The extents: a short introduction (CIPM XXII.799)

The detailed extents found in many IPMs are a key source of information for economic, agrarian, and landscape history. The extent was a kind of survey: that is, a written description of a property. There were several other varieties, including demesne surveys (records of the lands exploited by the lord of the manor), custumals (records of tenants and their rents and services), and  rentals (records of tenants and their rents).[1. P. D. A. Harvey, Manorial Records, rev. ed. (1999), ch. 2.] Extents are especially valuable because they describe both the demesne and the rents and services of tenants, providing valuations for each item. They therefore record and value all the constituent elements of an estate – arable, pasture, meadow, mills, fisheries, buildings and so, as well as tenants – providing important evidence of how land and other seigneurial resources were exploited, and of their relative importance and productivity. The extents made for private landlords are generally reliable and authoritative, but they do not survive in great numbers or for all areas of the country. The extents in IPMs are much more numerous, and cover a much wider social and geographical range, but they are not as reliable as those made for private landlords. This article provides a brief survey of the problems and illustrates them with a detailed comparison between the 1427 IPM extent of Stow Bardolph (Norf.) and contemporary accounts.[2. For fuller accounts, see the essays by Dyer and Holford in Companion.]

Guidance on drawing up an extent was principally provided by a short treatise called Extenta Manerii (‘the extent of a manor') dating from the late thirteenth century and extant in two different versions.[3. Walter of Henley and Other Treatises on Estate Management and Accounting, D. Oschinksy (Oxford, 1971), 67-72 and 312-3. The more detailed version of the Extenta is in SR i.242-3, and a different text in Fleta, ed. H.G. RIchardson and G.O. Sayles, 3 vols. (Selden Soc. 72, 89, 99) i.239-40. For model extents, see Legal and Manorial Formularies: Edited from Originals at the British Museum and the Public Record Office (Oxford, 1933), xvii-xviii, 25-9; E 163/24/34.] The shorter, which was incorporated in Walter of Henley's treatise on husbandry, provided a relatively brief checklist of what we might call ‘core' items: manorial buildings (including courtyard, gardens, dovecotes, curtilages); manorial demesne (the lands cultivated directly by the lord: arable, meadow, pasture, and wood); mills and fisheries; and free and customary tenants. Walter himself added questions regarding the crops that could be sown and the numbers of animals that could be kept. The more detailed version of the Extenta added several items to this checklist including parks, moor, marsh, heath, and turbary (where turf or peat could be dug for fuel); common pastures and woods in which the lord had rights; manorial and other courts; churches to which the lord had the advowson, or right of presentation; and finally fairs, markets, customs and services. This more detailed version was also incorporated in ‘model' extents. Not all these items, though, appeared in every version of the text, and some versions added other items of inquiry, such as warrens or franchises (jurisdictional privileges).

Extract from a fifteenth-century model extent (TNA: PRO E 163/24/34). This section contains instructions for inquiring into the rents and services of free tenants. Image reproduced courtesy of the National Archives.

Less common resources, such as vaccaries, sheepcotes, saltworks, quarries, or mines, do not appear in any of the published versions of the text; and the variety of ways in which the land was exploited in different areas of England would indeed have made it difficult or impossible for a short treatise such as the Extenta to offer comprehensive guidance. There was also an important potential ambiguity regarding the measurement of the acre: the Extenta appears to suppose use of the statute acre, and does not stipulate that the size of the acre should be recorded. IPM extents, like private extents, sometimes appear to use significantly larger customary acres.

The guidance provided by the Extenta was, in any case, of only limited relevance to many IPMs. The extents produced by escheators did not always contain the level of detail presupposed by the Extenta; in fact, by the fifteenth century, it was rare to find details such as the names and holdings of customary tenants. Evidently by this period, and indeed previously, somewhat more summary extents were considered perfectly acceptable by the royal administration. Furthermore, the instructions embodied in the Extenta reflected its late-thirteenth-century context in an age of demesne farming when the distinctions between different groups of tenants were relatively clear. In the late-fourteenth and fifteenth centuries these instructions became increasingly inappropriate, as demesnes ceased to be cultivated directly and were leased to tenants instead, and as a greater and variety of tenancies emerged.

