Medieval mensuration of land

Pages 103-104

Staffordshire Historical Collections, Vol. 5 Part 1. Originally published by Staffordshire Record Society, London, 1884.

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Mediæval Mensuration of Land.

The following mediæval mensuration table has been extracted from the Evesham Chartulary, Harl. MS. 3763.

i. scutagium continet viii.hydas.
i. hyda iiij. virgatas.
i. carrucata iij. virgatas.
i. virgata xii. acras.
ad compositionem mensurarum sic notatur.
xviii. acræ faciunt i. bovatam.
viii. bovatæ i. carucatam.
viii. carucatæ i. feodum militis.

Scutagium seu feodum militis 40s.

V. hydæ seu viginta virgatæ terræ fuit scutagium; sunt ibi iii. carucatæ terræ, et continet carucata iii. virgatas terræ, et quælibet virgata continet xii. acras et valet acra iij. d. (i.e., per annum).

The above would be Worcestershire hides.

The hidation of manors is generally supposed to have been a rough assessment of value for the collection of the Danegelt, and to date from the time of King Ethelred, or about sixty years before the Conquest, but it is probably much more ancient. In the south of England, where more land had been brought under cultivation, the assessment was comparatively high, and the hide averages, it is believed, about 500 acres. In Staffordshire the average is nearer 1,000 acres.

Taking the hide at 1,000 acres, the following table of mensuration may be compiled for Staffordshire as a means of comparison with modern measures.

The knight's fee in Staffordshire usually consisted of three hides.

Scutage or knight's fee = 3 hides = 3,000 statute acres approximately.
1 hide = 1,000 statute acres.
1 carucate = ¾ths of a hide = 750 statute acres.
1 virgate = ¼th = 250 statute acres.
1 acra = 1/12th of a virgate = about 20 statute acres.

According to the other table of mensuration in the Evesham Chartulary—

1 bovate = 1/8th of a carucate = about 94 statute acres.
1 acra = 1/18th,, bovate = between 5 and 6 statute acres.

I am unable to suggest any clue to the discrepancies between the above tables, which are written in juxtaposition to one another as in the text. They seem to indicate, however, a very loose and ambiguous system of mensuration, and the mediæval acra appears to have had in fact two different significations, according as it was employed as a proportionate part of a virgate or of a bovate of land.

Some writers consider the carucate and the hide to be identical, but I am inclined to believe that the carucate was introduced to assist in the computation of measures of land, and to serve much the same purpose as the mark in the computations of money. All original tables of mensuration are based on simple multiples of two: and when it became necessary to multiply or divide by three, without any knowledge of vulgar fractions, difficulties immediately presented themselves, and to these we owe the introduction of the carucate and the mark.