taunton as tenants of the lord's waste — a tenancy purely
nominal, but which constitutes them valid witnesses of
surrenders made in their presence.


Here an important and interesting question presents
itself. At what age did tenants of this Manor attain their
majority? When did they become legally capable of
exercising the powers of surrender and disposal I We
know that elsewhere customs vary in regard to this. In
some boroughs infants were held to have attained their
majority when they became able to measure a yard of cloth.
In Kent the tenant in gavelkind attains his majority at
15. But in this regard our neighbours in the town of
Bridport carry off the palm. On an inquisitio poat-mortem
held 53° Henry III. (1268), the jury made a presentment,
" That the heir of a certain John Gervase was of full age
(according to the use and customs of Bridport) on the day
of his birth."* We do not find that the tenants of the

*Escli. Eoll, 53, Henry III.


Manor of Taunton Deane ever regarded themselves equal
in this respect to their neighbours in the borough of Brid-
port. I find, however, that in the 7th James I., a certain
George Reve, of the tything of Staplegrove, was con-
sidered capable to make a surrender at the age of 15, he
beinsT then in extremis.

The most curious illustration of the Customs, as bearing
upon the question of the age at which a tenant attains to
majority, occurs in the records in the 10th year of Queen
Elizabeth. It is a surrender taken before Hugh Norris,
clerk of the Castle of Taunton, on the 23rd of June, 10
Eliz. (a.d. 1568) in the presence of John Frauncis, Esq.,
of Combe Florey, and others. I cannot do better than
give you tlie exact terms in which the entry is made.
Happily for many of my hearers the Bulk of this is not as
usual in Latin, but in good old English, corresponding (in
character) to the sturdy character of the young lady by
whom the surrender is made.

" Elizabeth Colles filia Johannis Colles alias Joye
sursumreddidit in manus dominaj reginge j mes et j dimid
virgat ter' nat, &c., voc' Met-hay, et 3 acr. tp. voc. Whit-
more, &c., &c., in decenna de Burland, ad opus et
usum Anthonii Gonstone, heredum, &c., &c,, habenda sub
condicionibus sequentibus, viz. : —

The condicion of this surrender is such that yf the sayd
Anthony Gonstone do take to wyfe and marry e according
to the solempnisation of holly churche the abovenamed
Elizabethe Colles between the time of xij yeres and xiij
yeres of hir age that then this surrender, to be voyd and of
none effect, or otherwise to stand and be in his full power
and strengthe, provyded always that yf the said Elizabeth
Colles do dye before marry age had with the said Anthony
Gonstone, or otherwise refuse to marrye wyth hym at the


tyrae apoynted ; that then the said Anthony and his
assignes to have and enjoy all and singular the premises
abovenamed during his natural lyfe onlye, and after his
decease the same premises to remayne to the said Elizabeth,
her heyres and assigns for ever according to the customs.
Furthermore, and yffthe said Anthonye do marry e with the
said Elizabeth according to the intente of this surrender,
ymydyatelye upon which marryage the premises do wholly
fall into th^ands of the said Anthony by custom of this
Manor ; then tiie said A. G. shall forthwithe surrender the
said premises into the hands of the dark of the castle upon
condycion that yf he should dye before the said Elizabeth
do attayne the age of xv. yeres, that then the premises
shall remayne to the said E, her heyres and assignes ac-
cording to the customs without any alienacion or surrender
of the premises to any person or persons, &c.

Capt' per me Hugone Norris clerico castri de Taunton
et Taunton Deane, xxiij die Junii Ao Kegni d^'ne nr'
Elizabethae x. In presencia Johannis Frauncis ar. Thomas
Coke, &c., ten^ d'ne Eeginse ib'em, et ulterius in pre-
sencia Johannis Kinglake, Johannis Gonstone et Thomas

You will observe that at the time this surrender was
made, Elizabeth Colles, alias Joye, was evidently between
twelve and thirteen years of age, otherwise there would
have been no need of a condition to the intent that the
surrender would become void in case Anthony Gunstone
married her within that period. Hence it follows that in
the early part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the tenants
of this Manor attained their majority at the age of twelve
years, and were then legally competent to dispose of their
customary estates. In the second place, by the guarantees
incorporated in the surrender, this young lady forestalled



the possibility of any action for a breach of promise of
marriage, forasmuch as she provided distinctly that " yf
she refuse to marrye with the said Anthonye at the tyme
appointed," then she forfeited her estates to the said
Anthony " during his natural life." Further, it will be ob-
served that, knowing her husband might (according to the
Customs of the Manor) claim to be admitted by the courtesy
of Taunton Deane as a tenant for her estates immediately
after their marriage, this prudent young lady, in her own
interest and for her own protection, imposes a condition on
her future husband to this effect : that immediately on his
succession he shall surrender the said premises to the clerk
of the castle, so that if the said Anthonye Gunstone should
die after their marriage and before she attained the age of
15 years, "the premises should remayne to her and her
heirs.^^ This surrender was made on the 23rd June, 1568.
In the year after the following entry was made in the parish
register of Combe Florey : —

