Glastonbury Twelve Hides Hundred: Introduction

Pages 2-5

A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 9, Glastonbury and Street. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2006.

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The jurisdiction which emerged in the 13th century as the Twelve Hides of Glastonbury had its origin in privileges granted to the abbots of Glastonbury in a succession of charters, in some cases of dubious form if not legality, by Anglo-Saxon kings of Wessex. A grant from Centwine (676–85) of six hides at Glastingai and a similar grant from Baldred, a contemporary sub-king, and representing West Pennard, may together have made up the twelve hides which was the assessment of Glastonbury in 1066, and which already represented a privileged core estate. (fn. 1)

That estate, which never paid geld, was focussed upon six dryland sites (five bedrock islands and a promontory) rising out of the surrounding wetland. In 1086 it was described as a 'vill' (villa), to which the 'islands' of Meare, Panborough (in Wedmore), and 'Andersey' (Ederisage, now Nyland in Cheddar), (fn. 2) were expressly said to have been attached, and which almost certainly also then included Beckery, Godney, and Marchey. (fn. 3) Glastonbury and its six 'islands' were all named in Henry I's charter of 1121. (fn. 4) In 1311 the tithings of East Street, Havyatt Within, Havyatt Without, Northload, and Panborough, the vill of Glastonbury, and Northwood or Norwood park presented separately at the hundred court, (fn. 5) in 1314 there were no presentments from Northwood, (fn. 6) and in 1325 tenants from Meare and Nyland and the tithings of East Street, Havyatt Within, Havyatt Without, Northload, and Panborough were answerable at the twice-yearly sheriffs court. (fn. 7) By the early 16th century the tithings were listed as Baltonsborough, (West) Bradley, Edgarley, East Street, Meare, Northload, Panborough, West Pennard, Westholme, and (North) Wootton. (fn. 8) Subsequent pre-Reformation definitions of the Twelve Hides included an incursion into Pilton. (fn. 9) By 1569 Glastonbury town was included and some of the internal divisions had been modified as East Street was absorbed into West Pennard, Panborough was joined with Northload, and (North) Wootton with Westholme. (fn. 10) By the mid 18th century the hundred comprised a western division of Meare, Northload, and Panborough, and the Glastonbury division of Baltonsborough, (West) Bradley, East Street, Edgarley, North Wootton, West Pennard, and Westholme and Holt. (fn. 11) Northwood tithing occurred in 1743, (fn. 12) and as Norwood was included in 1826–30 with all the other tithings except Panborough, which was presumably part of Meare since one of the Meare constables was a Panborough tenant. (fn. 13) In 1841 the hundred comprised Baltonsborough, West Bradley, Glastonbury, Meare, Nyland, West Pennard, and North Wootton. (fn. 14)

Successive abbots of Glastonbury were owners of the hundred until the dissolution of the house in 1539 when the jurisdiction presumably passed to the Crown. In 1547 Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, acquired the hundred, rights, and liberties of the Twelve Hides, formerly belonging to the abbey. (fn. 15) After Seymour's attainder in 1552 the hundred reverted to the Crown, and no specific reference to its ownership has been found until 1701 when the liberty of the Twelve Hides was part of a description of the Cambell share of Glastonbury manor. (fn. 16) Some years later the two owners of the manor, Peter Berry and the Hon. George Hamilton, exercised their rights as lords of the hundred in alternate years. (fn. 17) Henry Hunt, eventual successor to George Hamilton, (fn. 18) seems to have exercised sole jurisdiction 1826–30, (fn. 19) and he was followed by successive lords of Glastonbury manor, in 1998 Mrs. G. H. Harland of Butleigh. (fn. 20)

FIG. 4. Glastonbury Twelve Hides Hundred, c. 1840

The forged grant of Ine, created in or before the early 12th century, quoted Centwine as giving to the abbot and monks 'immunity from all secular and ecclesiastical services' but William of Malmesbury's gloss spoke of 'every immunity of a royal dignity from ancient times. . . confirmed for the church of Glastonbury by the kings of the Britons as well as the kings of the English and the Normans'. Thus was claimed sole legal jurisdiction, both secular and ecclesiastical. (fn. 21) The ecclesiastical exemption from subordination to the bishop was early in the 12th century defined as for Glastonbury itself and for seven of its churches, namely East Brent, Butleigh, Middlezoy, Moorlinch, Pilton, Shapwick, and Street. (fn. 22) The group changed in 1191 to Glastonbury, Butleigh, Meare, Middlezoy, Moorlinch, Shapwick, and Street and their chapels. (fn. 23) About 1170 the ecclesiastical exemption had led to the creation of a monastic archdeaconry, at first exercised by the abbot and later by an appointed monk-archdeacon. (fn. 24) After the Dissolution and under the name of the Glastonbury Jurisdiction, the area was administered initially as a discrete unit (fn. 25) and later as a rural deanery within the archdeaconry of Wells, retaining the name until the early 1990s. (fn. 26)

