Feudal land tenure in England

Under the English feudal system several different forms of land tenure existed, each effectively a contract with differing rights and duties attached thereto. Such tenures could be either free-hold, signifying that they were hereditable or perpetual, or non-free where the tenancy terminated on the tenant's death or at an earlier specified period. The main varieties are as follows:

Military tenure

(Generally freehold)

  • by barony (per baroniam). Such tenure constituted the holder a feudal baron, and was the highest degree of tenure. It imposed duties of military service and required attendance at parliament. All such holders were necessarily tenants-in-chief.
  • by knight-service. This was a tenure ranking below barony, and was likewise for military service, of a lesser extent. It could be held in capite from the king or as a mesne tenancy from a tenant-in-chief.
  • by castle-guard. This was a form of military service which involved guarding a nearby castle for a specified number of days per year.
  • by scutage where the military service obligations had been commuted, or replaced, by money payments.

Non-military tenure

  • by frankalmoinage, generally a tenure restricted to clerics.
  • by fee-farm, a grant of the right to collect and retain revenues in return for a fixed rent. Usually a royal grant.
  • by copyhold, where the duties and obligations were tailored to the requirements of the lord of the manor and a copy of the terms agreed was entered on the roll of the manorial court as a record.
  • by socage. A form of tenure, involving payment in produce or in money.
  • Quit-rent. The payment of an annual fee in exchange for freedom from all other feudal obligations.


  • by serjeanty. Such tenure ranged from non-standard service in the king's army, to petty renders scarcely distinguishable from those of the rent-paying tenant or socager. Service in a ceremonial form is termed "grand serjeanty" whilst that of a more functional or menial nature is termed "petty serjeanty".
  • Parage. A joint tenancy where the estate is not partitioned, but the senior tenant alone is responsible for estate obligations; it appears frequently in Domesday Book. (Coolf tenuit in paragio de rege, manor of Welige, IoW).
  • Free burgage, tenure within a town or city.[1]
  • Curtesy tenure. A tenant "by the curtesy of England", being a widower of a wife by whom he has issue by her born alive, in respect of her enseized right in land, generally originating in a paternal inheritance. Roger Bigod claimed it unsuccessfully on the death of his wife Aliva.[2]
  • Tenant-at-will. Such tenant had no security of tenure whatsoever. It developed into the more secure "copyhold tenure", where the terms were set out in an entry on the manorial roll.
  • Gavelkind. Frequently found in mediaeval Kent, "held according to the custom of gavelkind". It withdrew a dower from a widow if she remarried.[3]
  • Fee simple, a tenure with no service obligations attached which could be a free-holding (i.e. hereditable) or non-free (expiring on the tenant's death).[4] On the abolition of feudal tenure in 1660, all existing tenures were converted to this tenure.


  1. Inq.p.m. of John Beverley, d.1438, for Free Burgage in the City of London held from the King
  2. Harrison, F. Annals of an Old Manor House: Sutton Place, Guildford. London, 1899, p.27
  3. Gavelkind: see e.g. Inq p.m. Richard Charles, 1190, Cal inq pm, vol. XV, p.10. Held "Hertachehop" by gavelkind tenure from prior of Rochester
  4. Fee simple, see e.g. Cal. Patent Rolls, 3 July 1290, Inspeximus of charter granting lands by Otto de Grandison in fee simple
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.