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Feudal Tenure in England

In England, after the Norman Conquest, all land was held, mediately or immediately, of the king; who is styled the lord paramount, or above all.  (This was the problem that Bruce and Balliol faced when Edward insisted he was Lord Paramount of Scotland - the implication was that Edward owned all the land and that the King of Scots was a vassal king!)

Lay tenure

Land held on this basis was called a tenement, and those who possessed the land were tenants. The tenant held the land for a consideration or service, the tenure.  Those who held the land directly from the crown were tenants in chief, the most honourable species of tenure. Tenants in chief who granted out portions of their lands to inferior persons, became lords with respect to those inferior. 

Lay tenure was divided into four types. The services, in respect of their quality, were either free or base services; in respect of their quantity and the time of exacting them, were either certain or uncertain.

  The Uncertain service depended upon unknown contingencies such as war, or even a kings desire to go hunting! Certain services, whether free or base, were such as were stinted in quantity, and could not be exceeded on any pretence
Free services were considered suitable for a soldier, or a freeman.  These included military service such as a knights service or even to sound an alarm in the event of invasion Often those of a pecuniary nature eg pay a stated annual rent
Base services were such as were fit only for 'peasants' or servants This was the least desirable situation - unrestricted demand! To  plough such a field for three days

The first, most universal, and esteemed the most honourable species of tenure, was that by knight-service, called in Latin servitium militare, and in law French chivalry, or service de chevalier


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Last modified: September 02, 2004