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Medieval Term of the Week: Villein

Middle English vilain, vilein

1) The wealthiest class of peasant. they usually cultivate 20-40 acres of land, often in isolated strips.
   (MEDIEV-L. Medieval Terms)

2) A non-free man, owing heavy labor service to a lord, subject to his manorial court, bound to the land, and subject to certain feudal dues.
   (Gies, Joseph and Francis. Life in a Medieval Castle, 231)

3) The highest class of dependent peasantry, often holding between 30 and 100 acres; above them were “freemen” and “sokemen”.
   (Wood, Michael. Domesday: A Search for the Roots of England, 214)

4) In England, the holder of a villein tenement for which he usually owes agricultural services to his lord. The villein’s rights in his tenement are customary and not enforeceable against his lord by medieval common law. Personally free against all men but his lord, the villein nevertheless does not fully enjoy the rights of a free man. He is a tenant at the will of the lord; he cannont serve on a jury dealing with the rights of a free man; he cannot take ecclesiastical orders with emancipation; he cannot make a will; if he leaves his duties on the lord’s manor, the lord can use all necessary force to bring him back to perform them.
   (Hogue, Arthur R. Origins of the Common Law, 258)

5) A peasant who, by definitions established c. 1200, was unfree to the extent that, although not a chattel of his lord, he could not leave his holding and owed services for it which were limited only by custom and his lord’s court, not by the royal courts.
   (Reynolds, Susan. An Introduction to the History of English Medieval Towns, 200)