Feu (land tenure)

Feu was previously the most common form of land tenure in Scotland, as conveyancing in Scots law was dominated by feudalism until the Scottish Parliament passed the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000.[Note 1] The word is the Scots variant of fee.[Note 2] The English had in 1660 abolished these tenures, with An Act taking away the Court of Wards..., since 1948 known as the Tenures Abolition Act 1660.[3]


Prior to 1832, only the vassals of the crown had votes in parliamentary elections for the Scots counties and this made in favour of subinfeudation as against sale outright. This was changed by the Scottish Reform Act 1832 which increased the franchise in Scotland from 4,500 to 64,447.[Note 3]

In Orkney and Shetland land is still largely possessed as udal property, a holding derived or handed down from the time when these islands belonged to Norway.[Note 4] Such lands could previously be converted into feus at the will of the proprietor and held from the Crown or the Marquess of Zetland.

At one time the system of conveyancing by which the transfer of feus was effected was curious and complicated, requiring the presence of parties on the land itself and the symbolical handing over of the property (for example, by throwing a shoe onto the earth of the property transferred)[Note 5] together with the registration of various documents. However, legislation since the middle of the 19th century has changed all that. The system of feuing in Scotland, as contrasted with that of long leaseholds in England, tended to secure greater solidity and firmness in the average buildings of the northern country.

Various reforms were attempted before feu was eventually abolished by the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000.

In feu holding there is a substantial annual payment in money or in kind in return for the enjoyment of the land. The crown is the first overlord or superior and land is held of it by crown vassals; they in their turn may feu their land to others, who become their vassals, whilst they themselves are mediate overlords or superiors; this process of sub-infeudation may be repeated to an indefinite extent. The Conveyancing (Scotland) Act 1874 rendered any clause in a disposition against subinfeudation null and void.[6]

Casualties, which are a feature of land held in feu, are certain payments made to the superior, contingent on the happening of certain events. The most important was the payment of an amount equal to one year's feu-duty by a new holder, whether heir or purchaser of the feu. The Conveyancing Act of 1874 abolished casualties in all feus after that date, and power was given to redeem this burden on feus already existing. If the vassal does not pay the feu-duty for two years, the superior, among other remedies, may obtain by legal process a decree of irritancy, whereupon tinsel or forfeiture of the feu follows.

Types of tenure

There have been other forms of tenure:

  1. Booking is a conveyance peculiar to the burgh of Paisley but does not differ essentially from feu.[Note 6]
  2. Burgage is the system by which land is held in Royal Burghs.[Note 7]
  3. Blench holding is by a nominal payment, as of a penny Scots, or a red rose, often only to be rendered upon demand.[Note 8]
  4. Mortification, an ecclesiastical or other charitable holding in which tenure is granted ad manum mortuum, that is, inalienably and in forfeiture of all the normal superiors' casualties
  5. Ward, the original military holding, was abolished in 1747 (20 G. II. c. 20), as an effect of the rising of 1745.[Note 9]

Other jurisdictions

In England the statute Quia Emptores, passed in 1290, made subinfeudation impossible, as the new holder simply effaces the grantor, holding by the same title as the grantor himself.

  1. Socage[Note 10] has long disappeared, as has
  2. Mortmain.


  1. Section 1: "The feudal system of land tenure, that is to say the entire system whereby land is held by a vassal on perpetual tenure from a superior is, on the appointed day, abolished"[1]
  2. "FEU: (Scots Law) A free and gratuitous right to lands made to one for service to be performed by him; a tenure where the vassal, in place of military services, makes a return in grain or in money."[2]
  3. "The first Reform Act has increased the electorate of Scotland fourteen-fold from 4,500 to 64,447. The number of adult males who can vote is one in eight, compared to one in five in England, and one in 125 in Scotland before the Reform Act. Scotland's representation rises from 45 to 53"[4]
  4. "Ancient Norse Udal land rights are still valid in the islands – very much so. In the 19th century the Chancellor of the Exchequer came up against Udal law and lost."[5]
  5. For a similar action, see Book of Ruth 4:17 (KJV): "Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel.
  6. "Booking, tenure of, system of land tenure in Paisley burgh necessitating an entry on the burgh register"[7]
  7. "Burgage, burgh law. 2. form of tenure under which land in a Royal Burgh is held by the king (or the land itself)"[7]
  8. "Blench Ferme (also blench-duty), mode of land-tenure, a nominal or peppercorn rent ; cp. Blanch rent, or Free blench. Blench holding, the holding of land under this system of tenure"[7]
  9. "Ward, (waird), feudal land tenure rights conferred through military service obligations of tenants."[8]
  10. Socage was the tenure used in England during feudal times for farmers.


  1. "Definition of Feu". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 2007-12-02.
  2. "Definition of Feu". TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved 2007-12-02.
  3. "Tenures Abolition Act 1660". The National Archives. Retrieved 2015-09-01.
  4. "From the first Reform Act until the enfranchisement of women: 1832 - 1918". Alba Publishing]. Archived from the original on 2008-01-18. Retrieved 2007-12-02.
  5. "Norse landing". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2007-12-02.
  6. Full text of the act: "Conveyancing (Scotland) Act 1874". UK Statute Law Database. Archived from the original on 2012-08-05. Retrieved 2007-12-02.
  7. "Glossary of Scots terms (B)". Wedderburn Family Site. Archived from the original on 30 November 2009. Retrieved 2007-12-02.
  8. "Glossary of Scots terms (W)". Wedderburn Family Site. Archived from the original on 3 November 2009. Retrieved 2007-12-02.

See also

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