Slavery in medieval times

The statue of William Wilberforce outside his family home in Hull

In medieval times England had a modified form of slavery in the form of serfdom.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the serf was distinguished from full slavery in that ‘the services due to the master and his power of disposal of the serf were limited by law or custom.’ He was attached to a place rather than to a person and could not be removed from the manorial lord’s land. If the land passed to a new tenant, the serf passed to him too.

However some medieval deeds survive which show that slaves were, in some places, disposed of by sale.

It is thought that serfdom came to an end in the fourteenth century with the ravages of the Black Death.

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