What Is a Manor System in Medieval Times?

Remnants of a manor home in Italy.
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Middle school students often study the manor system -- a socioeconomic structure during the Middle Ages -- as part of their social studies curriculum. Peasants leased land from lords, knights and nobles; in return, the wealthy landowners promised to protect the peasants from foreign invaders. Each family paid for its land lease with the goods and services it produced. The manor included the lord's fortified estate as well as the surrounding peasant community under his protection.

1 Land Contract

Land contracts were a major part of the manor system. Knights and wealthy nobles leased some of the land outside their primary residences to trustworthy peasants who needed a safe place to live. These peasants produced goods and provided labor to support the needs of the manor. Affordable land leases gave serfs the opportunity to grow crops, raise livestock and use their crafting skills to produce tradable merchandise. The average knight depended on 15 to 30 peasant families to meet the goods-and-services needs of his own family, according to HistoryWorld.

2 Military Protection

Military protection was part of the agreement between wealthy landowners and peasants, defending against foreign invaders who attempted to damage their property, steal their goods or cause physical harm, as most peasants didn't have the money or resources to build their own armies or produce their own weapons. Manor systems differed from feudal systems -- in the manor system, residents didn't have to serve in the king's military; however, fiefs under the feudal system were required to do so. Even though lords protected peasants under their rule, the manor system was primarily an economic agreement, not a political or military-based arrangement.

3 Class Divisions

Each manor had cottages, barns and gardens for the peasants and a fortified residence or castle for the lord's family. The peasants clustered their homes together to make a small community that might also have a church, grain mill, wine press and farmland, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The fortified castle was a short traveling distance from the peasant village. The peasants didn't make political, social or economic decisions related to the manor, and they weren't invited to attend events hosted at the lord's residence.

4 The Manor House

The lord of the manor hired a trusted family member or a vassal -- a high-level nobleman -- to serve as a guardian over the peasant community. The vassal kept his eye open for potential invader attacks and made sure the peasants followed through with their lease agreements and didn't try to rebel against the lord. The vassal lived in the largest house, known as the manor house, in the peasant village. Some lords required the vassal to pledge his allegiance for life.

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.