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Related to Villeins: Serfs, Villains
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



various categories of the feudal dependent peasantry in the countries of Western Europe in the Middle Ages.

In France, Germany, and Italy the villeins had a relatively better legal and property status than other categories of the peasantry. Villenage in these countries was characterized by the absence of hereditary personal obligations (that is, obligations attached to the person rather than to the peasant’s land allotment and paid from generation to generation to the same seignior), as well as by greater freedom in the alienation of holdings and wider opportunities to resettle on another es-tate, in a city, or on free land. The categories of villenage were formed in these countries in the ninth and tenth centuries. During the 13th and 14th centuries (the so-called period of liberation) many serfs became villeins. During the 13th-15th centuries the term “villeins” was used as a collective designation for the whole peasantry.

In England villeins were a category of the peasantry that endured the harshest forms of feudal dependency. English villenage was characterized by arbitrary obligations (at the will of the lord), onerous labor services, and strict limitation of the right to leave the land allotments. Moreover, a villein was subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of his lord. Villenage achieved its final legal form in England by the mid-12th century. Because of the presence of a strong royal power in England at that time, villenage was characterized by a more or less unified status throughout the country. In the 15th and 16th centuries, as the villein holdings became copyholds, villenage as a legal category disappeared in England.


Kosminskii, E. A. Issledovaniia po agrarnoi istorii Anglii XIII v. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.
Barg, M. A. Issledovaniia po istorii angliiskogo feodalizma v XIXIII vv. Moscow, 1962.
Skazkin, S. D. Ocherkipo istorii zapadnoevropeiskogo krest’ianstva v srednie veka. Moscow, 1968.
Bloch, M. Kharakternye cherty frantsuzskoi agrarnoi istorii. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from French.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Ferne includes merchants (mercatores) and burgesses (burgenses) among that group of people he considers "unnoble and ungentle." His mixed group of rural and urban ranks also includes villani (yeomen and franklins) and servi/nativi (villeins) (Ferne, Biiii).
The medieval English villein was not in the same condition as a slave, says Skinner, for "it is only his property, not his person, which is sub potestate domini" (309-10).
The first documents to be examined are the jara'id, the registers of the Muslim serfs, or villeins, people with Arabic names, who were transferred through royal privileges to the church and lords together with the land they cultivated.
The uprising of the peasants, of the masses, of the urban throng, the participation of the mesteirais in Lisbon, the assault of the villeins on the noblemen in their castles, the demand of the masses for the abolition of unpopular taxes, all those aspects minutely detailed by Fernao Lopes in his chronicles--Oliveira Martins's main source--disappeared completely from his account of the crisis in Historia de Portugal.
The absolute powerless nature of the Jewish position may be summarized: "There was no custom, no tradition to which they could refer, as could the villeins or tenants, in the care of an autocratic master.
The severe labor shortages that were caused by the Black Plague served as the impetus for an overworked and underfed mob of artisans and villeins to rise up against fixed wages and the imposition of a poll tax.
If you will pardon the sleight sir, you reign over us like a cruel sheik, while we are mere villeins to be inveigled and kept under constant surveillance.
The subjugated peasants were described as serfs--not neglecting the usage of terms such as villeins, thanes, vassals, etc.--but their status was one of general unfreedom.
When confronted over his promises made at Mile End on June 14, 1381, King Richard replied: "Villeins ye are and villeins ye shall remain." A number of the ringleaders were beheaded.
That land was available to the villeins to pasture the cow, to cut the wood, and to dig the turf.
A few of the peasants (freemen and sokemen) had a freer way of life than the majority of bordars and villans (or villeins), slaves (or serfs) also worked the demesne land, there was some work for wages and land was sometimes leased, but despite this, input trading was very restricted.
These early Coventrians lived off the land, either as free men or as villeins, serfs and bordars belonging to the lord.