As it is not very usual to find a demesne continuously
exploited by its lord as late as the mid-fifteenth century, with
detailed accounts of the process, the manor of Otford is worth a short
paper to show how an attenuated cultivation by the archbishop was
carried on until 1444.
The numerous demesnes of the archbishopric, mostly lying in
Kent, Sussex and Surrey, had with few exceptions been leased out by 1422
when a surviving valor gives a fairly comprehensive view of the
estates.1 The Cathedral Priory had gone over to rents as a
matter of policy in the 1390’s, and it is not unlikely that the
archbishop’s council had the same policy in train. The fact that a few
widely-spaced manors like Tarring, Stoneham and possibly Wadhurst in
Sussex, Otford, Wingham Barton, and possibly Teynham in Kent were still
directly exploited, in whole or in part, as late as 1422 strengthens the
impression that the supply of the archbishop’s itinerant household was
one reason for continued demesne-farming on selected manors.
It should be noted at the outset, however, that the demesne
lands on the archbishop’s manors were often rather small in comparison
with the lands of the tenants. To
put it another way, the major part of the archbishop’s income
from land, throughout the medieval period, was from rents. So the
interest of his demesne exploitation
less from watching a "high-farming" policy like that of
certain monasteries than from the information its records give us about
farming methods and, indeed, the local communities.
In the thirteenth century the issues of Otford demesne and
the rents of tenants were jointly answered for by a bailiff and a reeve
in one great undifferentiated account.2 Accounts of the same
sort survive from 1315-16 and 1322-3, where the accounting officer is
called a serjeant (serviens), andfrom 1355-6 where he is called
reeve (prepositus)3 But from 1382-3, when something
like a consecutive series begins again, the demesne is always left to
the serjeant,4 the collection of the tenants’ rents to the
reeve.5 This process of differentiating accounts is con-
Palace Library, Cartae Miscellanae, vol. xi, no. 89. It is hoped to
discuss the whole problems of farming the demesnes in a forthcoming book
on the archbishop’s estates in the middle ages.
Mus. Add MS 29,794 (account of 1273-4); Lambeth Court Roll
collection (abbreviated L.R.) no. 831 (account of 1296-7).
3 L.R. 832-4.
4 L.R., 835-6,
838, 841, 846, 846a, 849, 850, 853, 857-8,860, 863, 865, 868, 871.
5 L.R., 839,
842, 844-845a, 847, 854, 854a, 859, 861, 864, 866, 869-70, 872, 874.