Secular exemption granted in the names of Centwine and Ine were defined in 944 when King Edmund gave rights, dues, and forfeitures in all abbey lands including hundred-socn and hamsocn, declaring that 'only the abbot may hold pleas in Glastonbury itself, with the same plenary jurisdiction as the king's own court'; and King Edgar's confirmation of those privileges emphasised the position of the exempt churches and the subordination of the bishop. (fn. 27) A charter of Henry I attempted a jurisdictional definition: the vill of Glastonbury and its lands were to be 'freer' (liberior), and neither the king himself nor any royal justiciar, sheriff, forester, nor bailiff was to hear pleas there. (fn. 28) That definition was confirmed to the abbey in 1227 (fn. 29) but Walter Giffard, bishop of Bath and Wells 1264–6 and chancellor of England 1265–7, was able for a short time to intervene between Crown and abbot in legal and fiscal processes and take half the proceeds of fines, and amercements from more serious cases. He was also able to extend the claim formerly made by Jocelin of Wells to feudal sovereignty over the abbey. (fn. 30) In 1275 the abbot recovered his feudal independence and in 1278 Edward I withdrew his own claim to hold courts within the abbot's liberty. (fn. 31) In 1287 the abbot refused to allow the king's justices to deliver Glastonbury gaol. (fn. 32) In 1355 Edward III, in recognition that Glastonbury abbey was 'held for certain as the fount and origin of all the religion of England', confirmed its right to be 'more free than others'. (fn. 33)

The Twelve Hides seem to have been administered like other secular hundreds from the mid 16th century onwards (fn. 34) but remained outside the jurisdiction of the county court in the later 16th century. (fn. 35)

By the later 13th century a hundred court was being held in the abbot's name twice a year, at Hockday and Michaelmas, (fn. 36) which in 1325 was described as for all free tenants in the Twelve Hides and for tenants of Meare and Nyland. Court rolls survive for 1311–12, (fn. 37) 1314, (fn. 38) 1364–5, 1377–8, and 1417–18. (fn. 39) Business included unlawful brewing, baking, and ale-selling, a mill not in use, watercourses in need of scouring, breach of the peace, and trespass on the highway. A sheriff and justices, all appointed by the abbot, also held fourweekly sessions known as county courts for the same area, (fn. 40) and rolls survive for 1321–2, 1323, 1327–35, 1369–70, 1377–8, and 1417–18. (fn. 41) Business concerned cases of debt and disputed possession of land. In addition, the abbots' justices delivered the gaol and three sessions are recorded for 1321–2 and one in 1328 when two justices sat on each occasion. (fn. 42) In practice the Michaelmas hundred sessions were presided over by the abbey steward, a layman, and the foreign cellarer, a senior monk; the steward acted as judge in the county court and the abbey bailiff as prosecutor or clerk as necessary. (fn. 43) The twice-yearly courts, also known as law hundreds or tourns, continued in the early 16th century (fn. 44) and in addition the abbey justices met three times a year, around Michaelmas, Epiphany, and Corpus Christi, to levy fines for infringements of trading regulations in the town presented by the town's portmoot. (fn. 45)

There is a roll recording proceedings at courts leet for the hundred in December 1557 and April 1558, nearly twenty years after the abbey had been dissolved, when business concerned the non-attendance of posts, fines of brewers and millers, and a single case of breach of the peace. (fn. 46) Nine presentments from Meare tithing to the twice-yearly hundred court leet survive for the period 1721–74. Business concerned the appointment of tithingmen and constables for the tithing and the presentment of faulty causeways and gutters. Reference was made in 1774 to the monthly courts within the hundred. (fn. 47) Business in the later 18th and the 19th century comprised pound breach and repair of bridges and stiles. (fn. 48)

