We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Fief?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Historical Index is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Historical Index, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A fief was a tangible good given in exchange for loyalty during the feudal period in Europe. Other parts of the world also used a feudal system, although the terminology was different. Fiefs traditionally took the form of plots of land, but the rights to manorial rents, a noble title, or an office might also be considered to be fiefs as well. A fief could be granted by an overlord or suzerain to a vassal, and as long as the vassal loyally served his lord, he would retain the fief.

The system of feudalism in Europe was a political, social, and economic system which concentrated power in the hands of the nobility. The feudal system started with the monarch, who could grant lands to individuals loyal to him. These individuals, in turn, could seek out vassals and distribute parts of their estate to these vassals. With the land came the rights to the work of the peasants who lived on it: most peasants had difficult lives producing food for themselves and the manor, and living in very poor conditions. In other cases, a member of the nobility might bestow a title or the rights to rents on individuals who demonstrated loyalty.

In exchange for a fief, a vassal was expected to render a variety of services to his lord. In some cases, the vassal would be expected to contribute to the wealth of his lord by turning over part of his collected rents, along with farm products. The vassal would also be expected to go to war when ordered to, and to keep the fief in good order, with buildings in usable condition and acreage kept under cultivation. If a vassal did not hold up his end of the bargain, the fief could be confiscated and passed on to another individual.

One of the key elements of a fief was the aspect of military service. Individual members of the nobility could not afford to equip and maintain standing armies, and relied on their vassals to supply equipped armed warriors when they were needed. By surrounding themselves with small armies, lords could protect themselves from incursion by other lords while building up their wealth and social position.

While fiefs were technically granted to individuals, they took on a hereditary aspect. If either lord or vassal were to die, it was anticipated that the fief would be renewed, as the arrangement benefited both parties. Land ownership conferred power and allowed individuals to take part in the political process: the landless were not allowed many rights, and were often used much like slaves. Feudalism began to break down in the 15th century, and by the 19th century, it had vanished entirely from Europe, although legacies were left behind in various legal and social systems.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon2202 — On Jul 02, 2007

what is an obligation of fiefs?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
Historical Index, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Historical Index, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.