To sum up there was limited guidance available to escheators on drawing up extents, and the models that existed reflected only in part either the variety of the seigneurial landscape of England and Wales, or changes to agrarian life after the Black Death. Escheators were, in any case, often content to produce shorter and more simplified extents than those set out in the different versions of the Extenta Manerii. The IPM extents thus take a range of forms. Even in the fifteenth century some are still very detailed: examples include extents of Brook (Wilts) in 1431 or West Rasen (Lincs) in 1406.[4. CIPM xix.120, xxiii.506.] Others are clearly rather abbreviated and include only ‘key' items of income, such as IPM extents of the earl of Arundel's Sussex estates. These can be compared with private estate documents of a slightly earlier date, revealing that the IPMs omit several important sources of profit, including courts, tolls and mills.[5. CIPM xxi.817; Two Estate Surveys of the Fitzalan Earls of Arundel, ed. M. Clough, Sussex Record Society lxvii (1969).] Many IPMs, by the fifteenth century, no longer distinguish between free and customary tenants, referring simply to ‘assize rents' or similar.[6. CIPM xxiii.706; cf. SC 6/1115/1 m. 5.] Some are explicit about leasing of manorial resources and apparently distinguish between lands leased and those kept in hand.[7. e.g. CIPM xix.544, 865; CIPM xxvi.173 (cf. the contemporary court roll, with tenants' acknowledgement of their holdings, BL Add. Ch. 67029).] Others follow older extents in describing arable, meadow or pasture with no indication as to whether it has been leased.

An inevitable result of the uneven and outdated guidance available to escheators was a good deal of idiosyncrasy, with some seigneurial resources being recorded very unevenly and erratically. Thus Bruce Campbell's analysis of the fourteenth-century extents demonstrated that barns, which would have existed at almost any large manor, are massively under-recorded in the IPMs.[8. Atlas, p. 99] Although the fifteenth-century extents have yet to be analysed in similar detail, it is almost certain that they are similarly uneven. As will be shown elsewhere, for example, markets and fairs are erratically recorded throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Some of this idiosyncrasy probably reflected the zeal and ability of particular escheators; other aspects, intriguingly, appear to vary between counties.  For example in the 1300-1349 extents, barns, together with houses for animals, seem to have particularly well-recorded in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Presumably such peculiarities reflected established practice in local escheators' offices which would be picked up by successive escheators and their clerks from their predecessors. It is also significant that neither barns, markets nor fairs seem to have been ‘core' items in the treatises on extents or the model extents. It is likely that mills (for example), which were a ‘core' item, were much better recorded in the IPMs, although further research is needed to determine if this was in fact the case.

All this, furthermore, assumes that escheators had access to reliable information. In fact little is known about how the extents were prepared. The escheator was supposed to take extents in person (not through a deputy), and a thirteenth-century treatise envisaged that this would take place at the manor itself with a jury comprised of tenants. Personal presence at a manor may have become less necessary as estate records became more commonplace, but juries frequently continue to include substantial manorial tenants and bailiffs or reeves. In 1398 the escheator of Yorkshire and his underescheator, together with the duke of Norfolk's steward and other of his officers were all present at Thirsk for three days ‘to extend the manors of Thirsk, Hovingham, and Burton in Lonsdale'.[9. SC 6/1087/14.] In this instance preparing an extent was time-consuming and was apparently done with the assistance of estate officers who may well have supplied access to accounts and other documents, but we do not know if this was typical. The quality of information available regarding an estate must have varied considerably from one occasion to another, sometimes drawing on financial records (although these are never apparently referred to in the IPMs themselves), sometimes reliant on the local knowledge of jurors or escheator. There are certainly some instances where IPM extents appear very rough and ready and bear only an approximate relationship to the picture presented by other estate records.

We have also assumed that escheators drew up extents in good faith, but this too cannot be taken for granted. In a number of instances it is clear that extents have simply been copied from earlier IPMs, although this does not necessarily imply an intention to defraud the crown since manorial values could have stayed constant or indeed fallen in the interval between IPMs. There are, however, also well-known examples of escheators supplying incorrect information in IPMs, to benefit a particular claimant to an estate, and there is no reason to doubt that this sometimes took place with extents and manorial valuations. In general, as several historians have pointed out, it was in the escheator's interest to undervalue items, since this would make it easier to meet his obligations at the Exchequer and might allow him to turn a small profit from administration of the estate. For such reasons, even when the constituent elements of a manor appear to be accurately or plausibly described in an IPM extent, their values are not necessarily realistic.