" Anthonie Gounstoune and Elizabeth his wiffe were
maryed on the xviij. day of July, 1569.^^

From this it would appear that the favoured suitor was
not kept waiting very long after the time specified in the


From an observation made in my remarks on this sur-
render it will be seen that the rights conferred by the
Courtesy of Taunton Deane are far more extensive than
those conferred by what is termed the Courtesy of England ;
for while by the latter the husband is entitled to a life-
interest in his wife's estate of inheritance only after the
birth of issue from the marriage capable of inheriting; by
the Customs of Taunton Deane, on the other hand the
husband may at once claim to be admitted as tenant for his


wife's estates, and on producing legal evidence of marriage,
is so admitted, and the property becomes vested in him.


While the Customs of the Manor in this particular cer-
tainly do seem to confer on the husband great power and
control over his wife's customary-hold estate, it is but
right to observe that, by way of compensation, the provi-
sions made for the wife's dower are far more liberal than
those which the law of England allows.

Elsewhere, if a husband dies intestate, the wife succeeds
only to a third part of his property; but in Taunton
Deane, under these circumstances, the wife is endowed of
all her husband's customary tenements.

The wife, as " next heir unto her husband,'' succeeds to
all her husband held under the Manor, and " holds the
same unto her and her heirs.'' If, after being duly ad-
mitted as tenant, the widow should subsequently re-marry,
and neglect to protect herself, as the young tenant of
Combe Florey did, then her second husband might claim
the lands which descended to her through her first hus-
band, notwithstanding that children by the first marriage
were living. And in case his wife should die before him,
the heirs of the second husband, and not those of the first,
would inherit. I am not now stating an hypothetical case,
but one that has actually occurred in Taunton Deane
within a very few years past.


Another very peculiar feature in the Customs of Taunton
Deane presents itself in the laws which regulate the de-
scent of property in the Manor. The resemblance which
exists between these and the Customs of Kent, and also
those known as Borough English, taken together with the
the fact that this important Manor had its origin long


before the Norman Conquest, leads to the conclusion, I
conceive, that these peculiar customs are of Saxon origin.
Amidst all the changes that have taken place in England
during the last thousand years, it is curious to note that
the Manor of Taunton Deane has thus retained up to the
present day the same rules as to succession which pre-
vailed here before Alfred was king. We have now to
treat not of the dead past, but of the living present, seeing
that these regulations are still in force in this Manor.

If a tenant of this Manor dies intestate, his wife inherits
as next heir to all that her husband held under the Manor.
She is admitted as tenant in his place, and the succession
is to her heirs, and not to the heirs of her husband.

If a tenant dies having no wife at the time of his death,
and having but one son, that son inherits. If he has more
than one son, then the youngest son inherits. In like
manner, if one daughter, she would inherit ; but if there
are more than one, then the youngest daughter becomes
the heir.

If a tenant dies, leaving no wife nor children, then the
succession would descend to the youngest brother of the
whole blood, or, in default, to the youngest sister. So, in
like manner, the youngest nephew, or the youngest niece,
in the absence of nephews, would inherit in preference to
her eldest sisters. In short, according to the Customs of
this Manor " the youngest next of kin of the whole and
worthiest blood ""^ inherits.

I do not profess to give the grounds and reasons upon
which this custom was based. Some think it arose from
excessive power and control which the feudal lord had
over his vassals. I am myself inclined to look upon it as
an outgrowth of the simple habits of early times. When
the elder sons and daughters came of age they left home,


settled in life, and no longei* needed any provision from
their father. The youngest would be left at home, and
the homestead would descend to him as a provision for his
support. Be that as it may, such are the customs which
prevail in this Manor, and which have all the force of an
imperial enactment ; and I need not point out how different
they are from the laws of primogeniture, which are of a
much more modern origin.


