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Under the feudal system in England, a feoffee ( /fɛˈf,fˈf/ ) is a trustee who holds a fief (or "fee"), that is to say an estate in land, for the use of a beneficial owner. The term is more fully stated as a feoffee to uses of the beneficial owner. The use of such trustees developed towards the end of the era of feudalism in the Middle Ages and declined with the formal ending of that social and economic system in 1660. The development of feoffees to uses may have hastened the end of the feudal system, since their operation circumvented vital feudal fiscal mechanisms.



The practice of enfeoffing feoffees with fees, that is to say of granting legal seizin in one's land-holdings ("holdings" as only the king himself "owned" land by his allodial title) to a group of trusted friends or relatives or other allies whilst retaining use of the lands, began to be widespread by about 1375. [1] The purpose of such an action was two-fold:

The effect was that on a man's death he appeared to hold little or no land, whilst in reality he had full use of it and of the revenues derived from it. If he was thought by the county escheator to have been a tenant-in-chief, a jury for an Inquisition post mortem would be convened to enquire into what manors he held from the king and who was his legal heir. Frequently the verdict of such inquisitions even in the case of the decease of the most influential men of the county, was "he holds no lands of the king in this county". Such reports can be a major source of confusion to the modern historian or biographer who is unaware of the operation of feoffees to uses. As McFarlane summarised "it can make a great landowner (sic) appear to die a landless man". [1]

Procedure for creation

To effect such an arrangement a sealed charter was usually drawn up which specified all relevant matters, such as who the feoffees were to be, to whose use the feoffees were to hold the lands, for what period, who were the desired heirs of the settlor, what provision should be made for his widow, etc. Such charter appears as a conveyance or alienation, and may be mistaken as such by the unwary modern researcher. Likewise, such a charter may be misinterpreted by the modern observer as signifying that those named as recipients of the conveyance are themselves beneficial owners in the form of a commercial partnership, and therefore may be mistaken for wealthy men.

Feoffee is a historical term relating to the law of trusts and equity, referring to the owner of a legal title of a property when he is not the equitable owner. Feoffees essentially had their titles stripped by the Statute of Uses 1535, whereby the legal title to the property being held by the feoffee was transferred to their cestui que use. The modern equivalent of a feoffee to uses is the trustee, one who holds a legal and managerial ownership in trust for the enjoyment benefit and use of the beneficiary.

Modern usage

The term is still in use today to mean a trustee invested with a freehold estate held in possession for a purpose, typically a charitable one. [2] Some examples include: the trustees of the Chetham's Hospital charity in Manchester, [3] in the towns of Colyton, Devon and Bungay in Suffolk, and the trustees of the Sponne and Bickerstaffe charity in Towcester, Northamptonshire. [4] The Feoffees of St Michael's Spurriergate are the trustees of a charity that helps with the restoration of churches in York. [5] In Ipswich, Massachusetts, US the Feoffees of the Grammar School have been trustees of a piece of land donated for the use of the town since the 1600s. [6] In the village of Ecclesfield, South Yorkshire, the feoffees contribute to looking after the fabric of the church, Church of St Mary, Ecclesfield and also make other donations for the benefit of the local population but in the past they used to have responsibility for law and order, punishment of the guilty and upkeep of the roads. The Spalding Rectory Feoffees were formed in 1620 to pay the stipend of the Vicar of Spalding, Lincolnshire, which they continue to do.

Other examples are the companies of the Selby Feoffee and Welfare Charity and the Chittlehampton Feoffees.

As of 2021, there are 135 active Feoffees registered at the Charity Commission in Britain & 4 Feoffees registered at Company's House. [7] [8]

See also


Related Research Articles

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A fief was the central element of feudalism. It consisted of heritable property or rights granted by an overlord to a vassal who held it in fealty in return for a form of feudal allegiance and service, usually given by the personal ceremonies of homage and fealty. The fees were often lands or revenue-producing real property held in feudal land tenure: these are typically known as fiefs or fiefdoms. However, not only land but anything of value could be held in fee, including governmental office, rights of exploitation such as hunting or fishing, monopolies in trade, and tax farms.

Escheat is a common law doctrine that transfers the real property of a person who has died without heirs to the crown or state. It serves to ensure that property is not left in "limbo" without recognized ownership. It originally applied to a number of situations where a legal interest in land was destroyed by operation of law, so that the ownership of the land reverted to the immediately superior feudal lord.

Feudal land tenure in England Forms of land tenure in the feudal system in Medieval 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.

In English law, a fee simple or fee simple absolute is an estate in land, a form of freehold ownership. A "fee" is a vested, inheritable, present possessory interest in land. A "fee simple" is real property held without limit of time under common law, whereas the highest possible form of ownership is a "fee simple absolute," which is without limitations on the land's use.

Statutes of Mortmain 1279 and 1290 English statutes

The Statutes of Mortmain were two enactments, in 1279 and 1290, passed in the reign of Edward I of England, aimed at preserving the kingdom's revenues by preventing land from passing into the possession of the Church. Possession of property by a corporation, such as the Church, was known as mortmain, which literally meant "dead hand". In medieval England, feudal estates generated taxes for the King, principally on the grant or inheritance of the estate. If an estate became owned by a religious corporation which could never die, could never attain majority, and could never be attainted for treason, these taxes never became payable. It was akin to the estates being owned by the dead, hence the term.

Tenant-in-chief Medieval vassal in possession of land granted directly by the Crown

In medieval and early modern Europe, the term tenant-in-chief denoted a person who held his lands under various forms of feudal land tenure directly from the king or territorial prince to whom he did homage, as opposed to holding them from another nobleman or senior member of the clergy. The tenure was one which denoted great honour, but also carried heavy responsibilities. The tenants-in-chief were originally responsible for providing knights and soldiers for the king's feudal army.

