SOKE (O. Eng. soc, connected ultimately with secan, to seek) , a word which at the time of the Norman Conquest generally denoted jurisdiction, but was often used vaguely and is probably incapable of precise definition. In some cases it 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 been " seeking "; thus " soka faldae '' was the duty of seeking the lords court, just as " secta ad molendinum " was the duty of seeking the lords mill. The " Leges Henrici " also speaks of pleas " in socna, id est, in quaestione sua " picas which are in his investigation. It is evident, however, that 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 uocabulorum soke is defined " aver fraunc court," and in others as " interpellacio maioris audientiae," which is glossed somewhat ambiguously as " claim a justis et requeste." Soke is also frequently associated to " sak " or " sake " in the alliterative jingle " sake and soke," but the two words are not etymologically related. " Sake " is the Anglo-Saxon " sacu," originally meaning a matter or cause (from sacan, to contend), and later the right to have a court. Soke, however, is the commoner word, and appears to have had a wider range of meaning. The term " soke," unlike " sake," was sometimes used of the district over which the right of jurisdiction extended.
Mr Adolphus Ballard has recently argued that the interpretation of the word " soke " as jurisdiction should only be accepted where it stands for the fuller phrase, " sake and soke," and that soke standing by itself denoted services only. There are certainly many passages in Domesday Book which support his contention, but there are also other passages in which soke seems to be merely a short expression for " sake and soke." The difficulties about the correct interpretation of these words will probably not be solved until the normal functions and jurisdiction of the various local courts have been more fully elucidated.
" The sokemen " were a class of tenants, found chiefly in the eastern counties, occupying an intermediate position between xxv. 12 the free tenants and the bond tenants or villains. As a general rule they were personally free, but performed many of the agricultural services of the villains. It is generally supposed they were called sokemen because they were within the lord's soke or jurisdiction. Mr Ballard, however, holds 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. The law term, socage, used of this tenure, is a barbarism, and is formed by adding the French age to soc.
See F. W. Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond; J. H. Round, Feudal England; F. H. Baring, Domesday Tables; A. Ballard, The Domesday Inquest; J. Tail, review of the last-mentioned book in English Historical Review for January 1908; Red Book of the Exchequer (Rolls Series), iii. 1035. (G. J. T.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)