I now came to another incident of customary holding in
Taunton Deane — Escheat. In this particular the powers
of the feudal lord here would seem to have been far
greater than in other Manors ; for while elsewhere, in
olden time, cowardice in the field of battle, and in later
times, treason and murder and felony, determined the
feudal connection between the tenant and his lord, and his
land was forfeited, here, in Taunton Deane, the connexion
was severed and the land was escheated even if one tenant
prosecuted another tenant in any court of law other than
that of this Manor without license. Thus I find in the
Records* that certain lands in the Tithing of Holway
belonging to Thomas More de Priory came into the hands
of the lord as his escheat (" tamquam escaetam suam"), be-
cause that the said Thomas More had entered proceedings
in the King's Bench, Westminster, against \^ illiam Horsey
and John Gael, tenants of this Manor, and had caused
them to be placed under arrest without license obtained
from the Lord of this Manor. I am half tempted to be-
lieve that this excessive severity may have been partly
due to the ill-feeling which sprang up in Mary's reign
against men like More, who had become the owners of the

* 5 and 6 Philip and Mary.


property of religious^ liouses. Nevertheless, I find the
same course repeated in the 3rd of Elizabeth, when the
lands of Will. Wylles, of Poundsford, were escheated for
the same cause, the offence being aggravated in his case
by a rebellious spirit which he had manifested.

After the 3rd of Elizabeth, however, I do not find in
the record any entries of this character, the breach of this
custom being uniformly punished by a money fine, which
was always rigidly enforced. Hence the frequent entries
of " licencia prosequendi," which occur in the Records.
So stringent was this rule that one tenant should not
prosecute another tenant in any other courts of law than
those of the Manor without license, that in the 12th of
Elizabeth, Henry Portman, while serving the office of
High SheriflP, sued for and obtained a special license for
all such prosecutions in the Manor as he might be called
upon to authorise in his official capacity. Most of the
prosecutions were instituted for debt, some for libel —
pro verbis scandalosis — and some for tithes in the Ecclesi-
astical Courts. Throughout the reign of Elizabeth there
is obviously a growing disinclination to appeal to the
local tribunal, and from this time we find the law courts of
the Manor occupied with cases of small debts and petty
assaults. The range of their administration was very
wide and varied, arising out of the presentments of zealous
tithing-men. Now it is Dame Hewlet's pigs that un-
guarded roam in Marlin Churchyard ; now it is some
brewer who will charge more than fourpence a gallon for
the beer he brews ; then it is Eliz. Godson, who leaves a
dung-heap on the highway, or Will. Dicke, clericus of
Stoke qui insultum fecit super Rob. Carvannell cum
pugno suo.

These presentments are almost invariably expressed in


Latin, and sound extremely ludicrous ; thus, Ruishon,
Decennarius presentat quod Will. Webber insultum fecit
super M, Chaplin cum pruno baculo et extraxit sanguinem :
ideo in miserecordia. \%.d.

The powers and jurisdiction of the tenants of the Manor
legally assembled evidently included all the powers now
exercised by the Board of Health, the Board of Guardians,
and the Highway Board, and, still further, those of the
Commissioners in Lunacy ! They also exercised a severe
moral supervision over the district, as will be seen from
an order made in the 1 7th of Elizabeth, " that John
Henly, of Hull's Bishop, should turn out certain sub-
tenants of ill fame before the Feast of the Annunciation,
or pay a fine of 40 shillings ! " One very extraordinary
instance occurs of the control which the court had over
the estate of a tenant, presents itself on the Records, in
the 29th of Elizabeth. It is expressed in the terms fol-
lowing : " Whereas Will. Glasse maketh havoc and waste
of his tenement and doth wastefully spend the profitt
thereof so that his poore wyfe and her childe live in great
want — it is ordered that the same tenement be seized by
the bailif of the libertie, and a moietie of the yearly rent
be employed for the maintenance of the said wyfe and
childe." But this is not all, for the order proceeds — " And
yf he resist the execution of this decree then he shall be
taken and imprisoned in the ordinarie prison of the Castell
of Taunton until he will agree unto the performance hereof!"

I leave this decree to speak for itself, and I make no com-
ment other than this — that while this order undoubtedly
approves itself to our moral sense, it is one which it would
be extremely difficult to carry into effect legally in the
present day.

There was one duty which the tythingman discharged


with evident delight, namely, that of making present-
ments of such bond-land tenants as were non-resident
and neglected suit of Court. In this matter there was no
respect of persons, as will be seen from the following entry:
— " South-fulford : Decennarius ibidem presentat quod
Johannes Popham miles, Capitalis Justiciarius dne Reginse
de Banco, liber tenens sectam debet curias, et fecit de-
faultum." It was, verily, a striking instance of imperium
in imperio when the law-court of this Manor imposed a
fine upon the Chief Justice of England for non-attendance
and for failure in suit and service !