The complexity, limitations, and value of the IPM extents can be illustrated by comparing one example with contemporary accounts. The example chosen here is the extent of Stow Bardolph (Norf) in the IPM of Thomas, duke of Exeter (CIPM xxii.799), and the relevant information is set in out in Table 1.[10. CIPM xxii.799; SC 6/943/13-15.]


IPM, 1427 Account, 1426-7 Account,  1427-8 Account,  1428-9
assize rent £6

£8 16s. 5¼ d.

toll of fair 2s. 3s. 3s. 10d. 2s. 3d.
oats 6 q. at 16d./q. 9q. 5b. 1p. at 2s./qr 6q. 1b. 1p. at 2s./q.
other rents in kind capons, 9d.; hens, 6s. 3½d.; eggs, 8d. capons, 9d.; hens, 4s. 1d.; eggs, 5d.
customary harvest services 40s. 45s. ¾d. 25s. 0½d. 13s. 4d.
other customary works boscage, 2s.; works from  vills of Dounham, Wymbotesham, and Watlyngton, 5s. 8d.; ploughing services, 4s. 9d. boscage, 4d.; works from  vills of Dounham, Wymbotesham, and Watlyngton, 6s. 8d; ploughing services, 7s. 3d. boscage, nil; Dounham, etc., 5s. 4d.; ploughing, 3s. 6d.
‘rent resolute' at Easter and Michaelmas 77s.
land and pasture in ‘Newlond'

£7 13s. 9d.

marshes £6 (Bardolffen, 60s; Severalfen, 60s.) £9 12s. 8d.

£10 0s. 4d.

‘Chetelondis' £8
farm of demesne lands and escheats £9 2s. 9d. £14 8s. 4d. £13 18s. 0d.
‘Stapilwer' 60s.


‘Stowlodefery' 6s. 8d. 18s. 4d. 6s. 8d. 3s. 4d.
court with leet 40s. 41s. 1d. £4 13s. 9d. 45s. 4d.
meadow 20a. at 8d./acre farm of meadow, 15s. 8d. (not mentioned)
common aid


office of reeve


lands in the lord's hand 45s. 5d. (not mentioned)
turbary in Tylneyefen 3s. 4d. 3s. 4d. nil
hermitage or chantry in Downham Market


farm of warren 3s. 4d. 2s. nil
farm of cottage at ‘Saltereslode' 8s. 6s. 8d. 5s.



The comparison is not straightforward, of course, because manorial income could vary considerably from year to year, as could costs. Further complexities result from the nature of manorial accounts in the fifteenth century. The values in the table are those given in the ‘charge' section of the account. These often presented an idealized state of affairs, recording rents and farms that could not in fact be collected in full. (Many manorial lords seem to have lived in hope that it would eventually be possible to recover the full amounts.) The ‘discharge' section of the account recorded allowances and deductions of rent that must be subtracted from the sums in the ‘charge' section to obtain a more realistic sense of what the bailiff would collect. Even then, he might not be able to collect the whole sum owing, but would carry some over as arrears to the following year's account, and it is not always easy to distinguish arrears which represented collectable debts from those which were never likely to be recovered.[11. R. R. Davies, ‘Baronial accounts, incomes and arrears in the later Middle Ages', EcHR 21 (1968), 211-29]

