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Fiefs and Jurisdiction

Land grants called precaria were granted in return for military service. The use of church lands to support warriors in the king's service contributed to the growth of precaria in the eighth century. Late historians assimilated such grants to "fiefs", an assumption now under some suspicion. Nevertheless, even with assuming a evolved "feudal" system, there is evidence that land was distributed, or appropriated by the fighting classes, and that distinctions between private and public jurisdiction collapsed.

Capitulary of Lestinnes, 743

[from MG LL 4to, II, 1, no. 11]

A capitulary of Carlmann, brother of pippin. It illustrates the land distribution to the warriors, and is the earliest case of appropriation of Church lands which we have.

Because of the threats of war and the attacks of certain tribes on our borders, we have determined, with the consent of God and by the advice of our clergy and people, to appropriate for a time part of the ecclesiastical property for the support of our army. The lands are to be held as precaria for a fixed rent; one solidus, or twelve denarii, shall be paid annually to the church or monastery for each casata [farm]. When the holder dies the whole possession shall return to the church. If, however, the exigency of the time makes it necessary, the prince may require the precarium to be renewed and given out again. Care shall be taken, however, that the churches and monasteries do not incur suffering or poverty through the granting of precatia. If the poverty of the church makes it necessary, the whole possession shall be restored to the church.


Form by Which the King Granted lands With Immunity to Secular Persons

[from Marculf, I, no. 14, pp. 52 f; Altmann and Bernheim, No. 113]

Sometimes the grant of a benefice included immunity from royal jurisdiction in the lands conferred, as in this seventh-century formula.

Those who from their early youth have served us or our parents faithfully are justly rewarded by the gifts of our munificence. Know therefore that we have granted to that illustrious man (name), with greatest good will, the villa called (name), situated in the county of (name), with all its possessions and extent, in full as it was formerly held by him or by our treasury. Therefore by the present charter which we command to be observed forever, we decree that the said (name) shall possess the villa of (name), as has been said, in its entirety, with lands, houses, buildings, inhabitants, slaves, woods, pastures, meadows, streams, mills, and all its appurtenances and belonging, and with all the subjects of the royal treasury who dwell on the lands, and he shall hold it forever with full immunity from the entrance of any public official for the purpose of exacting the royal portion of the fines from cases arising there; to the extent finally that he shall have, hold, and possess it in full ownership, no one having the right to expect its transfer, and with the right of leaving it to his successors or to anyone whom he desires, and to do with it whatever else he wishes.

Capitulary of Kiersey, 877

[from MGH Leges, Vol 1, p 542]

Eventually, as royal authority collapsed during the ninth-century, private landholders and public authorities coalesced in one figure. Both lordship jurisdiction became heriditary. In 877 Charles the Bald gave official recognition to the principle of heritability.

If a count of this kingdom, whose son is with us, shall die, our son with the rest of our faithful shall appoint some one of the nearest relatives of the same count, who, along with the officials of his province and with the bishop in whose diocese the same province is, shall administer that province until announcement is made to us, so that we may honor his son who is with us with his honors.

If, however, he had a minor son, this same son, along with the officials of that province and with the bishop in whose diocese it is, shall make provision for the same province until the notice of the death of the same count shall come to us, that his son may be honored, by our concession, with his honors.

If, however, he had no son, our son along with the rest of the faithful, shall take charge, who, along with the officials of the same province and with the proper bishop shall make provision for the same province until our order may be made in regard to it. Therefore, let him not be angry who shall provide for the province if we give the same province to another whom it pleases us, rather than to him who has so far provided for it.

Similarly also shall this be done concerning our vassals. And we will and command that as well the bishops as the abbots and the counts, and any others of our faithful also, shall study to preserve this toward their men.


from Oliver J. Thatcher, and Edgar Holmes McNeal, eds., A Source Book for Medieval History, (New York: Scribners, 1905): Cap. Of Lestinnes, 357; Immunity Formula, 352-353


and from E. P. Cheyney, trans, University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1898]. Vol IV, No: 3, Cap. of Kersey, p. 14


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

(c)Paul Halsall Feb 1996
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© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 6 October 2023 [CV]