Land and Feudalism in Medieval England

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Most people know that the feudal system controlled property ownership in England after the Norman conquest of 1066, but without a real understanding of what that means. Feudalism (the term was not actually used until the 17th century) was a social as well as an economic system. It combined elements of Germanic tradition with both Roman and Church law. It is a law of conquerors.[i] The basis of English feudalism was that every person's position in society was defined through a relationship with land, because land was the major source of revenue and the real source of power.[ii] Prior to the Conquest, two types of land holdings were known in England: the Celtic, and later, the Germanic or Saxon. Under Celtic custom, all land was held by the sword. There were no legal institutions to protect ownership, only the owner's ability to hold it.[iii] Under the Saxon system, land ownership was tied to families. Land was not held of any superior and was not allowed to leave family possession. This form of holding was called folk-land. Folk-land was measured by dividing it into large counties that were then subdivided into hundreds. Later, as Saxon law was influenced by Roman law and the Christian Church, two other holdings developed: book-land, land that was a gift from a superior, and laen-land, land that was loaned to someone outside the family unit in exchange for something. This changed with the Norman conquest. William the Conqueror and his successors, claimed ownership of all the land in England, and everyone else held their land either directly or indirectly from the King.[iv] The King then entered into agreements with his most important lords (at first, those who commanded the most troops), whereby they were given certain lands to rule in exchange for services to the Crown. These agreements were called tenures. The lords were tenants in chief, and the services
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