The term soke (//; in Old English: soc, connected ultimately with secan, "to seek"), at the time of the Norman conquest of England generally 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 vocabulorum 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 Old English 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.
Adolphus Ballard argued 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 Book support 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. 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.
- History of English land law
- Soke used in place-names:
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Soke". Encyclopedia Britanica. 25 (11 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 353.
- Ballard. The Domesday Inquest. p. 84
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Soke". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Ballard, Adolphus (1906). The Domesday Inquest. London: Methuen & Co.
- The Story of Our Law for Little Children (A simple history of the word Socage)