Allodial title constitutes ownership of real property that is independent of any superior landlord. Allodial title is related to the concept of land held "in allodium", or land ownership by occupancy and defense of the land.

Seisin denotes the legal possession of a feudal fiefdom or fee, that is to say an estate in land. It was used in the form of "the son and heir of X has obtained seisin of his inheritance", and thus is effectively a term concerned with conveyancing in the feudal era. The person holding such estate is said to be "seized of it", a phrase which commonly appears in inquisitions post mortem. The monarch alone "held" all the land of England by his allodial right and all his subjects were merely his tenants under various contracts of feudal tenure.

<i>Quia Emptores</i> English statute of 1290

Quia Emptores is a statute passed by the Parliament of England in 1290 during the reign of Edward I that prevented tenants from alienating their lands to others by subinfeudation, instead requiring all tenants who wished to alienate their land to do so by substitution. The statute, along with its companion statute Quo Warranto also passed in 1290, was intended to remedy land ownership disputes and consequent financial difficulties that had resulted from the decline of the traditional feudal system in England during the High Middle Ages. The name Quia Emptores derives from the first two words of the statute in its original mediaeval Latin, which can be translated as "because the buyers". Its long title is A Statute of our Lord The King, concerning the Selling and Buying of Land. It is also cited as the Statute of Westminster III, one of many English and British statutes with that title.

Use, as a term in real property of common law countries, amounts to a recognition of the duty of a person to whom property has been conveyed for certain purposes, to carry out those purposes. In this context "use" is equivalent to "benefit".

Feoffment Transfer of land under feudalism

In the Middle Ages, especially under the European feudal system, feoffment or enfeoffment was the deed by which a person was given land in exchange for a pledge of service. This mechanism was later used to avoid restrictions on the passage of title in land by a system in which a landowner would give land to one person for the use of another. The common law of estates in land grew from this concept.

Knight-service Land tenure under the feudal system

Knight-service was a form of feudal land tenure under which a knight held a fief or estate of land termed a knight's fee from an overlord conditional on him as tenant performing military service for his overlord.


An overlord in the English feudal system was a lord of a manor who had subinfeudated a particular manor, estate or fee, to a tenant. The tenant thenceforth owed to the overlord one of a variety of services, usually military service or serjeanty, depending on which form of tenure the estate was held under. The highest overlord of all, or paramount lord, was the monarch, who due to his ancestor William the Conqueror's personal conquest of the Kingdom of England, owned by inheritance from him all the land in England under allodial title and had no superior overlord, "holding from God and his sword", although certain monarchs, notably King John (1199–1216) purported to grant the Kingdom of England to Pope Innocent III, who would thus have become overlord to English monarchs.

<span title="Anglo-Norman-language text"><i lang="xno">Cestui que</i></span>

Cestui que is a shortened version of cestui a que use le feoffment fuit fait, literally, the person for whose use/benefit the feoffment was made, in modern terms a beneficiary. It is a Law French phrase of medieval English invention, which appears in the legal phrases cestui que trust, cestui que use, or cestui que vie. In contemporary English the phrase is also commonly pronounced "setty-kay" or "sesty-kay". According to Roebuck, Cestui que use is pronounced. Cestui que use and cestui que trust are often interchangeable. In some medieval documents it is seen as cestui a que. In formal legal discourse it is often used to refer to the relative novelty of a trust itself, before that English term became acceptable.

Feu was long 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. The word is the Scots variant of fee. 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.

Ecclesiastical fief Medieval fief held from the Catholic Church

In the feudal system of the European Middle Ages, an ecclesiastical fief, held from the Catholic Church, followed all the laws laid down for temporal fiefs. The suzerain, e.g. bishop, abbot, or other possessor, granted an estate in perpetuity to a person, who thereby became his vassal.

English feudal barony Medieval English noble title and type of land tenure

In the kingdom of England, a feudal barony or barony by tenure was the highest degree of feudal land tenure, namely per baroniam, under which the land-holder owed the service of being one of the king's barons. The duties owed by and the privileges granted to feudal barons are not exactly defined, but they involved the duty of providing soldiers to the royal feudal army on demand by the king, and the privilege of attendance at the king's feudal court, the precursor of parliament.

An Inquisition post mortem is an English medieval or early modern record of the death, estate and heir of one of the king's tenants-in-chief, made for royal fiscal purposes. The process of making such inquisition was effected by the royal escheators in each county where the deceased held land. The earliest inq.p.m. was made in 1236, in the reign of King Henry III (1216–1272), and the practice ceased c.1640, at the start of the English Civil War, and was finally abolished by the Tenures Abolition Act 1660, which ended the feudal system.

Feudalism in the Holy Roman Empire was a politico-economic system of relationships between liege lords and enfeoffed vassals that formed the basis of the social structure within the Holy Roman Empire during the High Middle Ages. In Germany the system is variously referred to Lehnswesen, Feudalwesen or Benefizialwesen.

History of equity and trusts

The history of equity and trusts concerns the development of the body of rules known as equity, English trust law and its spread into a modern body of trust law around Commonwealth and the United States.


  1. 1 2 McFarlane, p.146
  2. Anon. "feoffee". oxforddictionaries.com. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 6 July 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  3. Anon. "Governance". www.chethams.com. Chetham's School of Music. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  4. Towcester Charities deposit in Northamptonshire Records Office Archived 4 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  5. "No faffing about by Feoffees". Church Times. Church Times. 2 November 2006. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  6. Anon. "New Feoffees". Town of Ipswich. Town of Ipswich. Archived from the original on 9 December 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  7. "Search the register of charities".
  8. "Feoffee - Find and update company information - GOV.UK".