__NOTOC__The term soke (in Old English: "soc", connected ultimately with "secan" (to seek)), at the time of the
Norman Conquestof Englandgenerally denoted "jurisdiction", but due to vague usage probably lacks a single precise definition.
In some cases "soke" denoted the right to hold a
court, and in others only the right to receive the fines and forfeitures of the men over whom it was granted when they had been condemned in a court of competent jurisdiction. Its primary meaning seems to have involved "seeking"; thus "soka faldae" was the duty of seeking the lord's court, just as "secta ad molendinum" was the duty of seeking the lord's mill. The Leges also speaks of pleas "in socna, id est, in quaestione sua" (pleas which are in his investigation).
Evidently, however, not long after the Norman Conquest considerable doubt prevailed about the correct meaning of the word. In some versions of the much-used tract "Interpretationes uocabulorum" soke is defined: "aver fraunc court", and in others as "interpellacio maioris audientiae", which glosses somewhat ambiguously as "claim ajustis et requeste".
The word "soke" also frequently appears in association with "sak" or "sake" in the alliterative jingle "sake and soke", but the two words lack etymological links. The word "sake" represents the Anglo-Saxon "sacu", originally meaning "a matter or cause" (from "sacan" (to contend)), and later the right to have a court. The word "soke", however; appears more commonly, and appears to have had a wider range of meaning.
The term "soke", unlike "sake", sometimes applied to the district over which the right of jurisdiction extended (compare
Soke of Peterborough.) Adolphus Ballardargued that the interpretation of the word "soke" as "jurisdiction" should be accepted only where it stands for the fuller phrase, "sake and soke", and that "soke" standing by itself denoted services Certainly, many passages in the Domesday Booksupport this contention, but in other passages "soke" seems to serve merely as a short expression for "sake and soke". The difficulties about the correct interpretation of these words will probably not unravel until historians elucidate more fully the normal functions and jurisdiction of the various local courts.
A sokeman belonged to a class of
tenants, found chiefly in the eastern counties, occupying an intermediate position between the free tenants and the bond tenants or villeins. As a general rule they had personal freedom, but performed many of the agricultural services of the villeins. Historians generally suppose they bore the rank of "sokemen" because they belonged within a lord's "soke" or jurisdiction. Ballard, however, held that a sokeman was merely a man who rendered services, and that a sokeland was land from which services were rendered, and was not necessarily under the jurisdiction of a manor.
The law term,
socage, used of this tenure, arose by adding the French suffix "-age" to "soc".
* Ballard, Adolphus (1906). "The Domesday Inquest". London: Methuen & Co.
* Baring, Francis Henry (1909). "Domesday Tables for the Counties of Surrey, Berkshire, Middlesex, Hertford, Buckingham & Bedford & for the New Forest". London: The St. Catherine Press, Ltd.
* Maitland, Frederic William (1897). "Domesday Book and Beyond; Three Essays in the Early History of England". Cambridge: University Press.
* Round, John Horace (1909). "Feudal England; Historical Studies on the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries". London: S. Sonnenschein.
James Tait(1897). Review of "The Domesday Inquest". In "English Historical Review" 12 pp. 768–777. Also in "Red Book of the Exchequer" (" Rolls Series"), iii. 1035.
* [http://s98822910.onlinehome.us/thousandyears/the_story_of_our_law.pdf The Story of Our Law for Little Children (A simple history of the word Socage)]
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