From before the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, secular government in England was divided between vills and manors, whereas ecclestiastical matters were the concern of the ancient parishesAncient or ancient ecclesiastical parishes encompassed groups of villages and hamlets and their adjacent lands over which a clergyman had jurisdiction.; both vills and parishes were groups of dwellings and their associated land, equivalent to modern townships or civil parishes. The vill was the smallest administrative unit of the state, and in Anglo-Saxon times was a unit of taxation, each vill being assessed as being worth so many hides of land.
The vill was also the basis of the frankpledge system imposed by William the Conqueror,[a] an extension of the Anglo-Saxon requirement for every male to be enrolled in a tithing – “a group pledged to mutual accountability” – when he reached the age of twelve, which the Norman kings found convenient to integrate into their own judicial system. The sheriffs of each county in England were required to hold twice-yearly courts to review the tithings for each vill, to ensure that every eligible male was in a tithing.
The English feudal system declined as a result of the series of conflicts between England and France known as the Hundred Years War (1337–1453), when the vill and the manor ceased to have any administrative power, leaving the ancient parish with both secular and ecclesiastical powers. During the 16th century the state adopted the civil parishA civil parish is the smallest administrative unit in England. as its smallest administrative unit.
- Frankpledge was a promise of good conduct given to a sovereign by a group of ten freeholders, or tithing. If a member of the tithing committed an offence, the others acted as bail to ensure his appearance in court.