Domesday Book‎ > ‎Terminology‎ > ‎Peasantry‎ > ‎

villager, or villein

Latin, villanus.

Villanus, translated as villager in the Phillimore edition, is sometimes rendered as villein, villain or villan. The difficulty of finding a suitable translation is due to two factors: first, the term is ambiguous, being used both to refer to the whole peasantry, or to just the largest group among them; and secondly, the villein of later times had a specific legal status which would cause confusion if assumed to apply to the Domesday villanus.

Villagers in the narrow sense formed the largest group among the peasantry, over 40% of the recorded population. They were found in every
county and never form less than 30% of the population in the counties of Great Domesday, even in those counties with substantial numbers of free peasants. In many counties, they constitute a half, two-thirds, or an even higher proportion of the total.

In economic terms, the villagers were indistinguishable from
Freemen or freemen. They were the most substantial group among the unfree peasantry, possessing on average 30 acres of land and two plough oxen.

For more detail, see F.W. Maitland, Domesday Book and beyond (1897); Reginald Lennard, Rural England, 1086-1135: a study of social and agrarian conditions (1959); and H.C. Darby, Domesday England (1977).
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