Patience with court rolls is often richly rewarded. Manorial court rolls are not among the most user- friendly of primary sources, but they are certainly worth all the effort.
In 1344, in a village in East Anglia, a village rather typical for the region, with more than one lord and considerable numbers of freeholders, a baby girl was born. Like so many families in her village, her parents were smallholders with just a few acres to their name. Her parents named her Hilary. Things were looking fairly good at the time of little Hilary’s birth. The famine was in the past, and while we might shudder at the thought of what was to come, Hilary and her parents had no inkling that catastrophe was soon to befall their village. In the middle of the summer just a few years later, in 1349, the 5-year-old Hilary was left orphaned after her parents died from the Black Death. The child then was handed over to another villager who took her into his house, while the free land she was due to inherit as the sole heir remained in the hands of the lord. When she was 18 years old a marriage licence – a permission to marry – was purchased, and it is certainly the case that when in her mid 30s she was still married to the same man. At that time she had also inherited more land from what looks likely to have been her cousin.
A life, a snippet of a life, traced through manorial court rolls. We will never know what Hilary looked like, whether the experience of the loss of her father and mother at such a young age left her traumatised for the rest of her life, we do not even know how old she was when she died. We will never know any more about her, except this, when she had no one left someone took her in, looked after her and brought her up, made sure she married and got her rightful inheritance.