Under the feudal system in late and high medieval England, tenure by serjeanty was a form of land-holding in return for some specified service, ranking between tenure
Land tenure
Land tenure is the name given, particularly in common law systems, to the legal regime in which land is owned by an individual, who is said to "hold" the land . The sovereign monarch, known as The Crown, held land in its own right. All private owners are either its tenants or sub-tenants...

 by knight-service
Knight-service was a form of Feudal land tenure under which a knight held a fief or estate of land termed a knight's fee from an overlord conditional on him as tenant performing military service for his overlord....

 (enfeoffment) and tenure in socage
Socage was one of the feudal duties and hence land tenure forms in the feudal system. A farmer, for example, held the land in exchange for a clearly defined, fixed payment to be made at specified intervals to his feudal lord, who in turn had his own feudal obligations, to the farmer and to the Crown...

. It is also used of similar forms in Continental Europe.

Origins and development

Serjeanty originated in the assignation of an estate in land on condition of the performance of a certain duty other than knight-service, usually the discharge of duties in the household of king or noble. It ranged from service in the king's host, distinguished only by equipment from that of the knight, to petty renders scarcely distinguishable from those of the rent-paying tenant or socager.

In 1895, the legal historians Pollock and Maitland
Frederic William Maitland
Frederic William Maitland was an English jurist and historian, generally regarded as the modern father of English legal history.-Biography:...

 described it as being a free "servantship" in the sense that the serjeant, whatever his task, was essentially a menial servant. J.H. Round
John Horace Round
Horace Round was a historian and genealogist of the English medieval period. He translated the Domesday Book for Essex into contemporary English. As an expert in the history of the British peerage he was appointed Honorary Historical Adviser to the Crown.-Family and early life:Round was born on 22...

 objects, however, that this definition does not cover the military serjeanties and glosses over the honorific value of at least some of the services.

Serjeanties, as Miss Bateson has expressed it in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica,
were neither always military nor always agricultural, but might approach very closely the service of knights or the service of farmers ... The serjeanty of holding the king's head when he made a rough passage across the Channel, of pulling a rope when his vessel landed, of counting his chessmen on Christmas day, of bringing fuel to his castle, of doing his carpentry, of finding his potherbs, of forging his irons for his ploughs, of tending his garden, of nursing the hounds gored and injured in the hunt, of serving as veterinary to his sick falcons, such and many others might be the ceremonial or menial services due from a given serjeanty.
The many varieties of serjeanty were afterwards increased by lawyers classing for convenience under this head such duties as those of escort service to the Abbess of Barking, or of military service on the Welsh border by the men of Archenfield
Archenfield is the historic English name for an area of southern and western Herefordshire in England. Since the Anglo-Saxons took over the region in the 8th century, it has stretched between the River Monnow and River Wye, but it derives from the once much larger Welsh kingdom of...


Domesday Book

Serjeants (servientes) are already entered as a distinct class in Domesday Book
Domesday Book
Domesday Book , now held at The National Archives, Kew, Richmond upon Thames in South West London, is the record of the great survey of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086...

(1086), though not in all cases differentiated from the barons, who held by knight-service. Sometimes, as in the case of three Hampshire serjeanties — those of acting as king's marshal, of finding an archer for his service, and of keeping the
gaol in Winchester Castle
Winchester Castle
Winchester Castle is a medieval building in Hampshire, England. It was founded in 1067. Only the Great Hall exists now; it houses a museum of the history of Winchester.-Great Hall:...

 — the tenure can be definitely traced as far back as Domesday. It is probable, however, that many supposed tenures by serjeanty were not really such, although so described in returns, in inquests after death, and other records. The simplest legal test of the tenure was that serjeants, though liable to the feudal exactions of wardship
Ward (law)
In law, a ward is someone placed under the protection of a legal guardian. A court may take responsibility for the legal protection of an individual, usually either a child or incapacitated person, in which case the ward is known as a ward of the court, or a ward of the state, in the United States,...

, etc., were not liable to scutage
The form of taxation known as scutage, in the law of England under the feudal system, allowed a knight to "buy out" of the military service due to the Crown as a holder of a knight's fee held under the feudal land tenure of knight-service. Its name derived from shield...

