Medieval History Term of the Week: Cottars

Cottars (cotters)
Etymology: Middle English cottar, from Medieval Latin cotarius, from Middle English cot

1) Lowest of the main levels of peasant cultivators at Domesday; “cottagers” with 4 acres or less.
(Wood, Michael. Domesday: A Search for the Roots of England, 213)

2) Smallholder (usually no more than a cottage and five acres of land).
(Bennett, Judith M. Women in the Medieval English Countryside, 234)

From the Domesday Book 1086 – Instructions and Extract:

Here is subscribed the inquisition of lands as the barons of the king have made inquiry into them; that is to say by the oath of the sheriff of the shire, and of all the barons and their Frenchmen, and the whole hundred, the priests, reeves, and six villagers of each manor; then, what the manor is called, who held it in the time of King Edward, who holds now; how many hides, how many plowlands in demesne, how many belonging to the men, how many villagers, how many cottagers, how many slaves, how many free-men, how many socmen, how much woods, how much meadow, how many pastures, how many mills, how many fish-ponds, how much has been added or taken away, how much it was worth altogether at that time, and how much now, how much each free man or socman had or has. All this threefold, that is to say in the time of King Edward [the Confessor, 1003?-1066], and when King William [the Conqueror–or the Bastard, c.1028-1087] gave it, and as it is now; and whether more can be had than is had.

hundred = an administrative district, originally a hundred families, but by now simply an area of land
reeve = the manager of the manor
hide = about 120 acres of land
plowland = from 80 to 144 acres; the area that could be plowed by a team of oxen (often eight)
demesne = land directly farmed for the lord, as opposed to the land the peasants rented for themselves
bovate = from 10 to 18 acres (one-eighth a plowland)
villager = “villein,” a male peasant, with a certain amount of land (usually ten to twenty acres); the number actually indicates families rather than just individuals
cottager [“cottar”] = a peasant with little or no land
bordar = a peasant with little land, from a few acres to as little as a fraction of an acre; also called “smallholders”
socman = free men under specific jurisdiction; one owing “socage,” services other than military service. This would also represent a family.

*term definition retrieved from Netserf’s Medieval Glossary (http://www.netserf.org/Glossary)

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