They were sometimes fortified, but this was frequently intended more for show than for defence. Manor houses existed in most European countries where feudalism existed, where they were sometimes known as castles, palaces, and so on. Many buildings, such as schools, are named Manor; the reason behind this is because the building was or is close to a manor house.
The lord of the manor may have held several properties within a county or, for example in the case of a feudal baron, spread across a kingdom, which he occupied only on occasional visits. Even so, the business of the manor required to be directed and controlled by regular manorial courts, which appointed manorial officials such as the bailiff, granted copyhold leases to tenants, resolved disputes between manorial tenants and administered justice in general. A large and suitable building was required within the manor for such purpose, generally in the form of a great hall, and a solar might be attached to form accommodation for the lord. Furthermore, the produce of a small manor might be insufficient to feed a lord and his large family for a full year, and thus he would spend only a few months at each manor and move on to another where stores had been laid up. This also gave the opportunity for the vacated manor house to be cleaned, especially important in the days of the cess-pit, and repaired. Thus such non-resident lords needed to appoint a steward or seneschal to act as their deputy in such matters and to preside at the manorial courts of his different manorial properties. The day-to-day administration was carried out by a resident official in authority at each manor, who in England was called a bailiff, or reeve.
Although not typically built with strong fortifications as were castles, many manor-houses were fortified, which required a royal licence to crenellate. They were often enclosed within walls or ditches which often also included agricultural buildings. Arranged for defence against roaming bands of robbers and thieves, in days long before police, they were often surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge, and were equipped with gatehouses and watchtowers, but not, as for castles, with a keep, large towers or lofty curtain walls designed to withstand a siege. The primary feature of the manor house was its great hall, to which subsidiary apartments were added as the lessening of feudal warfare permitted more peaceful domestic life.
By the beginning of the 16th century, manor houses as well as small castles began to acquire the character and amenities of the residences of country gentlemen, and many defensive elements were dispensed with, for example Sutton Place in Surrey, circa 1521. A late 16th-century transformation produced many of the smaller Renaissance châteaux of France and the numerous country mansions of the Elizabethan and Jacobean styles in England.
Before around 1600, larger houses were usually fortified, generally for true defensive purposes but increasingly, as the kingdom became internally more peaceable after the Wars of the Roses, as a form of status-symbol, reflecting the position of their owners as having been worthy to receive royal licence to crenellate. The Tudor period (16th century) of stability in England saw the building of the first of the unfortified great houses, for example Sutton Place in Surrey, circa 1521. The Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII resulted in many former monastical properties being sold to the King's favourites, who then converted them into private country houses, examples being Woburn Abbey, Forde Abbey, Nostell Priory and many other mansions with the suffix Abbey or Priory to their name.