; they made in place of this exaction special composition with the Crown.

Some of the Domesday tenants may have been serjeants in the time of Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor also known as St. Edward the Confessor , son of Æthelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy, was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England and is usually regarded as the last king of the House of Wessex, ruling from 1042 to 1066....

. For instance, one Siward Accipitrarius, presumably hawker to Edward the Confessor, held from the king an estate worth ₤ 7 in Somerset and did so in an area appropriate to his occupation, close to a water habitat. J.H. Round ascribed the development of serjeanties in England to Norman influence, though he did not dismiss earlier roots. The Anglo-Saxon historian James Campbell has suggested that serjeanties such as the messenger services recorded in the 13th century may represent "semi-fossilised remnants of important parts of the Anglo-Saxon governmental system".

Grand serjeanty vs petty serjeanty

The germ of the later distinction between "grand" and "petty" serjeanty is found in the Magna Carta
Magna Carta
Magna Carta is an English charter, originally issued in the year 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions, which included the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority to date. The charter first passed into law in 1225...

(1215), the king there renouncing the right of prerogative wardship in the case of those who held of him by the render of small articles. The legal doctrine that serjeanties were (a) inalienable and (b) impartible led to the "arrentation
Arrentation , in the forest laws of England, is the licensing an owner of land in a forest, to enclose it with a small ditch and low hedge, in consideration of an annual rent.-References:...

," under Henry III
Henry III of England
Henry III was the son and successor of John as King of England, reigning for 56 years from 1216 until his death. His contemporaries knew him as Henry of Winchester. He was the first child king in England since the reign of Æthelred the Unready...

 (r. 1216-1272), of serjeanties the lands of which had been partly alienated, and which were converted into socage tenures, or, in some cases, tenures by knight-service. Gradually the gulf widened, and "petty" serjeanties, consisting of renders, together with serjeanties held of mesne
Mesne , middle or intermediate, an adjective used in several legal phrases....

 lords, sank into socage, while "grand" serjeanties, the holders of which performed their service in person, became alone liable to the burden of wardship and marriage. In Littleton
Thomas de Littleton
Sir Thomas de Littleton was an English judge and legal writer.-Early life:He was born, it is supposed, at Frankley Manor House, Worcestershire, England in about 1407. Littleton’s surname was that of his mother, who was the sole daughter and heiress of Thomas de Littleton, Lord of Frankley. She...

's Tenures (15th century), this distinction appears as well defined, but the development was one of legal theory.


By the reign of King Edward I (r. 1272–1307), tenure by serjeanty was well on the retreat, as Kimball observes in her study of the English serjeanties published in 1936:

Once it began to give way, serjeanty disintegrated more quickly and easily than the other tenures as the feudal conception of society lost its hold. [...] Its miscellaneous services had [..] many fates. A large number soon became obsolete; others were commuted to money payments or changed to knight's service; a few that were honourable or ornamental were retained in their original form as part of the coronation ceremony. Some being still useful were performed by deputy, or absorbed into the regular administrative system.

When the military tenure of knight-service was abolished at the Restoration by Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 (r. 1649-1651) (cap. 24), that of grand serjeanty was retained, doubtless on account of its honorary character, it being then limited in practice to the performance of certain duties at coronations, the discharge of which as a right has always been coveted, and the earliest record of which is that of Queen Eleanor
Eleanor of Provence
Eleanor of Provence was Queen consort of England as the spouse of King Henry III of England from 1236 until his death in 1272....

's coronation in 1236. The most conspicuous are those of champion
Queen's Champion
The feudal holder of the Manor of Scrivelsby since 1066 has held that manor from the Crown by grand serjeanty of being The Honourable The King's/Queen's Champion. Such person is also Standard Bearer of England.- Origins :...

, appurtenant to the Dymokes' manor of Scrivelsby, and of supporting the king's right arm, appurtenant to that of Worksop
Worksop is the largest town in the Bassetlaw district of Nottinghamshire, England on the River Ryton at the northern edge of Sherwood Forest. It is about east-south-east of the City of Sheffield and its population is estimated to be 39,800...


