Esnes, derived from the Old English word "esne," refers to a specific class of people who held the status of unfree peasants or serfs during the Middle Ages in England. These individuals were considered to be at the bottom of the feudal system, serving as laborers or tenants working on land owned by a lord or noble. They were legally bound to their master's estate, and their personal freedom and rights were severely limited.
Esnes were often obliged to perform various forms of agricultural or domestic labor, such as farming the lord's land, herding livestock, or carrying out household tasks. They were typically subject to strict regulation and control by the lord, who had the authority to enforce labor obligations, taxes, and other dues upon them. In exchange for their service, esnes were granted protection and sometimes were allocated their own small piece of land for subsistence farming.
The position of esne existed throughout medieval England, and their rights and conditions varied depending on local customs and the specific lord they served. Over time, the concept of serfdom declined, and esnes gradually obtained more rights and freedoms. With the rise of feudalism, the status of esnes began to diminish further, paving the way for the emergence of a different social structure.
The word "esnes" is derived from the Old English word "ēsne", which is a cognate of the Old Norse word "ēsni" or "asni". It is believed that these Old English and Old Norse terms ultimately derive from the Proto-Germanic word "asniz", meaning "laborer" or "servant". The exact origin of "asniz" is uncertain, but it is thought to have originated from the Proto-Indo-European root *es- meaning "to be" or "to exist". Over time, "ēsne" evolved into "esne" in Middle English, and eventually gave rise to the modern English word "esnes" or "asciens", which both mean "serfs" or "unfree peasants".