Copyhold land was land held from a manor. For more general details, see the separate Research Guidance on Manorial records.
Manors themselves were freehold property, and were bought and sold between major landowners. The sales of manors were recorded in the usual ways for freehold property - for example by feoffment, bargain and sale, or lease and release. Manors could also be mortgaged and could form part of marriage settlements.
Smaller landholdings within manors were held by copyhold tenure. Title deeds for these pieces of land do not exist in quite the same form as for freehold land. This is because copyhold land was technically owned by the Lord of the Manor. The people who actually lived on and farmed manorial lands were only tenants of the manor. They held their land by custom, which varied between manors.
Nevertheless, most copyhold land could be bought and sold, inherited by descendents, left in a will, mortgaged, and settled, just like freehold estates. Many landholdings were held by members of the same family for generations. However, every transfer of land had to go through the Lord of the Manor. The land was surrendered back to him before the new tenant was admitted. The Lord of the Manor had the right to take fees from new tenants, and to receive a payment called a 'heriot' on the death of one of his old tenants.
The official record of the transfer of copyhold land was written up in the manorial court rolls. In addition, the steward of the manor wrote out an official copy of the court roll entry, which was kept by the tenant as their proof of title. This is where the term 'copyhold' comes from. These documents often survive in family and estate collections.
In this section, the main types of copyhold deeds are explained in detail.
Next page: Admittance, or Admission; and Surrender