Modern remnants

The duty of supporting the king's right arm was still performed at the coronation of King Edward VII (1902). The meaning of serjeant as a household officer is still preserved in the king's serjeants-at-arms, serjeant-surgeons and serjeant-trumpeter. The horse and foot serjeants (servientes) of the king's host in the 12th century, who ranked after the knights and were more lightly armed, were unconnected with tenure.

Examples of grand serjeanty

  • Manor of Worksop
    Manor of Worksop
    The Manor of Worksop is a feudal entity in the Dukeries area of Nottinghamshire, England. Held in Grand Serjeanty by a lord of the manor, it was originally connected with nearby Worksop Manor, a stately home.-History:...

    , white kid gloves
  • Manor of Scrivelsby
    Manor of Scrivelsby
    The Manor of Scrivelsby, Lincolnshire, England is a manor held by grand serjeanty, a form of tenure which requires the performance of a service rather than a money payment – in this case as the King or Queens Champion....

    , The Queen's Champion
    Queen's Champion
    The feudal holder of the Manor of Scrivelsby since 1066 has held that manor from the Crown by grand serjeanty of being The Honourable The King's/Queen's Champion. Such person is also Standard Bearer of England.- Origins :...

  • Manor of Kingston Russell
    Kingston Russell
    Kingston Russell is a large mansion house and manor near Long Bredy in Dorset, England, west of Dorchester. The present house dates from the late 17th century but in 1730 was clad in a white Georgian stone facade. The house was restored in 1913, and at the same time the gardens were laid out...

     counting the King's chessman and storing them away after a game
  • Manor of Kenninghall, the Chief Butler of England
    Chief Butler of England
    The Chief Butler of England is an office of Grand Sergeanty associated with the feudal Manor of Kenninghall in Norfolk. The office requires service to be provided to the Monarch at the Coronation, in this case the service of Pincera Regis, or Chief Butler at the Coronation banquet.The manor of...

  • Manor of Farnham
    Farnham Royal
    Farnham Royal is a village and civil parish within the South Bucks district of Buckinghamshire, England. It is located in the south of the county, around 22 miles west of Charing Cross, Central London....

    , right to provide gloves and support king's right arm, while the Royal Sceptre
    A sceptre is a symbolic ornamental rod or wand borne in the hand by a ruling monarch as an item of royal or imperial insignia.-Antiquity:...

     was in his hand during Coronation
    A coronation is a ceremony marking the formal investiture of a monarch and/or their consort with regal power, usually involving the placement of a crown upon their head and the presentation of other items of regalia...

  • Manor of Bardolf-in-Addington, right to serve a mess of Dillegrout
  • Manor of Nether Bilsington, right to present three Maple cups
  • Manor of Eston-le-Mount, Chief Larderer and caterer
  • Manor of Wymondley, right to bear a silver-gilt
    Silver-gilt or gilded/gilt silver, sometimes known in American English by the French term vermeil, is silver gilded with gold. Most large objects made in goldsmithing that appear to be gold are actually silver-gilt; for example most sporting trophies, medals , and many crown jewels...

  • Manor of Lyston, right to bear a charger of wafers
  • Manor of Pelham, Chief Sewer (server)
  • Manor of Heydon, right to bear a towel for washing the monarch's hands
  • Manor of Bedford, Almoner
  • Manor of Ashele, naperer
  • Manor of Sculton, larderer
  • The manor of Kinver
    Kinver is a large village in South Staffordshire district, Staffordshire, England. It is in the far south-west of the county, at the end of the narrow finger of land surrounded by the counties of Shropshire, Worcestershire and the West Midlands. The nearest towns are Stourbridge in the West...

     and Stourton
    Stourton, Staffordshire
    Stourton is a hamlet in Staffordshire, England a few miles to the northwest of Stourbridge. There is a fair amount of dispute over the pronunciation, being pronounced 'stower-ton', 'stir-ton' or 'store-ton' by different people from the area. The nearest sizeable villages are Wollaston and Kinver, ...

     was held by the service of keeping the Royal Forest
    Royal forest
    A royal forest is an area of land with different meanings in England, Wales and Scotland; the term forest does not mean forest as it is understood today, as an area of densely wooded land...

     of Kinver
  • Sherfield-on-Loddon, pimp tenure
    Pimp tenure
    Pimp tenure was a form of feudal land tenure which required the land-holder to keep and maintain whores for the king or his army. It was thus a variety of serjeanty. It was described in Bouvier's Law Dictionary, volume 5, as: "A very singular and odious kind of tenure mentioned by old writers". The...

