Anglo-Saxon multiple estate

An Anglo-Saxon multiple estate was a large landholding controlled from a central location with surrounding subsidiary settlements. These estates were present in the early Anglo-Saxon period, but fragmented into smaller units in the late Anglo-Saxon period. Despite some academic criticism, the concept has been widely used and a large number of possible examples have been proposed.


The concept of an Anglo-Saxon multiple estate was developed by Professor Glanville Jones of Leeds University. The idea originally appeared in a paper published in 1961[1] and was fleshed out in a 1976 book on medieval settlement.[2] The term "great estate" is sometimes used as an alternative to multiple estate.[3] These estates typically contained various features:[4]

  • a central caput from which the estate was managed
  • a minster church providing parochial support to the whole estate
  • surrounding agricultural settlements specialising in particular crops.

The specialised settlements, dependent on the caput, often took their name from the crop they produced – Cheswick (cheese wick), Berwick (barley farm), etc.[5] The caput has been variously described as a villa regalis, aula, mansio, or maerdref.[4] Specialisation may have been encouraged by "renders" – taxation in kind – paid to the king.[6]

These estates may have been based around a royal vill and may have been coterminous with the parochia of an early minster church.[3]


The origin of some of these estates has been traced back to Roman times or earlier[7] – for example, H. P. R. Finberg proposed a Roman origin for Withington, Gloucestershire,[8] while Glanville Jones himself suggested a pre-Roman origin for some estates[9] These multiple estates were a common feature in the English landscape before the 10th century and were usually owned by the king or an important monastery.[10] In the late Anglo-Saxon period, many of these large estates fragmented into smaller units which eventually became independent parishes.[11] The resultant parishes frequently share the same name differentiated by a suffix or prefix.[12] The fragmentation of these estates resulted in the diminishing importance of their minster churches[13] which (under the "minster hypothesis") had been the basis of early Christian church organisation.

Academic statusEdit

The concept has been criticised – for example, because the evidence used is often much later than the date of the proposed estate.[14] Nonetheless, the concept is widely used and a large number of possible examples have been proposed.


  1. ^ Jones, Glanville (1961). "Settlement Patterns in Anglo-Saxon England". Antiquity. XXXV.
  2. ^ Jones, Glanville (1979). "Multiple Estates and Early Settlement". In Sawyer, PH (ed.). English Medieval Settlements. Edward Arnold.
  3. ^ a b Rippon, Stephen (2008). Beyond the medieval village. Oxford University Press. p. 14.
  4. ^ a b Aston, Mick (1985). Interpreting the Landscape. Routledge. pp. 34–35. ISBN 0-7134-3649-2.
  5. ^ Hooke, Della (1998). The Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England. Leicester University Press. p. 52. ISBN 0-7185-0161-6.
  6. ^ Oosthuizen, Susan (2006). Landscapes Decoded. University of Hertfordshire Press. p. 9. ISBN 1-902806-58-1.
  7. ^ Muir, Richard (2001). Landscape Detective. Windgather Press. p. 24. ISBN 0-7509-4333-5.
  8. ^ Finberg, H.P.R. (1955). Roman and Saxon Withington: a study in continuity. Leicester: University College, Leicester.
  9. ^ Aston, Mick (1985). Interpreting the Landscape. Routledge. p. 32. ISBN 0-7134-3649-2.
  10. ^ Reynolds, Andrew (1999). Later Anglo-Saxon England. Tempus. p. 81. ISBN 0-7524-2513-7.
  11. ^ Gelling, Margaret (1997). Signposts to the Past (third ed.). Phillimore. p. 206. ISBN 0-460-04264-5.
  12. ^ Hunter, John (1999). The Essex Landscape. Essex Record Office. p. 68.
  13. ^ Blair, John (2003). "Parish Churches in the Eleventh Century". In Erskine, RWH; Williams, Ann (eds.). The Story of Domesday Book. Phillimore. p. 98.
  14. ^ Muir, Richard (2002). The NEW Reading the Landscape. University of Exeter Press. p. 123. ISBN 0-7181-1971-1.