Further difficulties of interpretation are posed by the different organization and language of the IPM and the account. The IPM makes no mention of  the manor's demesne lands, for example. The account shows that they were leased with ‘neif lands and tenements in the lord's hand', elsewhere described as ‘escheats'. (The bailiff collecting the rents was Simon Tyler, one of the jurors at the IPM.) These are probably to be identified with the ‘chete [ie escheat] londis' mentioned in the IPM, and it is therefore likely, but not certain, that ‘chetelondis'  refers to the leased demesne and escheat lands. A similar problem is presented by the valuable farm of land and pasture in ‘Newlond' mentioned in the account but not the IPM, and the curious income from ‘rent resolute' mentioned in the IPM but not the account. ‘Rent resolute' was usually an expense, not a source of income, referring to rents owed to other lords; indeed, the manor owed such rents to the abbot of Ramsey and others, and they totalled just over 76s. Some of the rent was payable from  ‘Newlond', so possibly the IPM's ‘rent resolute' is a confused reference to income from ‘Newlond', but equally its inclusion may represent a misunderstanding. Finally, the IPM mentions two marshes, ‘Bardolf Fen' and ‘Several Fen', each worth 60s. Neither is named in the accounts, although these do refer to the farm of two distinct areas of marsh and pasture, at 66s. 8d. and 60s. respectively. (Tithes of 6s. 8d., mentioned in the accounts as payable from ‘Stowefen' to the priory of Carrow, had perhaps been accounted for in the IPM valuation.) The accounts also include, under the heading ‘farm of marshes', 73s. 4d. from lease of pasture in ‘Stapilwere' and ‘Redhill', that does not seem to figure in the IPMs.

Given the above caveats, and if the interpretations suggested above are correct, the IPM extent nevertheless does not emerge badly from the comparison. The IPM's sum of £6 for assize rent is reasonably accurate when ‘decayed rents' of over 51s. have been deducted from the accounts' totals. This was essentially a fixed sum which the IPM might be expected to record accurately. Variable income was more problematic to assess. Fair income varied from 2s. 3d. to 3s. 10d. in the accounts for 1426-29; court income from roughly 41s. to 94s.; the value of harvest services from 13s. 4d. to 45s.; and farm of demesnes and escheats from roughly £9 to £14. The IPM figures are generally at the lower ends of these ranges but are nevertheless not wildly inaccurate. Income from the named marshes, as we have seen, may well be accurately valued, and the acreage of meadow is apparently also accurate. A schedule attached to the account itemized 27 acres, but only 20 of these appear to have been leased, although the value per acre, roughly 12d., was somewhat higher than suggested in the IPM.

The IPM does, therefore, appear to give a reasonably accurate picture of the principal sources of income in the manor of Stow Bardolph. It also gives a reasonable accurate picture (although here a little more caution is necessary) of their relative value. In particular it is noteworthy that the IPM reflects accurately a distinctive feature of local topography and economy, the high value of marshland. Nevertheless, it apparently omits to detail pasture in ‘Stapilwere' and ‘Redhill' and also seems confused about income from ‘Newlond'. These are significant failings. The IPM also neglected to include various other sources of income. These were mostly of small value, especially after the necessary allowances: 6s. was regularly deducted from the sum due for common aid, for example. Nevertheless the failure to include income from common aid, warren or turbary is significant: these are seigneurial resources for which the IPM does not provide an adequate record.

Extract from a manorial account for Stow Bardolph, showing receipt of 3s. 4d. from turbary in 'Tylneyefen'. TNA: PRO SC 6/943/13, image reproduced courtesy of the National Archives.


How far is this extent ‘typical' of those in the fifteenth-century IPMs? It is difficult to say: the IPM extents, as we have seen, come in various shapes and sizes, and some are demonstrably inexact and approximate, to say the least.[12. Holford, ‘Notoriously unreliable', in Companion, 134-5.] Nevertheless, there do appear to be many extents that share important features with this one.  They give a reasonably accurate portrayal of the principal components of manorial income, but they do not always cover even these principal features comprehensively or reliably, and they can be highly selective when dealing with relatively minor sources of income, such as warrens or markets. Their assessments of value can be useful, especially when dealing with fixed sources of income such as assize rent, but valuations of variable income usually err on the low side, and undervaluation in general is common. The extents have to be approached with caution, therefore, and particular care is needed in determining when IPM evidence can be used negatively – that is, whether the absence of a feature from an extent is likely to reflect its absence ‘on the ground' or simply an escheator's failure to record it. Current knowledge, though, suggests a qualified optimism. The fifteenth-century extents will not produce the wealth of detail found in those for 1300-1349 and mapped in Bruce Campbell's Atlas, but they survive in surprisingly large numbers (over 2500 for the period 1399-1447) and they are far from being as worthless as some historians have implied. A key outcome of this project will enable the information in these extents to be quantified and mapped, enabling its quality and value to be explored with more detail and precision. That will reveal whether our cautious optimism is justified.