Mapping peasant discontent: trespassing on manorial land in fourteenth-century Walsham-le-Willows
journal contributionposted on 18.11.2015, 10:48 by Susan E. Kilby
In recent years, it has largely been the domain of the landscape archaeologist to uncover and analyse the physical terrain of the late medieval manor. This has provided much material for the examination of ideas of rural power, control and social organisation. Considering the morphology of the settlement and adjacent fieldscape, it is rare, however, to reflect upon the views of the peasantry, who would after all have made up the majority of the population of rural communities. Using evidence gathered from fourteenth-century manorial court rolls, this study examines peasant attitudes to the rural landscape from an historical perspective through the analysis of incidences of trespass on demesne and peasant land in the Suffolk vill of Walsham-le-Willows. Unusually, these documentary sources frequently make reference to the specific location of peasant trespass allowing for a quantitative investigation that reveals something of the motivation behind these seemingly petty and notionally accidental incidents. Traditionally, cases of trespassing on neighbouring land have been considered only fleetingly by historians, since it is generally believed that many incidents were the result of accidental damage by wandering livestock, or that manorial officials used court fines as a means of licensing access. This study shows that the reality was far more complex, and that there was a range of motivational stimuli for these acts.