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][non-primary source needed]
  • 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][non-primary source needed]
  • 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][non-primary source needed] 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

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