In medieval England, most of the population were categorized as villeins. The term denotes a class of unfree tenants on a manor - serfs - subject to the lord of the manor. During that time, the negative connotation now associated with the word villain did not exist. The lord regulated many aspects of a villein's life, including death, illegitimacy, inheritance, marriage, and mobility.

See also Chevage, Childwite, Heriot, Lairwite, Lord of the Manor, Manor, and Merchet.