From what I've read (grossly oversimplifying) in a feudal system king owned all the land and would give parts of said land to his knights in exchange for military service.

The knights would, in turn, divide the land into smaller chunks and let peasants use these chunks in exchange for a part of their produce and/or money.

Where did the king's goods/money come from then?

The possibilities I can think of are:

  • he lent only a part of the land in exchange for military service, while the rest was providing income instead
  • king's income came from taxing the trade
  • in times of peace the knights would pay rent, while at war their military service would replace the rent

However I was not able to find any confirmation for these.

  • 1
    In the early (English) feudal system, all land was personally owned by the king; he would grant a lifetime use-right, but on the death of the vassal, the land reverted to him. This is prior to the invention of "book land" which permitted permanent grants. Note that "money" was not involved; most feudalism was a food economy and money wasn't relevant. Check British History Podcast for more.
    – MCW
    Mar 2, 2019 at 13:07
  • 1
    Thanks for the insight. In case if money was not involved the question boils down to where does the king get his goods from if all he gets from his land is military service of his knights. Mar 2, 2019 at 13:30
  • 1
    Excellent question. Please revise the quote on with that clarification, and I will try to answer when I am not on a cellphone.
    – MCW
    Mar 2, 2019 at 14:32
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    Kings had their own personal demesne which generated extra goods. They also taxed roads, bridges, canals, rivers, etc. But after reading other questions here I have been under the impression there just wasnt that much coinage going around back then so most was just trading for goods.
    – ed.hank
    Mar 2, 2019 at 14:34
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    Perhaps you could edit your question to clarify what you think is missing from, or unclear about, the Wikipedia article on Taxation in medieval England? Mar 2, 2019 at 16:14

1 Answer 1


Several factors:

  • The vassals (not just knights but also dukes, barons, etc.) provided not just military service, they also administered the land. So the king had fewer expenses than a modern state.
  • The king would usually hold lands which are not given out to vassals, called crown lands. These belong to whoever holds the crown.
  • The king might also be his own vassal in the sense that he is a duke or similar noble. In all likelihood, a king would have dozens of titles. The difference to crown lands is that these lands might stay in the family even if the crown is lost. (Depending on the circumstances, of course.)
  • The king might have the right to visit vassals and be housed and fed. This would reduce his household expenses.

By the way, there is another interpretation of feudalism. In it, the land belongs to the farmers who owe the king or tribal chieftain military service. Since they don't want to leave their fields and families, the farmers make a contract with one warrior -- they pay certain goods and services, the warrior takes the military obligations. The contract is inheritable on both sides.

Things got muddled in Europe when the Pope entered the picture and claimed superiority over all secular kings. That would mean the land ultimately belongs to God, administered by the kings who got annointed by His deputy on Earth. But note that the question of king vs. Pope was never really settled.

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer. This is what I was looking for: "In Britain, the hereditary revenues of Crown lands provided income for the monarch.." (from the article you linked). Mar 2, 2019 at 20:09
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    @MadCake, keep in mind that the Duchess of Lancaster also has income, distinct from the crown lands. And she happens to be the same person as the Queen.
    – o.m.
    Mar 3, 2019 at 4:38
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    @o.m. Nit-picking, but the Queen is actually the Duke of Lancaster. :)
    – TheHonRose
    Mar 3, 2019 at 7:23
  • The Holy Roman Emperor also claimed to be the rightful overlord of all kings everywhere.
    – MAGolding
    Jun 11, 2019 at 17:12

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