• WordNet 3.6
    • n villeinage tenure by which a villein held land
    • n villeinage the legal status or condition of servitude of a villein or feudal serf
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Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
    • n villeinage A tenure of lands and tenements by base—that is, menial—services. It was originally founded on the servile state of the occupiers of the soil, who were allowed to hold portions of land at the will of their lord, on condition of performing base or menial services. Where the service was base in its nature, and undefined as to time and amount, the tenant being bound to do whatever was commanded, the tenure received the name of pure villeinage; but where the service, although of a base nature, was certain and defined, it was called privileged villeinage, and sometimes villein socage. The tenants in villeinage were divided into two distinct classes. First, there were the villani proper, whose holdings, the hides, half-hides, virgates, and bovates (see hide, holding), were correlative with the number of oxen allotted to them or contributed by them to the manorial plow-team of eight oxen. Below the villani proper were the numerous smaller tenants of what may be termed the cottier class, sometimes called in “Liber Niger” bordarii(probably from the Saxon bord, a cottage), and these cottagers, possessing generally no oxen, and therefore taking no part in the common plowing, still in some manors seem to have ranked as a lower grade of villani, having small allotments in the open fields, in some manors five acre strips apiece, in other manors more or less. Lastly, below the villains and cottiers were, in some districts, remains, hardly to be noticed in the later cartularies, of a class of servi, or slaves, fast becoming merged in the cottier class above them, or losing themselves among the household servants or laborers upon the lord's demesne. (Seebohm.) (See manor, yard-land, heriot.) It frequently happened that lands held in villeinage descended in uninterrupted succession from father to son, until at length the occupiers or villains became entitled, by prescription or custom, to hold their lands against the lord so long as they performed the required services. And although the villains themselves acquired freedom, or their land came into the possession of freemen, the villein services were still the condition of the tenure, according to the custom of the manor. These customs were preserved and evidenced by the rolls of the several courts-baron in which they were entered, or kept on foot by the constant immemorial usage of the several manors in which the lands lay. And as such tenants had nothing to show for their estates but the entries in those rolls, or copies of them authenticated by the steward, they at last came to be called tenants by copy of court-roll, and their tenure a copyhold.
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Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary
    • ns Villeinage in feudal times, the tenure of land by villein, i.e. base or menial services
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Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary
Orig. 'a serf attached to a farm,' O. Fr. villain—Low L. villanus—L. villa.


In literature:

Very great distress pervaded the land, and it led to efforts to get rid of villeinage.
"Landholding In England" by Joseph Fisher
Meanwhile, one great portion of our villeinage in our larger towns we have much mitigated.
"Harold, Complete The Last Of The Saxon Kings" by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
But when villeinage ceased, various and opposite courses seemed to have been pursued in different boroughs.
"The Constitutional History of England From 1760 to 1860" by Charles Duke Yonge
The ceorls tended to sink to the position known later as villeinage.
"The World's Greatest Books, Vol XI." by Edited by Arthur Mee and J.A. Hammerton
The jurors being questioned whether Roger did thus hold the house of Richard in villeinage, say, Yes.
"Our Legal Heritage, 5th Ed." by S. A. Reilly
In Scotland they had just been emancipated from the status of villeinage.
"Recent Developments in European Thought" by Various
Villeinage was unknown in Kent.
"History of the English People, Volume II (of 8)" by John Richard Green
The total abolition of all villeinage (forced labour) and serfdom.
"The Rise of the Democracy" by Joseph Clayton
The question of villeinage and serfage finds no place in it.
"History of the English People, Volume III (of 8)" by John Richard Green
This has been the process wherever (the name of) villeinage or slavery has been successfully abandoned.
"Cotton is King and The Pro-Slavery Arguments" by Various