This obligation of " Suit of Court " made a very serious
demand upon the time of the tenant in former days, for
besides the " three-weeken Courts,^' they were obliged to
attend on the two chief law-days, the one called Turnus
de Hoche held in the spring, and the other the Turnus de
St. Martin, which was held in September. Hoche-tide
we know commenced on the third Monday after Easter-
day, and the time of holding the Court seems to range
from the beginning of March to the end of April. I can
find nothing in the calendar to account for the Tourne of
St. Martin in September.

From a very early period down to the beginning of the
reign of James I. entries frequently occur in the Records
of licenses, obtained and paid for, to reside elsewhere than
on the bond-land tenement, to be exempt from the three-
weeken Courts, and sometimes to be relieved entirely of
suit of Court. These and a great many other peculiar
customs I am reluctantly obliged to pass over rather than
weary you in the recital. They deserve, however, to be
on record in our Proceedings, as land-marks which help to
show what our institutions have been, and how they have
changed for the better.


There remains, however, one incident of bond-land
tenure in this Manor which must not be passed over, inas-
much it continues in as full force in the present day as
when the vassal was bound to take the field, armed and
well mounted, in the service of his feudal lord. I refer to
the Heriot payable on the death of a bond-land tenant. I
cannot but think that this is a relic of old military tenure,
as the word itself seems to show. The Heregeat would be
" that with which the warrior went forth," that is, his
war-horse and his armour. These would naturally be
looked upon as the property of the feudal lord, and would
be accounted for by the successor of a deceased tenant.
When militaiy tenures were abolished, the custom of
heriot was retained in Taunton Deane, and the lord
claimed the best chattel, " quick or dead," on the tene-
ment. It is so still ; and if a tenant die possessed of two
or more bond-land tenements, then a heriot is demanded
for each separate holding, whatever may be its extent or
value. Not long since the owner of two small plots of
bond-land died in the neighbourhood of Taunton, and his
two best carriage horses were seized and taken as heriot
on behalf of the lord of the Manor.


Under these circumstances one is not surprised to find
that the tenants from time to time have sought by pur-
chase to relieve themselves from these burdensome obliga-
tions. And as this freedom was obtained by the payment
of heavy fines it is not surprising that the lords of this
Manor, who possessed only a life-interest in the estate,
were always ready and willing to enrich themselves in
this way, even to the loss and impoverishing of their suc-
cessors. Many of the Bishops of Winchester would seem



to have made a very good thing of this power of enfranchise-
ment, good for themselves but not for the see. When the
Manor was sold by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, it
realized very little more than used at one time to be
its annual income ; the process goes on from year to
year, so that the market value of the Manor is continually
diminishing. In fact, the princely domain of the old
lords of this Manor is melting away so fast that it is
now but a mere airy shadow of what it used to be, and is
rapidly sinking into the condition of an archaeological relic,
existing only on paper and within the folds of its dusty
pipe-rolls. This, however, makes the subject not less, but
more interesting to the antiquarian. There is, therefore,
the more reason why this society should endeavour to
place on record as complete an account as may be of its
Customs and rules. In many respects much that is pecu-
liar in the Customs of this Manor forms an important
link, connecting the institutions under which we live with
those which our forefathers originated. Without a know-
ledge of the past it is impossible fully to understand the
present, and it is vain to hope to provide wisely for the

In concluding this long, yet necessarily meagre sketch,
I regret that time will not admit of my passing in review
the deeds and lives of the wise and good and great men
to whom the tenants of this ancient Manor have done
fealty. There is no great or grand event hardly in the
hlstorv of Enffland with which the lords of this Manor
in ancient times were not associated. When I mention
the name of the Sainted Swithin, of Stigand, the devoted
friend of Eadward and Earl Godwine ; when we remember
that Henry of Blois, grandson of the Conqueror, and
Harry Beaufort, son of John of Gaunt, and Wolsey, the


Cardinal, all held tins INIanor ; when we recall the names
of William of Wykeham, of Waynefleet, and of Richard
Fox, what is there that is great and grand in the history
of our country which does not rise up before our eyes !
The temptation is great, but I resist. I close, as I feel I
should do, with cordial thanks to my hearers for the
patience with which they have listened to my story.

*^* This Paper is printed as it was read, except that one clause is left
out from the paragi'aph relating to the "Courtesy of Taunton Deane,"

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