From wikipedia:

A fief (/fiːf/; Latin: feudum) was the central element of feudalism and consisted of heritable property or rights granted by an overlord to a vassal who held it in fealty (or "in fee") in return for a form of feudal allegiance and service, usually given by the personal ceremonies of homage and fealty.

In feudalism, a fief generally passes to the son of the previous ruler.

In practice, kings would break this custom from time to time, and grant the fief to someone who was not the heir of the previous lord. I realize that taking lands away from a powerful lord is likely to start a civil war, and would only be done for a good reason, or in extraordinary circumstances. What were these circumstances?

When and why did historical kings grant lands and titles to someone new?

Good answers will cite their sources and be supported by specific examples.

  • 4
    This seems pretty broad. Kings took away lands and titles all the time, and rewarded subjects with lands they weren't heirs all the time. For example after a war of conquest.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 6:16
  • 1
    @BobTheAverage If you rephrased your question to ask about the circumstances under a title can be given to someone new in a feudal system, then it would certainly be not too broad. As it is, your question is mostly a call for examples, however.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 15:30
  • @Semaphore I edited it to change the focus. Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 15:39
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    I'm having issues finding an example where the title was stripped from one lord and just outright given to another. It isn't too uncommon for a lord to be stripped of his title, however the lands are usually passed back to the crown/king who then does with them as they see fit (subdivide and divvy out to lesser nobles is a potential, though adding them into another lords territory may have happened). Documentation on these moves isn't easy to come by.
    – Twelfth
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 19:55
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    @BobTheAverage - You seem to have read this subject, "... In practice, kings would break this custom ... and grant the fief to someone ...". That is disinheritance. My clarification: are you looking for particular period/kingdom when you ask "What were these circumstances?". Any period (Middle Ages)?
    – J Asia
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 7:27

2 Answers 2


Henry the Lion (a Guelf) was the most powerful duke in the Holy Roman Empire, only second to the emperor himself. His downfall lasted from 1077–1081, when he was convicted of high treason against the emperor Barbarossa (Frederic I) and had in a court process his feudal lands greatly diminished; his imperial fiefdoms were all confiscated.

The exact details for "why" are a bit unclear. Fred and Henry were said to be friends, and had a fallout. That Henry refused to follow him into battle seems to be the case. Official documents filed against Henry speak of gross misconduct and treason, against the emperor, the church and the people. Later historiographies paint more the picture of a grand conspiracy against Henry, led by rival aristocrats.

But Otto was not only loyal to Frederic but for a time also to Henry, but my teacher's rumour has it that Otto was also one of the main plotters. The Kaiser might just have been interested in 'orderly' affairs and 'power distribution' — after Henry becoming so powerful so that his family might be a threat to his own — to the second in line of office seniority. (Graham A. Loud & Jochen Schenk: "The Origins of the German Principalities, 1100–1350: Essays by German Historians", Routledge: Abingdon, New York, 2017, p54f.) It is often said that Henry was also quite unpopular with the other aristocrats under him in Bavaria.

Subsequently Westphalia and Bavaria were re-distributed and the former tribal duchy of Saxony split up.

This marks the rise of the house of Wittelsbach which ruled in Bavaria until 1918 (succession for the fiefdom much better explained in German Wikipedia). The biggest chunk of land taken from Henry was awarded to Otto I of Bavaria.

The archbishop of Cologne Philipp received from the western part of Saxony the newly created Duchy of Westphalia, the biggest part of eastern Saxony went to Bernhard of House Ascania who became the Duke of Saxony. Styria went to Ottokar IV..

As the emperor taketh, so the emperor giveth. After Henry and Frederic's family were reconciled some much smaller fiefdoms were granted again to the Guelf family.

This is partly illustrated for Saxony in before: Herzogtum Sachsen 1000 and after: Saxony 13th cent

  • My question focuses on the granting of lands. This answer focuses on the confiscation of lands. Who got the lands? Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 15:40
  • @BobTheAverage House Wittelsbach was the biggest beneficiary. Otto VI. Pfalzgraf von Bayern became Otto I. Duke of Bavaria. Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 15:50
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    The edits improved the answer a lot. I am trying to pick through your sources to figure out why Otto I got the lands instead of someone else. I can't find a clear answer. Definitive information about the Emperor's motivation may be lost to history. Otto I had saved the Emperor from defeat 25 years earlier, and was possibly a trusted and respected follower. Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 18:11
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    @BobTheAverage Otto was not only loyal to Fred but for a time also to Henry, but m teacher's rumor has it that Otto was one of the main plotters. Kaiser might just have been interested in 'orderly' & 'power distribution' – to the second in line of office seniority p 54f in book with power balance theory Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 18:38

In 1553 John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, was executed for treason, with (Most? All? It's a little hard to trace.) his estate vacated to the crown.

In 1572 the 4th Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, was executed for treason and his lands and titles escheated to the crown. Much of this estate was later restored to his sons, and the title restored some generations after that to a descendant.

  • So in both cases, the lands were taken by the crown and then the crown did what with them? If the answer is kept them, this doesn't answer the question. Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 15:21

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