In the Wikipedia article it is written that fiefs were not necessarily lands:

However, not only land but anything of value could be held in fee, including governmental office, rights of exploitation such as hunting or fishing, monopolies in trade, and tax farms.

Can anybody recommend me some reading about this? A book or an article where these details are discussed. (In Wikipedia they don't give references on this. Actually, an article in an encyclopedia with some examples will also do.)

EDIT 18.08.2020. From people's reaction I see that there is no common agreement about the meaning of the term "fief", so perhaps it will be reasonable to clarify how I understand it. From what I read about this I got an impression (people can correct me) that

a fief is a source of income (not necessarily, land, this as well can be a permission to trade somewhere, or a monopoly on the production of something, etc.) with the following three distinguishing features:

  • this source of income is granted to a person (called a "vassal" in Europe, but of course the concrete words are not important), by another person (called a "seigneur" in Europe) under a certain treaty (which is a part of the tradition),
  • in this treaty it is supposed that (in gratitude for this gift) the vassal is obliged to provide certain services to the seigneur (again, the content of these services can be very different, it can be regular payments to the seigneur, or military service, or service at the seigneur's court, or, as far as I understand, even something unclarified), and
  • the seigneur has a formal right to cancel this treaty if he decides that the vassal does not fulfill his obligations (of course, the possibility to do this depends very strongly on the tradition and on the concrete situation, but in this culture everyone recognizes the formal right of the seigneur to cancel the treaty).

My question is where all these details are described? I see many books about fiefs understood as lands, but only fragmentary mentionings of fiefs understood as other sources of income. I cannot find a text where these things are discussed in detail (or even simply explicitly formulated as I did here). Does anybody know such a text?

EDIT 29.08.2020. I've added a reference request to the Wikipedia page.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 21:42
  • Riparian rights for one. Still an issue on salmon rivers. Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 12:45
  • I've thought about this question for a couple of days, & am still unclear about your question. Do you mean a feudal grant of something (e.g., a title or honor, the right to collect income on a market or tolls on a stretch of river, etc.) with land attached? Or that grant of something alone, without any land attached? I don't think that second possibility was executed often, if at all. (The passage you cite from Wikipedia is vague, & frankly I'm dissatisfied with it. I don't think it's accurate as you quote it.)
    – llywrch
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 15:49
  • @llywrch I imagined this as a custom to give a source of income regardless of whose land it could be attributed to. As an example, it was possible to give the right to trade with some countries, despite the fact that these countries, naturally, were not the property of either the seigneur who made such a gift, or the vassal who received this gift. From what I read, it follows, that it was possible to grant a post, for example a post of a judge in a city, whithout gifting this city to the same person. Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 16:49
  • So my impression is that this was independent, each source of income was considered as a separate fief, and when you grant a land to somebody, this doesn't mean that you automatically give him other souces of income that can be somehow attributed to this land. And vice versa. Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 16:49

3 Answers 3


One example might be thirlage, the right to force serfs to use a specific mill and to pay for the usage.

Another was the right to mint coins.

I believe both were commonly granted in addition to lands, not in place of it.

  • o.m. if this was not in place of land, then I am afraid this is not what I am looking for. If you could add some "pure" examples, not connected to land, that would be good. Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 16:28
  • 3
    @SergeiAkbarov, what I mean is that the right to mint coins would be unlikely to go to someone who did not also have lands.
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 17:08
  • I see. Can thirlage and mint coins be called "fiefs"? Were they usually presented to a vassal with an opportunity for the lord to take them back? And which profit did the lord have from this? Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 17:22
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    @SergeiAkbarov, the monopolies provide a profit or they would not be made a monopoly that way. Regarding taking them back, like any other fief there was theory and practice -- few monarchies were truly absolute. For cause, and only if the other vassals did not believe it was the start of a general campaign of expropriation.
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 4:08
  • o.m. yes, I understand that there was a profit for the vassals who had this monopoly. But what was the profit for the seigneur who granted them this monopoly? Did he receive a percentage of the profits from the monopoly? Or was there something else? Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 5:31

A great many examples could be produced. The term fief is perhaps not very commonly used. I think you are best off looking for other arrangements that are (from a modern Western perspective) unfair. :-)

The word sinecure refers to a job that requires very little work from the officeholder, which is granted as a favor to someone.

