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The countryside

The Norman village

Without altogether ruling out the possibility of the temporary settlement holding out as localities became stabilized, the settlement may be said to have become established by c. 1100. Its permanent nature, symbolized by the church and its graveyard, has continued down to our own day. The outer boundaries of the village were marked with hedges or more rarely with dry-stone walling.

Within, the elements making up the focus of attraction of the craft industries the mill, the smithy are still hard to make out. Apart from the unit of village life which was the cottage, how the fabric of buildings was arranged is only known to us through villages abandoned in the 14th century, like Saint-Ursin-de-Courtisigny near Courseulles (Calvados), or the village of Trainecourt (in the parish of Grentheville, Calvados). Doubtless within the built-up area, certain plots were to be preferred, and hence soon taken over by the rich and mighty, close to the lord's manor, the church, or the square, where the market would be held. In the absence of data earlier than the 13th century, this typical arrangement at the close of the mediaeval period remains no more than a hypothesis.

The status of men and land, the nature of ties bonding them within the village and around the lord, the organization of work in the fields, commoning practices in the woods and on uncultivated waste land, are complex and still controversial questions. One of the original features of this period was the founding of the "bourgs" (small market towns) in both urban and rural areas. In the bourg, the peasantry had tenures of equal size and at less expense. The privilege of "bourgage" was an expedient enabling the lords to set up new villages in places they wished to develop.

The proportion of "alleux" lands and communities free of pressure from the lords and which paid taxes to no one except the duke-king seems to have remained high. The famous revolt in 996 of the Norman peasants against the lords' exactions, the villagers' training in and attachment to customary law which became the "Custom" show that the village community was already powerful, especially in areas that had been occupied for a long time by group settlements, capable of looking after their own interests, particularly those known in the subsequent period as "common rights".

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