The Relationship between Lords and Tenants in the Middle Ages


The project is being worked on in collaboration with Jordan Claridge (London School of Economics and Political Science) und Tanja Skambraks (University of Mannheim) bearbeitet.

Lordship was indisputably a key, and perhaps defining, part of political, social and economic structures in the Middle Ages. However, the actual impact of lordship, and its centrality to explaining economic development, has long been subject to debate. My research in this area seeks to better understand how lordship operated in the countryside and particularly the role of the tenants, who held their land from lords, in the running of seignorial institutions. With Jordan Claridge, I have explored this through the prism of the management of stray animals, demonstrating that lords exercised their rights to seize stray animals as a public good. The ‘stray system’ helped to protect a community's arable land – the most vital source of income for lords and tenants alike – while simultaneously assuring the property rights of those who had lost important capital assets in the form of livestock. Elsewhere, I have shown how the exercise of lords’ rights to the forfeit goods of felons relied heavily on the cooperation of their tenants and that tenants had positive attitudes towards the offices they held as part of their obligations to their lords, being invested in a well-functioning set of officials which fulfilled their purposes as well as those of their lords.

To further explore this topic, Tanja Skambraks and I are organising a workshop in Mannheim to bring together scholars from across Europe and beyond to think about this topic. Through engaging in constructive discussion and debate, and comparing different perspectives, we will investigate in more depth the roles of lords in medieval economies and how these varied across time and space. If you are interested in presenting a paper or joining as a participant, please get in touch!


  • Gibbs, Spike/Jordan Claridge, ‘Waifs and Strays: Property Rights in Late Medieval England’, Journal of British Studies, 61 (2022), S. 50–82.
  • Gibbs, Spike, ‘Lords, Tenants and Attitudes to Manorial Officeholding, c.1300-c.1600’, Agricultural History Review, 67 (2019), S. 155–74.
  • Gibbs, Spike, ‘Felony Forfeiture at the Manor of Worfield, C.1370-C.1600’, Journal of Legal History, 39 (2018), S. 253–77.