In the later 13th century the abbot employed a keeper of liberties, familiarly known as the sheriff of the Twelve Hides. He also had both a steward and a marshal. (fn. 49) By 1325 there were two coroners. (fn. 50) A group of justices, of whom only John FitzJames was named in 1502–3, presided at courts within the hundred, and a bailiff of the vill accounted for income to the abbey's receiver of casuals. (fn. 51) In the mid 13th century a tenant acted as summoner of Northload tithing and of the men of Bleadney, Clewer, Marchey, and Panborough, collector of fines and amercements levied on them, and their advocate as necessary to preserve the peace. (fn. 52) A tenant in the early 14th century made judicialia for all convicted felons in the Twelve Hides, and four other tenants, in succession to 30 in 1189, kept the abbot's prisons. (fn. 53) In 1189 a tenant served as bedel and another kept the stocks. (fn. 54)

In 1546 the Crown appointed one man to be both bailiff and sheriff of the Twelve Hides (fn. 55) and the duke of Somerset in the following year was empowered to appoint a sheriff and escheator, the latter to be called coroner. (fn. 56) In 1550 the duke was granted both the Twelve Hides liberty and the offices of bailiff and sheriff within it. (fn. 57) A Crown appointee was sheriff and bailiff of the Twelve Hides liberty from 1568. (fn. 58)

In 1557–8 the leet court, distinct from the Glastonbury manor court, (fn. 59) governed within the vill through four constables and a jury, and outside the vill through a jury alone. (fn. 60) In 1572 there were three constables for the hundred and a total of thirteen tithingmen were to be sent from Edgarley, Holt, Meare, Northload and Panborough, (West) Pennard, and (North) Wootton. (fn. 61) In the earlier 17th century there were two constables and in the 18th century each of the hundred's two divisions generally appointed a head constable at the court leet at Glastonbury. (fn. 62) Two constables continued to be appointed in the earlier 19th century when each tithing also chose a tithingman; and five places, Baltonsborough, (West) Bradley, Meare, West Pennard, and Westholme and Holt also appointed haywards. In 1826 the court's jurisdiction had become confused with Glastonbury manor and parish. (fn. 63)

FIG. 5. Meare, the road to the moors, c. 1930

By 1325 the abbey had a hall where the sheriff and justices held tourns, sessions, and county courts above a gaol. (fn. 64) It stood on the south side of High Street and was replaced by a slightly smaller building by Abbot Richard Bere (abbot 1495–1525). (fn. 65) In 1598 the name shire hall was still in use as an alternative to town hall. (fn. 66) The hundred court was kept there in the 1630s (fn. 67) but in 1738 it met in the Golden Lion, in the 1780s and 1826 at the White Hart inn, and from 1827 to 1830 at the Crown. (fn. 68)

A tumbrel for the punishment of a disturber of the peace was in use in 1558. (fn. 69)


