Introduction | Exploring Medieval Village Territories | The Evolution of Post-medieval Village Territories | The Creation of Village Territories | The Development of Medieval Village Territories | Late Medieval Village Territories | Conclusions

1.2 Defining medieval villagescapes

At its most simple, an individual village territory was a compact land unit, defined by the coterminous boundaries of manorial and ecclesiastical jurisdiction in which it was held, and containing within it a single principal settlement and a coherent field system, together with other essential resources such as woodland, meadow, and pasture. In such cases the villagescape finds equivalence with the manor, vill or township, and parish. In reality, however, arrangements might be far more complex. The territory could consist of a group of detached blocks rather than a single unit. Manorial and ecclesiastical boundaries might be at variance, particular where lordship of the territory was divided. Manors or parishes could contain any number of settlements, these separate centres being of different size and status. Field systems and other resources might be shared between these places, or farmed in isolation from one another. Nor did these land units once formed necessarily remain static. They might coalesce, fragment and re-form over time, during which processes their boundaries might be redrawn. And within them settlement patterns might mutate, fields and woodland might grow or contract, and the nature of landholding and population levels might change.

This article focuses on the internal developments of the group of medieval village territories which developed within the study area. It is particularly concerned with both the parallel and divergent trajectories followed by these units of landscape as they took shape, and explores issues relating to the chronology and tempo of transformation seen over the medieval period in both their settlement form and field systems. Rhythms and cycles of change are highlighted, together with the order in which these changes were effected. What is revealed is a complex scenario of common trends and unique events, which in isolation or in combination underpin the dynamics of the medieval countryside.


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Last updated: Mon Sep 4 2006