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Feudal rights and obligations

Feudal rights and obligationsThe feudal system was the framework governing all land-holding in medieval England. In the feudal hierarchy, all land was ultimately held from the king, in a complex web of tenancies stretching down from the king's tenants-in-chief, through a series of under-tenants, to the rural peasantry at the foot of the pyramid. Everyone in the hierarchy had rights and obligations regulated by long-established custom.

The king was entitled to many customary payments from his tenants-in-chief. He could demand money on the marriage of his eldest daughter or when his tenants' heirs inherited their estates; he had the lucrative right of wardship over tenants' heirs who were minors and he could control the marriage of his tenants' widows and heirs. The barons also owed the king a payment called scutage in place of military service.

King John repeatedly breached the bounds of customary practice by exploiting his feudal rights to excess. Over a third of the 63 clauses in Magna Carta dealt directly with these rights, defining and limiting the extent of the king's authority.


Land management
Land management