Legal Definition and Related Resources of Tenure

Meaning of Tenure

The word is a relic of feudal times. Denoted a mode of holding property . In England, theoretically, all land is owned by the crown and all who are possessed of land hold the same mediately or immediately of the Crown. The possession of land by a subject is called tenure which may be in capite or in chief , that is, the tenant may hold the land directly from the Crown or it may be mesne tenure where he holds the land from another subject. while the Crown had the dominion of the soil, the subject had the right to the possession thereof (tenure). The tenant’s right to use the profits of the soil was his seisin . A tenure may be either perfect or imperfect . A perfect tenure is where one person holds land of another or of the Crown in fee simple and an imperfect tenure is the relationship existing between a tenant of the land and the person to whom he has granted a smaller estate than his own. The term during which an office is held.

Tenure Alternative Definition

(from Lat. tenere, to hold). A term of extensive signification. While it means the mode by which one holds an estate in land, it imports any kind of holding from mere possession to the owning of the inheritance. 153 Cal. 718; 96 Pac. 500; Ann. Cas. 1914D 636. In the most general sense, the mode or right of holding, as “tenure of oflSce.” More specifically, the mode by which a man holds an estate in lands. Such a holding as is coupled with some service, which the holder is bound to perform so long as he continues to hold. The thing held is called a “tenement;” the occupant, a “tenant;” and the manner of his holding constitutes the “tenure.” Classification of feudal tenures.
(1) The principal species of tenure which grew out of the feudal system was the tenure by knight’s service. This was essentially military in its character, and required the possession of a certain quantity of land, called a “knight’s fee,” the measure of which, in the time of Edward I., was estimated at twelve ploughlands, of the value of twenty pounds per annum. He who held this portion of land was bound to attend I his lord to the wars forty days in every year, if called upon. It seems, howBver* that if he held but half a knight’s fee, he was only bound to attend twenty days. Many arbitrary and tyrannical incidents or lordly privileges were attached to this tenure, which at length became so odious and oppressive that the whole system was destroyed at a blow by St. Charles II. c. 24, which declared that all such lands should thenceforth be held in free and common socage, a statute, says Blackstone, which was a greater acquisition to the civil property of this kingdom than even Magna Charta itself; since that only pruned the luxuriances which had grown out of military tenures, and thereby preserved them in vigor, but the statute of King Charles extirpated the whole, and demolished both root and branches. See “Feudal Law;” Co. Litt. 69; St. Westminster I., c. 36.
(2) Tenure in socage seems to have been a relic of Saxon liberty which, up to the time of the abolition of military tenures, had been evidently struggling with the innovations of the Normans. Its great redeeming quality was its certainty; and in this sense it is by the old law writers put in opposition to the tenure by knight’s service, where the tenure was altogether precarious and uncertain. Littleton defines it to be where a tenant holds his tenement by any certain service, in lieu of all other services, so that they be not services of chivalry or knight’s services; as, to hold by fealty and twenty shillings rent, or by homage, fealty, and twenty shillings rent, or by homage and fealty without any rent, or by fealty and a certain specified service, as, to plough the lord’s land for three days. Litt. 117; 2 Bl. Comm. 79. See “Socage.”
(3) Other tenures have grown out of the two last-mentioned species of tenure, and ate still extant in England, although some of them are fast becoming obsolete. Of these is the tenure by grand serjeanty, which consists in some service immediately respecting the person or dignity of the sovereign; as, to carry the king’s standard, or to be his constable or marshal, his butler or chamberlain, or to perform some similar service. While the tenure “by petit serjeanty requires some inferior service, not strictly military or personal, to the king; as, the annual render of a bow or sword. The late duke of Wellington annually presented his sovereign with a banner, in acknowledgment of his tenure. There are also tenures by copyhold and in fraiikalmoigne, in burgage and of gavelkind; but their nature, origin, and history are explained in the several articles appropriated to those terms. 2 Bl. Comm. 66; 2 Inst. 233.
(4) Tenures were distinguished by the old common-law writers, according to the quality of the service, into free or base. The former were such as were not unbecoming a soldier or a freeman to perform, as, to serve the lord in the wars; while the latter were only considered fit for a peasant, as, to plougli the land, and the like. They were further distinguished with reference to the person from whom the land was held; as, a tenure “in capite”, where the holding was ox the person of the king, and tenure m gross, where the holding was of a subject. Before the statute of Quia Emptores (18 Edw. I), any person might, by a grant of land, have created an estate as a tenure of his person, or of his house or manor; and although by Magna Charta a man could not alienate so much of his land as not to leave enough to answer the services due to the superior lord, yet, as that statute did not remedy the evil then complained of, it was provided by the statute above referred to, that if any tenant should alien any part of his land in fee, the alienee should hold immediately of the lord of the fee, and should be charged with a proportional part of the service due in respect to the quantity of land held by him. The consequence of which was that, upon every such alienation, the services upon which the estate was originally granted became due to the superior lord, and not to the immediate grantee. 4 Term R. 443; 4 East, 271; Crabb, Real Prop. § 735. Wharton’s classification is as follows: (A) Lay tenures.
I Prank tenement, or freehold.
(1) The military tenures (abolished, except grand serjeanty, and reduced to free socage tenures) were : Knight service proper, or tenure in chivalry; grand serjeanty; cornage. (2) Free socage, or plough service; either petit serjeanty tenure in burgage, or gavelkind.
II Villeinage.
(1) Pure villeinage (whence copyholds at the lord’s’ [nominal] will, which is regulated according to custom) .
(2) Privileged villeinage, sometimes called “villein socage” (whence tenure in ancient demesne, which is an exalted sp
ecies of copyhold, held according to custom, and not according to the lord’s will), and is of three kinds: Tenure in ancient demesne ; privileged copyholds, customary freeholds, or free copyholds; copyholds of base tenure.
(B) Spiritual tenures.
I Frankalmoigne, or free alms. II. Tenure by divine service.

Synonyms of Tenure


  • duration
  • holding
  • occupancy
  • occupation
  • period
  • possessio
  • possidere
  • regime
  • term Associated Concepts: tenure in office foreign phrases: Tenura est pactio contra communem feudi naturam ac rationem
  • in contractu interposita
  • Tenure is a compact contrary to the common nature and reason of the fee
  • put into a contract

Related Entries of Tenure in the Encyclopedia of Law Project

Browse or run a search for Tenure in the American Encyclopedia of Law, the Asian Encyclopedia of Law, the European Encyclopedia of Law, the UK Encyclopedia of Law or the Latin American and Spanish Encyclopedia of Law.

Tenure in Historical Law

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Legal Abbreviations and Acronyms

Search for legal acronyms and/or abbreviations containing Tenure in the Legal Abbreviations and Acronyms Dictionary.

Related Legal Terms

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Mentioned in these terms

Ancient Demesne, Castleguard, Convivium, Copyhold, Cornage, Escheat, , Fixtures, Forfeiture, Freehold, Gavelkind, Inalienability, Labor Dispute, Privity, Seisin, Socage, Tenement, .


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Concept of Tenure in the context of Real Property

A short definition of Tenure: Manner of holding title subordinate to a superior interest. Derived from feudalism; the superior title was seisin.

Concept of Tenure in the context of Real Property

A short definition of Tenure: Manner of holding title subordinate to a superior interest. Derived from feudalism; the superior title was seisin.




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