1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Serjeanty

SERJEANTY. Tenure by serjeanty was a form of landholding under the feudal system, intermediate between tenure by knight-service (q.v.) and tenure in socage. It originated in the assignation of an estate in land on condition of the performance of a certain duty, which can hardly be described more exactly than as not being that of knight-service. Its essence, according to Pollock and Maitland, might be described as “servantship,” the discharge of duties in the household of king or noble; but it ranged from service in the king's host, distinguished only by equipment from that of the knight, to petty renders scarcely distinguishable from those of the rent-paying tenant or socager. Serjeanties, as Miss Bateson has expressed it, “were neither always military nor always agricultural, but might approach very closely the service of knights or the service of farmers. . . . The serjeanty of holding the king's head when he made a rough passage across the Channel, of pulling a rope when his vessel landed, of counting his chessmen on Christmas day, of bringing fuel to his castle, of doing his carpentry, of finding his potherbs, of forging his irons for his ploughs, of tending his garden, of nursing the hounds gored and injured in the hunt, of serving as veterinary to his sick falcons, such and many others might be the ceremonial or menial services due from a given serjeanty.” The many varieties of serjeanty were afterwards increased by lawyers classing for convenience under this head such duties as those of escort service to the abbess of Barking, or of military service on the Welsh border by the men of Archenfield.

Serjeants (servientes) are already entered as a distinct class in Domesday Book (1086), though not in all cases differentiated from the barons, who held by knight-service. Sometimes, as in the case of three Hampshire serjeanties—those of acting as king's marshal, of finding an archer for his service, and of keeping the gaol in Winchester Castle—the tenure can be definitely traced as far back as Domesday. It is probable, however, that many supposed tenures by serjeanty were not really such, although so described in returns, in inquests after death, and other records. The simplest legal test of the tenure was that Serjeants, though liable to the feudal exactions of wardship, &c., were not liable to scutage; they made in place of this exaction special composition with the crown.

The germ of the later distinction between “grand” and “petty” serjeanty is found in the Great Charter (1215), the king there renouncing the right of prerogative wardship in the case of those who held of him by the render of small articles. The legal doctrine that serjeanties were (a) inalienable, (b) impartible, led to the “arrentation,” under Henry III., of serjeanties the lands of which had been partly alienated, and which were converted into socage tenures, or, in some cases, tenures by knight-service. Gradually the gulf widened, and “petty” serjeanties, consisting of renders,[1] together with serjeanties held of mesne lords, sank into socage, while “grand” serjeanties, the holders of which performed their service in person, became alone liable to the burden of wardship and marriage. In Littleton's Tenures this distinction appears as well defined, but the development was one of legal theory.

When the military tenure of knight-service was abolished at the Restoration (by 12 Charles II., cap. 24), that of grand serjeanty was retained, doubtless on account of its honorary character, it being then limited in practice to the performance of certain duties at coronations, the discharge of which as a right has always been coveted, and the earliest record of which is that of Queen Eleanor's coronation in 1236. The most conspicuous are those of champion, appurtenant to the Dymokes' manor of Scrivelsby, and of supporting the king's right arm, appurtenant to that of Worksop. The latter duty was performed at the coronation of King Edward VII. (1902).

The meaning of serjeant as a household officer is still preserved in the king's serjeants-at-arms, serjeant-surgeons and serjeant-trumpeter. The horse and foot serjeants (servientes) of the king's host in the 12th century, who ranked after the knights and were more lightly armed, were unconnected with tenure.

The best summary of tenure by serjeanty is in Pollock and Maitland's History of English Law; McKechnie's Magna Carta (1905) should also be consulted; and for Domesday the Victoria History of Hampshire, vol. i. The best list of serjeanties is in the Red Book of the Exchequer (“Rolls” series), but the Testa de Nevill (Record Commission) contains the most valuable records concerning them. Blount's Tenures is useful, but its modern editions very uncritical. Wollaston's Coronation Claims is the best authority on its subject.  (J. H. R.) 

  1. Usually a bow, sword, dagger or other small thing belonging to war.