See also

  • Serjeanty is to be distinguished from offices held hereditary in gross
    Hereditary in gross
    An office, not being held by serjeanty, or attached to some particular office or title, is said to be "in gross".Such offices are inherited in the same manner as a barony by writ: by sons in order of birth, and then by daughters...

  • Quia Emptores
    Quia Emptores
    Quia Emptores of 1290 was a statute passed by Edward I of England that prevented tenants from alienating their lands to others by subinfeudation, instead requiring all tenants wishing to alienate their land to do so by substitution...

  • History of English land law
    History of English land law
    The history of English land law derives from a mixture of Roman, Norman and modern legislative sources.Such terms as "fee" or "homage" carry us back into feudal times. Rights of common and distress are based upon still older institutions, forming the very basis of primitive law...

Secondary sources

  • Round, J. Horace. The King's Serjeants & Officers of State with their Coronation Services. London, 1911. PDF available from the Internet Archive.
  • Oggins, Robin S. The Kings and Their Hawks. New Haven, 2004.
  • Pollock, Sir Frederick and Frederic William Maitland. History of English Law before the Time of Edward I. 2nd edition. 1898 (first edition 1895). Available from the Internet Archive.

Primary sources

  • Domesday Book
    Domesday Book
    Domesday Book , now held at The National Archives, Kew, Richmond upon Thames in South West London, is the record of the great survey of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086...

    , see e.g. the Victoria History of Hampshire, vol. I.
  • Red Book of the Exchequer
    Red Book of the Exchequer
    The Red Book of the Exchequer is a 13th-century manuscript compilation of the records of the English Exchequer. Made of vellum, the book was compiled by a royal clerk who died in 1246...

    . Rolls series
    Rolls Series
    The Rolls Series, official title The Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages, is a major collection of British and Irish historical materials and primary sources, published in the second half of the 19th century. Some 255 volumes, representing 99 separate...

  • Book of Fees
    Book of Fees
    The Book of Fees is the colloquial title of a modern edition, transcript, rearrangement and enhancement of the mediaeval Liber Feodorum , being a listing of feudal landholdings or "fees/fiefs", compiled in about 1302, but from earlier records, for the use of the English Exchequer...

Secondary sources

  • Brand, Paul. "The Serjeants of the Common Bench in the reign of Edward I. An Emerging Professional Elite." In Thirteenth century England VII: Proceedings of the Durham conference 1997, ed. M. Prestwich, R.H. Britnell, and R. Frame. Woodbridge, 1999. 81-102.
  • Campbell, James. "Some Agents and Agencies of the Late Anglo-Saxon State." Domesday Studies, ed. J.C. Holt. Woodbridge, 1987. 201-18.
  • Kimball, Elisabeth G. Serjeanty tenure in medieval England. Yale Historical Publications Miscellany 30. New Haven and London, 1936.
  • Oggins, V.D. and Robin S. Oggins. "Hawkers and falconers along the Ouse. A geographic principle of location in some serjeanty and related holdings." Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 80 (1992 for 1991)': 7-20.
  • Poole, Austin Lane. Obligations of Society in the XII and XIII Centuries. Oxford, 1946. Chapter.

Older works:
  • McKechnie, William Sharp, Magna Carta (1905).
  • Blount
    Thomas Blount (lexicographer)
    Thomas Blount was an English antiquarian and lexicographer.-Background:He was the son of Myles Blount of Orleton in Herefordshire and was born at Bordesley, Tardebigge, Worcestershire...

    , Tenures. Useful, but its editions are very uncritical.
  • Wollaston
    Augustus Wollaston Franks
    Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks KCB was an English antiquary and museum administrator. Franks was described by Marjorie Caygill, historian of the British Museum, as "arguably the most important collector in the history of the British Museum, and one of the greatest collectors of his age".-Early...

    , Coronation Claims.

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