Cash can also be granted outright: Geoffrey Chaucer received £20 per year toward the end of his life.

The British East India Company could qualify as an example of a monopoly. They had a monopoly on British trade with India for about a hundred years.

  • 4
    A "fief"is held conditional on the periodic receipt of a "fee" from the "vassal" (or "tenant" if you prefer) to the "lord". In your examples, what is the "fee" and its terms of payment? An outright grant of privilege is never a "fief" and cannot be considered as such. Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 18:00
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    It doesn't need to be a monetary fee... the Wikipedia article reads, “in return for a form of feudal allegiance and service.” If you want to broaden the definition a bit to patronage (perhaps a more anthropological term), the “terms” of the agreement can be quite amorphous.
    – adam.baker
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 18:07
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    It's feudalism - of course it's not a monetary "fee". The whole point of feudalism is that most "fees" were labour of some sort. Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 19:49
  • @adam Baker The British East India Company didn't have monopoly on trade with indian. They were the only group in Britain allowed to trade in Indian and thus had a monopoly of Britian-Indian trade. But the other East India Companies from other European countries also traded with India.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 19:09
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    @MAGolding, you're absolutely right. That is what I had been thinking, but I've now revised it so that the sentence is accurate.
    – adam.baker
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 16:55

According to this source on pg 323, the Lord of Torksey was entitled, ie held title, to the right to collect all tolls on traffic crossing the Trent River at certain locations near a road. If you read around this page you will find other titles like this, inlcuding one given by King Cnut to a Church in Canterbury.

An inquest of 1238 (1228) records that the lord of Torksey was entitled to tolls on traffic crossing the River Trent within its jurisdiction and on traffic using the road from Newark to Gainsborough which passed through Torksey.

In regards to rather this constitutes a "fee," reading the original source it appears the toll was given to the family in exchange for the work required to keep the canaled section of the river being tolled free from silt.

  • 1
    Was this right "held from time immemorial" or in exchange for a periodic "fee", usually personal service of some sort. In order to be a "fief" the right must have been contingent on a periodic "fee". That's just how feudal;ism worked and defined its terms. Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 11:55
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    that definitely counts as a "fee". Add it to the pots and I will be satisfied. Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 12:09
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    @SergeiAkbarov - I honestly dont know the answer to that. I would assume in some cases it did and others it didnt, again it depended again on the title itself and who had the power to enforce their will on others. Not all titles were the same, some had more rights or obligations than others. In the case of Torksey it was a rather large town that made a lot of pottery that needed to be exported, the canals being silted up was a major hindrance to everyone making money, so a special case may have been made for just this, or maybe it was commonplace, i dont know though for sure.
    – ed.hank
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 12:37
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    Similar situation: Distant ancestors of mine in 15th century Germany held, for 4 generations, the right to charge toll on a ferry-crossing on the river Moselle, in exchange for upkeep of the ferry itself and the roads leading from the ferry in the river-valley up to the highlands west and east. Granted by the Count of Cochem (himself a vassal of the Arch-bishop of Trier). This was independent of my families lands, which lay several kilometers further south and those were a fief granted by the Arch-bishop of Trier directly. The tolls made them richer than the Count himself.
    – Tonny
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 14:23
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    @ed.hank It wasn't all that unusual as far as I know. Fishing rights, ferries, hunting rights, thirlage, some forms of market-rights (often granted to a town), rights to operate a road-side inn. Many of these concepts existed but usually had a specific name (often a regional or national customary term) and were mostly not called a fief, even though they basically amounted to the same thing.
    – Tonny
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 15:21

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