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In the Middle Ages, especially under the European feudal system, feoffment /ˈfɛfmənt/ 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.



The word feoffment derives from the Old French feoffement or fieffement; compare with the Late Latin feoffamentum. [1]


In English law, feoffment was a transfer of land or property that gave the new holder the right to sell it as well as the right to pass it on to his heirs as an inheritance. It was total relinquishment and transfer of all rights of ownership of an estate in land from one individual to another.[ citation needed ] In feudal England a feoffment could only be made of a fee (or "fief"), which is an estate in land, that is to say an ownership of rights over land, rather than ownership of the land itself, the only true owner of which was the monarch under his allodial title. Enfeoffment could be made of fees of various feudal tenures, such as fee-tail or fee-simple. [2] The term feoffment derives from a conflation of fee with off (meaning away), i.e. it expresses the concept of alienation of the fee, in the sense of a complete giving away of the ownership.

The medieval English law of property was based on the concept of transferring ownership by delivery: easy to do with a horse, but impossible with land, i.e. with immoveable property. Thus the conveyance (i.e. delivery) of land to the new tenant, known as the delivery of seisin, was generally effected on the land itself in a symbolic ceremony termed "feoffment with [de]livery of seisin." In the ceremony, the parties would go to the land with witnesses "and the transferor would then hand to the transferee a lump of soil or a twig from a tree – all the while intoning the appropriate words of grant, together with the magical words 'and his heirs' if the interest transferred was to be a potentially infinite one." [3] A written deed (traditionally a document impressed with the signature and seal of the transferor and the signatures of the witnesses), confirming the symbolic delivery, was customary—and became mandatory after 1677. Gradually the delivery of this deed to the new owner replaced the symbolic act of delivering an object representing the land, such as a piece of the soil. [4] The feoffee (transferee) was henceforth said to hold his property "of" or "from" the feoffor, in return for a specified service (money payments were not used until much later). What service was given depended on the exact form of feudal land tenure involved. Thus, for every parcel of land, during the feudal era there existed a historical unbroken chain of feoffees, in the form of overlords, ultimately springing from feoffments made by William the Conqueror himself in 1066 as the highest overlord of all.

This pattern of land-holding was the natural product of William the Conqueror claiming an allodial title to all the land of England following the Norman Conquest of 1066, and parcelling it out as large fees in the form of feudal baronies to his followers, who then in turn subinfeudated (i.e. sub-divided) the lands comprising their baronies into manors to be held from them by their own followers and knights (in return, originally, for military service).

When the feoffee sub-enfeoffed his holding, for example when he created a new manor, he would become overlord to the person so enfeoffed, and a mesne lord (i.e. intermediate lord) within the longer historical chain of title. In modern English land law, the theory of such long historical chains of title still exists for every holding in fee simple, although for practical purposes it is not necessary at the time of conveyance to recite the descent of the fee from its creation. By the early 20th century it had become traditional to show the chain of former owners for a minimum period of 15 years only, as occupation for 12 years now barred all prior claims. And the establishment, in 1925, of a national Land Registry (a voluntary public record of land ownership) obviated the need for recitals of descent for registered parcels.


In China and some other South East Asian countries, from the time of the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC) relatives and descendants of the ruling family were granted enfeoffments [5] in return for pledging military service to the King or Emperor in times of war. The practice continued into the Han Dynasty, with people such as Cai Lun who was enfeoffed as the lord of a small village, Longting  [ zh ], for his services in papermaking innovations. [6]

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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.

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.

This aims to be a complete list of the articles on real estate.

In common law, a deed is any legal instrument in writing which passes, affirms or confirms an interest, right, or property and that is signed, attested, delivered, and in some jurisdictions, sealed. It is commonly associated with transferring (conveyancing) title to property. The deed has a greater presumption of validity and is less rebuttable than an instrument signed by the party to the deed. A deed can be unilateral or bilateral. Deeds include conveyances, commissions, licenses, patents, diplomas, and conditionally powers of attorney if executed as deeds. The deed is the modern descendant of the medieval charter, and delivery is thought to symbolically replace the ancient ceremony of livery of seisin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Statutes of Mortmain</span> 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.

A tenement, in law, is anything that is held, rather than owned. This usage is a holdover from feudalism, which still forms the basis of property law in many common law jurisdictions, in which the monarch alone owned the allodial title to all the land within his kingdom.

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.

Sasine in Scots law is the delivery of feudal property, typically land.

<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".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Feoffee</span> English feudal trustee of land

Under the feudal system in England, a feoffee is a trustee who holds a fief, 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Overlord</span>

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.

In the law of the Middle Ages and early Modern Period and especially within the Holy Roman Empire, an allod, also allodial land or allodium, is an estate in land over which the allodial landowner (allodiary) had full ownership and right of alienation.

Livery of seisin is an archaic legal conveyancing ceremony, formerly practised in feudal England and in other countries following English common law, used to convey holdings in property. The term livery is closely related to if not synonymous with delivery used in some jurisdictions in contract law or the related law of deeds. The oldest forms of common law provided that a valid conveyance of a feudal tenure in land required physical transfer by the transferor to the transferee in the presence of witnesses of a piece of the ground itself, in the literal sense of a hand-to-hand passing of an amount of soil, a twig, key to a building on that land, or other token.

In common law jurisdictions such as England and Wales, Australia, Canada, and Ireland, a freehold is the common mode of ownership of real property, or land, and all immovable structures attached to such land. It is in contrast to a leasehold, in which the property reverts to the owner of the land after the lease period expires or otherwise lawfully terminates. For an estate to be a freehold, it must possess two qualities: immobility and ownership of it must be forever. If the time of ownership can be fixed and determined, it cannot be a freehold. It is "An estate in land held in fee simple, fee tail or for term of life."

In English and Irish law, a fee farm grant is a hybrid type of land ownership typical in cities and towns. The word fee is derived from fief or fiefdom, meaning a feudal landholding, and a fee farm grant is similar to a fee simple in the sense that it gives the grantee the right to hold a freehold estate, the only difference being the payment of an annual rent and covenants, thus putting both parties in a landlord-tenant relationship.

A glossary of land law contains mostly middle English concepts, which are often found in older judgments, and refer to obsolete rights or remedies.

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.


  1. "Feoffment". www.websters1913.com. Retrieved 2022-04-30.
  2. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Feoffment"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 260–261.
  3. Thomas F. Bergin & Paul G. Haskell, Preface to Estates in Land and Future Interests, p. 11, Foundation Press (2d ed. 1984).
  4. "Feoffment - English law". britannica.com. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  5. "The Zhou Dynasty". China Civilisation Centre, City University of Hong Kong. Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. Retrieved November 11, 2010.
  6. Hunter, Dard; Hunter, Cornell (1978) [1943]. Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft (2nd ed.). New York: Dover Publications. p.  52. ISBN   978-0-486-23619-3.