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Medieval life and Times

Fief Definition

What exactly was a fief? Fief Definition: In Medieval feudalism a fief was a vassal's source of income, granted to him by his lord in exchange for his services. The fief usually consisted of land and the labor of peasants who were bound to cultivate it. The income the fief provided supported the vassal, who fought for his lord as a knight.

Dignities, offices, and money rents were also given in fief. A fief was basically a favor awarded to a vassal. A fief was primarily the land held by a vassal of a lord in return for stipulated services, chiefly military. What was a vassal?  A Vassal or Liege was a free man who held land ( a fief ) from a lord to whom he paid homage and swore fealty. A vassal could be a Lord of the Manor but was also directly subservient to a Noble or the King.

The Medieval Fief - Feudalism
What exactly was Feudalism and what did this have to do with a fief? Medieval Feudalism during the Medieval times of the Middle Ages was based on the exchange of land ( a fief ) for military service. King William the Conqueror used the concept of feudalism to reward his Norman supporters with fiefs for their help in the conquest of England.  Life lived under the Medieval Feudal System, or Feudalism, demanded that everyone owed allegiance to the King and their immediate superior. Everyone was expected to pay for the land, the fief, by providing the following services:

  • Work days - completing any chores required
  • Providing trained soldiers to fight for the King and clothes and weapons for the soldiers

The Medieval Fief and Feudalism - Who granted the Fief? Who received the Fief? What was the Commendation Ceremony?
During the Middle Ages the fief would be granted by the King, or overlord and the recipient of the fief would be one of his vassals. The fief, or land, was usually granted following a Commendation Ceremony. The commendation ceremony was designed to create a lasting bond between a vassal and his lord. Fealty and homage were a key element of feudalism. The ceremony consisted of the recipient of the fief swearing the Oath of Fealty and undertaking an act of homage to his lord.

Knights Oath of Fealty

The Medieval Fief and the Ceremony of Investiture - the Fiefdom
After the Commendation ceremony there would be another ceremony. This second ceremony was called the Investiture Ceremony. Investiture was the ceremonial transfer of a fief, also called a Fiefdom, by a king or an overlord to his vassal. Certain privileges and rights were also granted to the recipient of a fief. These rights and privileges included the right of hunting on the fief and judicial rights over the people, or peasants , who lived on the fief. The fief was referred to as the manor and the vassal who had been granted the fief was the Lord of the Manor

Lord of the Manor 

The Medieval Fief - Subinfeudation
Feudalism was a Pyramid of Power. But it was possible for everyone to move higher up the ranks of the pyramid and this is what everyone aspired to do. The vassal might therefore become an overlord, granting part of his fief to one who then became vassal to him.

The Medieval Fief became Hereditary
The Medieval fief of the Middle Ages originally had to be renewed on the death of the lord or the vassal. However as time went on it became customary for the heirs of the vassal to inherit the fief.  The fief therefore became hereditary.

Additional definition and meanings of a fief
The primary definition of a fief related to land which produced revenue. But a fief, or favor, could also take the form of money called a knight's fee. A fief might also be a special office, providing a good income. Anything of value could be held 'in fief'. The vassal himself might also be referred to as a fief. Other terms in relation to a fief included a fiefdom, feud or fee. The word 'feud' derives from the Medieval Latin word 'feodum' meaning cattle i.e. moveable property. The word 'fee' is derived from the word fief and means an inheritable freehold estate as used in feudal law.

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