A bondsman, a man bonded to the land that he worked. Villeins lived in villages, attached to a lord ’s holdings, all but a slave. A lord who owned the land to which a villein was attached could do anything with him he pleased, save mutilation or killing him. Villeins had few rights, and only in rare circumstances were released from their bondage. Under Henry I, this ceremony had to be conducted in a public place such as in a church or marketplace, that many gained knowledge of the release and the villein, now a freeman, was not considered to have fled his feudal contract. A man was a villein if his father was a villein; only by the release of the lord could be ever be free.
Villeins held few rights, unable to fish in the lord’s rivers, to hunt or draw firewood from his forests, marry his daughter off without permission (and a fee, generally), or commit his son to Holy Orders.