  • 1. L. Abrams, Anglo-Saxon Glastonbury: Church and Endowment (1996), 125–31.
  • 2. V.C.H. Som. i. 460.
  • 3. Abrams, Anglo-Saxon Glastonbury, 124, n. 3.
  • 4. S.R.S. lix, pp. 185–6; Plac. Abbrev. (Rec. Com.), 236.
  • 5. Longleat Ho., Longleat MS. 10767.
  • 6. P.R.O., SC 2/200/56.
  • 7. B.L. Eg. MS. 3321, f. 1.
  • 8. Ibid. Eg. MS. 3034, f. 9v.
  • 9. Proc. Som. Arch. Soc. cxxviii. 35–54.
  • 10. S.R.S. xx. 293–7.
  • 11. S.R.O., DD/X/WBB 49.
  • 12. Ibid. Q/RRz 1.
  • 13. Glastonbury, Messrs. Gould & Swayne, Harland MSS.
  • 14. S.R.S. iii. 320.
  • 15. Cal. Pat. 1547–8, 119.
  • 16. S.R.O., DD/DN 91.
  • 17. Ibid. DD/X/WBB 49, where Hamilton is named Hamlet.
  • 18. Below, Glastonbury, manors.
  • 19. Glastonbury, Messrs. Gould & Swayne, Harland MSS.
  • 20. Information from Mrs. Harland.
  • 21. H. P. R. Finberg, Early Charters of Wessex, 113–14; Wm. of Malmesbury, Hist. Glastonbury, ed. Scott, 153; Abrams, AngloSaxon Glastonbury, 125–7.
  • 22. Finberg, Early Charters of Wessex, 114.
  • 23. S.R.S. lix, pp. xxi, 1–2.
  • 24. J. Sayers, 'Monastic Archdeacons' in Church and Govt. in the Middle Ages, ed. C. N. L. Brooke, D. E. Luscombe, G. H. Martin, and D. M. Owen (1976), 177–203.
  • 25. S.D.N.Q. xxx. 86.
  • 26. Dioc. Dir. (1991, 1993).
  • 27. Finberg, Early Charters of Wessex, 134–5.
  • 28. S.R.S. lix, pp. 185–6; Plac. Abbrev. (Rec. Com.), 236.
  • 29. Cal. Chart. R. 1226–57, 6, 43; H.M.C. Wells, i. 313.
  • 30. H.M.C. Wells, i. 312; John of Glastonbury, Chron. ed. Carley, 237; Cal. Chart. R. 1257–1300, 192; Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 135–6.
  • 31. Cal. Chart. R. 1257–1300, 192; John of Glastonbury, Chron. ed. Carley, 245; Sel. Cases in K. B. I (Selden Soc. lv), p. 145.
  • 32. Sel. Cases in K. B. I, p. 166.
  • 33. Cal. Pat. 1354–8, 213–14.
  • 34. S.R.S. xx. 293.
  • 35. Cal. Pat. 1572–5, 504.
  • 36. Longleat Ho., Longleat MS. 11241.
  • 37. Ibid. 10767.
  • 38. P.R.O., SC 2/200/56.
  • 39. Longleat Ho., Longleat MSS. 10657, 10660, 11183.
  • 40. B.L. Eg. MS. 3321, f. 1.
  • 41. Longleat Ho., Longleat MSS. 10635, 10660, 10665, 10769, 10772, 10776, 11232–6, 11240.
  • 42. Ibid. 10776, 11233.
  • 43. I. J. E. Keil, 'The Estates of Glastonbury Abbey in the Later Middle Ages' (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1964), 61, 63.
  • 44. B.L. Eg. MS. 3034, f. 9v.
  • 45. Longleat Ho., Longleat MS. 10747; B.L. Eg. MS. 3321, f. 1v.; ibid. Eg. MS. 3034, f. 9.
  • 46. P.R.O., LR 3/58/11.
  • 47. S.R.O., D/P/mea 14/6/1.
  • 48. Glastonbury, Messrs. Gould & Swayne, Harland MSS.
  • 49. John of Glastonbury, Chron. ed. Carley, 245.
  • 50. B.L. Eg. MS. 3321, f. 1.
  • 51. Longleat Ho., Longleat MS. 10747.
  • 52. S.R.S. v. 176–7.
  • 53. Surveys of Glastonbury, ed. Stacy, 106–11; B.L. Eg. MS. 3321, ff. 14v., 15v.
  • 54. Surveys of Glastonbury, ed. Stacy, 106, 109.
  • 55. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xxi(2), pp. 230–1.
  • 56. Cal. Pat. 1547–8, 123.
  • 57. Ibid. 1549–51, 430–1.
  • 58. Ibid. 1566–9, 207.
  • 59. Below, Glastonbury, local govt.
  • 60. P.R.O., LR 3/58/11.
  • 61. S.R.O., DD/DN 175.
  • 62. Ibid. Q/SR 3/2; ibid. DD/X/WBB 49.
  • 63. Glastonbury, Messrs. Gould & Swayne, Harland MSS.
  • 64. B.L. Eg. MS. 3321, f. 1.
  • 65. S.R.S. lxiii, p. 334; lxiv, p. 727; B.L. Eg. MS. 3034, f. 9; R.W. Dunning, 'The Tribunal, Glastonbury, Somerset' in The Arch. and Hist. of Glastonbury Abbey, ed. L. Abrams and J. P. Carley (1991), 89–96.
  • 66. P.R.O., E 178/1985.
  • 67. Ibid. E 134/16 Chas. I Mich./2.
  • 68. S.R.O., DD/SAS (C/1194) 4, p. 323; ibid. A/AQP 13/11; Glastonbury, Messrs. Gould & Swayne, Harland MSS.
  • 69. P.R.O., LR 3/58/11.