A manor house is a country house which was historically the capital residence or messuage within a manor, the basic unit of territorial organisation in the feudal system in Europe, in which dwelled the lord of the manor. It formed the administrative centre of a manor and within its great hall were held the lord's manorial courts, communal meals with manorial tenants and great banquets. The term is today loosely applied to smaller country houses, frequently dating from the late-mediaeval era, which formerly housed the gentry. They were often fortified but this was frequently intended more for show than for defense. Manor houses existed in most European countries where feudalism existed, where they were sometimes referred to as castles, palaces, and so on.
Stokesay Castle is a fortified manor house in Stokesay, Shropshire, England. It was built in the late 13th century by Laurence of Ludlow, then the leading wool merchant in England, who intended it to form a secure private house and generate income as a commercial estate. Laurence's descendants continued to own the castle until the 16th century, when it passed through various private owners. By the time of the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1641, Stokesay was owned by William Craven, the first Earl of Craven and a supporter of King Charles I. After the Royalist war effort collapsed in 1645, Parliamentary forces besieged the castle in June and quickly forced its garrison to surrender. Parliament ordered the property to be slighted, but only minor damage was done to the walls, allowing Stokesay to continue to be used as a house by the Baldwyn family until the end of the 17th century.
In the 18th century the Baldwyns rented the castle out for a range of agricultural and manufacturing purposes. It fell into disrepair, and the antiquarian John Britton noted during his visit in 1813 that it had been "abandoned to neglect, and rapidly advancing to ruin". Restoration work was carried out in the 1830s and 1850s by William Craven, the second Earl of Craven. In 1869 the Craven estate, now heavily in debt, was sold to the wealthy industrialist John Derby Allcroft who paid for another round of extensive restoration during the 1870s. Both of these owners attempted to limit any alterations to the existing buildings during their conservation work, which was unusual for this period. The castle became a popular location for tourists and artists, and was formally opened to paying visitors in 1908.