What Is A Fief?

The vassal was given the title of "Lord of the Manor."
The vassal was given the title of "Lord of the Manor."

A fief was the central element of the European feudal society consisting of heritable property or rights granted by an overlord to a vassal who held it for a fee in return for a form of feudal allegiance and service. During the medieval times in Europe, payments for loyalty were a conventional way of life and largely practiced by kings in France, Germany, and Europe.

Fief Culture

Historically, vassalage did not involve the giving of landholdings as an incentive for loyalty. The culture commenced in the 8th century when it became a standard. The presentation of land to a vassal did not renounce the lord any property rights as he retained full ownership of the land and could recover the land in the event of treachery or death. By the mid of the 10th century, fiefs became hereditary and firstborn sons of vassals could inherit the fief upon paying a monetary recognition to the lord for continued property rights. By the 13th century, King Henry II transformed the fief system making it a major source of royal income and patronage. Eventually, great feudal lords began to seize governmental and legal authority of collecting taxes on their lands.

How the Fief System Worked

In the feudal system, the land was divided up into estate plots known as manors, owned and controlled by the monarch. The monarch supervised several lords who oversaw daily activities and operations of the manor. The lords were known as vassals and pledged their allegiance to the monarch by taking an oath in exchange for the supervisory roles in the manors. Lords would then hire peasants and serfs to work on the manors. For implied loyalty and heroic battle services, vassals would be awarded a portion of the manor known as a fief.

Fiefs were mostly granted to lords, but under exceptional circumstances, a peasant could also get the reward. Due to the social status of serfs, they were not eligible to fiefs hence never awarded. Those granted the fiefs were not the definite landlords of the land thus had to follow set the rules and regulations of the temporary ownership of the land.

Distribution Process of Fief

In the feudalistic society, Christianity was a major religion. Fiefs were granted to vassals through a Commendation Ceremony presided over by Christian leaders. The purpose of the ceremony was to establish a noble relationship between the vassals and the lords. The vassal took an oath of fealty promising to forever remain loyal to their masters, fight or send men to fight, and provide money in ransom if the king was captured.

The commendation ceremony was celebrated by paying tribute to the lord after which the investiture ceremony followed. During the investiture ceremony, the lord presented the fief to the vassal together with its privileges. Privileges included but were not limited to hunting and official rights over the peasants residing on the fief and over the land. Once the fief was given to the vassal it was named a manor and the vassal was given the title of the Lord of the Manor.


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