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A manor house or fortified manor-house is a country house, which has historically formed the administrative centre of a manor (see Manorialism), the lowest unit of territorial organization in the feudal system. The term is sometimes applied to country houses which belonged to gentry families, as well as to grand stately homes, particularly as a technical term for minor late medieval fortified country houses intended more for show than for defence.

History and architecture

In general terms, the manor house was the dwelling house, or "capital messuage", of a feudal lord of a manor, which he occupied only on occasional visits if he held many manors. As such it was the place in which sessions of his "court baron", or manor court, were held. Sometimes a steward or seneschal was appointed by the seigneurial lord to oversee and manage his different manorial properties. The day-to-day administration was delegated to a bailiff, or reeve.

Although not typically built with strong fortifications as castles were, many manor-houses were partly fortified: they were enclosed within walls or ditches that often included the farm buildings as well. Arranged for defence against robbers and thieves, it was often surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge, and equipped with small gatehouses and watchtowers; but was not provided with a keep or with large towers or lofty curtain walls so as to withstand a siege. The primary feature of the manor-house was its great hall, to which subsidiary apartments were added as the lessening of feudal warfare permitted more peaceful domestic life.

By the beginning of the 16th century, manor-houses as well as small castles began to acquire the character and amenities of the residences of country gentlemen. This late 16th century transformation produced many of the smaller Renaissance châteaux of France and the numerous country mansions of the Elizabethan and Jacobean styles in England.

Architecture of French manor houses

In France, the terms château or manoir are often used synonymously to describe a French manor-house. Maison-forte is another French word to describe a strongly fortified manor-house, which might include two sets of enclosing walls and drawbridges. In the western France provinces of Brittany and Normandy, some large manors enjoyed real means of protection. The seigneurial residences of this type, just like the largest castles, often had a châtelet or logis-porche (gatehouse), a courtyard surrounded by walls sheltering the outbuildings – especially the stables, a principal house (logis principal), a chapel and a dovecote (colombier). In certain cases, the logis-porche is only a wall, in others, it is an actual house. Some of these manor-houses were surrounded by ditches (wet or dry) and some were not.

In later medieval French manor-houses, the great hall was called the salle haute or upper-hall (or "high room"). This was the hall reserved for the seigneur and where he received his high-ranking guests, and was often accessible by an external spiral staircase. It was often "open" up to the roof trusses. This larger and more finely decorated hall was usually located above the ground-floor hall or salle basse that was used to receive peasants and commoners. The salle basse was also the location of the manor court, with the steward or seigneur's seating location often marked by the presence of a crédence de justice or wall-cupboard (shelves built into the stone walls to hold documents and books associated with administration of the demesne or droit de justice). The seigneur and his family's private chambres were often located off of the upper first-floor hall, and invariably had their own fireplace (with finely decorated chimney-piece) and frequently a latrine.

In addition to having both lower and upper-halls, many French manor-houses also had partly fortified gateways, watchtowers, and enclosing walls that were fitted with arrow or gun loops for added protection. Some larger 16th century manors, such as the Château de Kerjean in Finistèremarker, Brittany, were even outfitted with ditches and fore-works that included gun platforms for cannons. These defensive arrangements allowed maisons-fortes, and rural manors to be safe from a coup de main perpetrated by an armed band as there was so many during the troubled times of the Hundred Years War and the wars of the Holy League; but it was difficult for them to resist a siege undertaken by a regular army equipped with (siege) engines.

Modern usage

In modern usage, the term manor or manor house is sometimes used, especially outside Europe, to mean simply either a country house or indeed any other house considered to resemble one, without any reference to age or to the historical sense of the term.

In the United States, the word "manor" is often used in the names of long term residential facilities for the aged and infirm.

Manor houses of Northern Europe

Manors of England



Manors of Northern Germany







Manors of Estonia

Taagepera manor house




Manors of Latvia



Manors of The Netherlands



Manors of Northern Ireland



Manors of Norway

Although Austrått Manor predates recorded history, the current buildings were constructed in 1656.


Manors of Poland

See dwór .


Manors of Scotland



Manors of Sweden



Manors of Wales



Manor houses of Western Europe

Manors of France



Manor houses of Southern Europe

Manors of Spain



Manors of Portugal



Manor Houses of South Asia

Manors of Sri Lanka



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