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Old 09-25-2017, 08:13 AM   #8
The Colonel
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Join Date: Jul 2006
Default Re: historically becoming landed as a small fry

For much of pre-modern history land was the primary source of wealth and was something you got however you could.

Land in return for Service was normal - either military (for the upper classes) or agricultural labour (for everyone else), although there were also serjeanties ... a sort of "middle class" tenure which could also be military (the yeoman was form of serjeant) or non-military (duties varied from supplying a given castle with fuel to the famous "Ranulph the Farter" ... a jester who was given tenure of a manor in return for entertaining the court). A serf, or unfree peasant held a plot of land to which they were extensively bound by contract and basically unable to leave ... but then they were pretty hard to dispossess as well. The terms of your land grant and service were the foedus (lat. agreement) that gave feudalism its name. At the higher levels you could also have the right to create tenants of your own.

The alternative to service was generally rent - often called a "farm" - is more intuitive to modern minds: you pay your landlord a set sum of money every year and get the use of a given thing. This could be tax collection for an area, it could be a mining concession or a plot of land - this was present at all levels if not always common. This is why we often think of someone who engages in agriculture as a "farmer" - a freeman who rents his land (even if that happens to be directly from the Crown).
Note that being "free" (usually called a husbandman at peasant level) delivered you from a lot of annoying duties and restrictions but was not that much of a gain in status - a serf could well be materially better off than many of the freemen in his village.

So yes, everyone would try to get land wherever they could - whether by a noble's estate, a knight's fee or a plot rented from some noble or town. That said, all of the "rules" above are more like guidelines - for every general example you can probably find someone or somewhere that did things completely differently. The middle ages in particular are like that...
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