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Feudal System

fief, estate, teutonic, called, word, feud, held, term and loan

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FEUDAL SYSTEM. In treating of this subject we shall endeavour to pre sent a concise and clear view of the prin ciples of what is called the feudal system, to indicate the great stages of its history, especially in our own country, and to state briefly the leading considerations to be taken into account in forming an es timate of its influence on the civiliiation of modern Europe.

The essential constituent and distin guishing characteristic of the species of estate called a fend or fief was from the first, and always continued to be, that it was not an estate of absolute and inde pendent ownership. The property, or dominium directum, as it was called, re mained in the grantor of the estate. The person to whom it was granted did not become its owner, but only its tenant or holder. There is no direct proof that fiefs were originally msumable at plea sure, and Mr. Hallam, in his State of Europe during the Middle Ages,' has ex pressed his doubts if this were ever the case ; but the position, as he admits, is laid down in almost every writer on the Feudal system, and, if not to be made out by any decisive instances, it is at least strongly supported not only by general considerations of probability, but also by some indicative facts. This however is not material. It is not denied that the fief was at one time revocable, at least on the death of the grantee. In receiving it, therefore, he had received not an absolute gift, but only a loan, or at most an estate for his own life.

This being established as the true character of a primitive feud or fief, may perhaps throw some light upon the much disputed etymology and true meaning of the word. Feudum has been derived by some from a Latin, by others from a Teutonic root. The principal Latin ori gins proposed are fadus (a treaty) and ,fides (faith). The supposition of the transformation of either of these into fendum seems unsupported by any proof. These derivations, in fact, are hardly bet ter than another resolution of the puzzle that has been gravely offered, namely, that feudum is a word made up of the initial letters of the words "fidelis ero ithique domino vero meo." The chief Teutonic etymologies proposed have been from the old German faida, the Danish feide, or the modern German vend, all meaning battle-fend, or dissension ; and from fe or fee, which it is said signifies wages or pay for service, combined with od or odh, to which the signification of possession or property is assigned. But, as Sir Francis Palgrave has well re marked, " upon all the Teutonic etymo logies it is sufficient to observe, that the theories are contradicted by the practice of the Teutonic tongues—a Feud, or fief, is not called by such a name, or by any name approaching thereto, in any Teu tonic or Gothic language whatever." (Proofs and Illustrations to Rise and Progress of Eng. Com., p. ccvii.) Lehn

or some cognate form is the only corre sponding Teutonic term ; Laen in Anglo Saxon, Len in Danish, Leen in Swedish, &c. All these words properly signify the same thing that is expressed by our modern English form of the same ele ment, Loan ; a loan is the only name for a feud or fief in all the Teutonic tongues. What then is feud or fief ? Palgrave doubts if the word Feudum ever existed. The true word seems to be Fevdum (not distinguishable from Feudsm in old writ ing), or feltum. Fiev or Fief (Latinized into Fevodium, which some contracted into Fevdum, and others, by omitting the v, into Feodum) he conceives to be Fitef, or Phitef, and that again to be a collo quial abbreviation of Eraphyteasis, pro nounced Ernphytefsis, a well known term of the Roman imperial law for an estate granted to be held not absolutely, but With the ownership still in the grantor and the usufruct only in the hands of the grantee. It is certain that empbyteusis was used in the middle ages as synony mous with Precaria (an estate held on a precarious or uncertain tenure) ; that pre carire, and also priestitie, or priestarite (literally loans), were the same with Beneficia ; and that Beneficia under the emperors were the same or near the same as fiefs. [BENEvicrum.] (See these posi tions also established in Palgrave, at supra, cciv.-ccvi.) It may be added that the word Feu is still iu familiar use in Scotland for an estate held only for a term of years. The possessor of such an estate is called a Feuar. Many of these fens are held for 99 years, some for 999 years. A rent, or fen-duty, as it is called, is always paid, as in the case of a lease in England; but, although never, we believe, merely nominal, it is often ex tremely trifling in proportion to the value of the property. In Erskine's Principles of the Law of Scotland,' in the section " On the several kinds of Holding" (book ii. tit. 4), we find the following passage respecting fen-holding, which may be taken as curiously illus trating the derivation of fief that has just been quoted from another writer:—" It has a strong resemblance to the Roman Emphyteusis, in the nature of the right, the yearly duty payable by the vassal, the penalty in the case of not punctual payment, and the restraint frequently laid upon vassals not to alien without the superior's consent." As for the English term Fee, which is generally, if not universally assumed to be the same word with fief and feud (and of which it may be the abbreviated form, as we may infer from the words "froffor," "infeoff," and " feofPment"), it would be easy enough to show how, supposing that notion to be correct, it may have acquired the meaning which it has in the expressions fee-simple, fee-tail, &c.

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