In England, before the 12ᵗʰ – 18ᵗʰ centuries, a very variable unit of land area, usually equivalent to a yardland (but in the county of Sussex to a wista). Andrews¹ says “in the thirteenth century virgates of 15, 16, 18, 24, 40, 48, 50, 62, and 80 acres were known.” The virgate was usually equal to a quarter of a hide.
Virgate comes from the Medieval Latin virgata, which is from the Latin virga, meaning rod. In the 14ᵗʰ century, English writing in Latin referred to the yard as a virga. Even etymologically, the virgate was a yardland.
Charles McLean Andrews.
The Old English Manor.
Rex Vicecomiti salutem. Si G. filius T. fecerit te securum de clamore suo prosequendo, tunc summone per bonos summonitores duodecim liberos et legales homines de vicineto de illa villa, quod sint coram me vel justiciis meis ea die parati sacramento recognoscere, si T. pater praediciti G. fuit seisitus in dominico suo sicut de feodo suo de una virgata terrae in illa villa die qua obiit; si obiit post primam coronationem meam, et si ille G. propinquior haeres ejus est, et interim terram illam videant, et nomina corum imbreviari facias, et summone per bonos summonitores R. qui terram illam tenet, quod tunc sit ibi auditurus illam recognitionem.
The King to the Sheriff greeting. If G. son of T. shall give thee security for the prosecution of his claim, then summon by good summoners twelve free and competent men of the neighborhood of that township, to be before me or my justices on such a day prepared to certify on oath whether T. the father of the aforesaid G. was seised in his demesne as of fee of one yardland in such a township on the day on which he died, whether he died since my first coronation, and whether the said G. is his next heir, and in the meantime let them view that land, and cause their names to be enrolled, and summon by good summoners R. who holds that land, to be present to hear the verdict.
Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Anglie.
Ranulf de Glanville (1130-1190), Book 13, chapter 3.
as quoted and translated in
Kenelm Edward Digby and William Montagu Harrison.
An Introduction to the History of the Law of Real Property. (5ᵗʰ edition)
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897.
Robertus de la Sale tenet duas virgatas terræ in Nether Overton, per serjantiam inveniendi, in exercitn domini Regis, hominem portantem unum penicillum, per quadraginta dies, sumptibus suis; et modo arrenata est ad Scaccarium.
Plac. Coron. 13 Edw. I Rot. 37 dorso. Blount 73.
Robert de la Sale holds two Yard-lands* in Nether Overton [County of Oxon.] by the serjeanty of finding, in the army of our lord the King, a man bearing an Ensign, for forty days, at his own proper costs; and now it pays a rent at the Exchequer.
*Virgata Terræ. Ten acres of land, according to the old custom, make a Ferdell, (Fardingdeal, or Farundel) and four Ferdells make a Yard-land. Yard-land is a quantity of land, different according to the place or country; as at Wimbledon in Surrey, it is but fifteen acres, in other counties it is twenty, in some twenty-four, and in other thirty and forty acres†. The fourth part of an acre, in some places, is called a Yard-land, and half an acre is a Selion.
†Bract. lib 2. cap. 10. Jacob's Law Dict.
Thomas Blount. Rev. and corrected by Josiah Beckwith.
Additions by Hercules Malebysse Beckwith.
Fragmenta Antiquitatis: or, Ancient Tenures of Land …
London: Printed by S. Brooke, Paternoster-Row, for Messrs Butterworth and Son, etc., 1815.
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Last revised: 8 June 2009.