In the feudal system the demesne (icon ; from Old French demeine ultimately from Latin dominus, "lord, master of a household") was all the land, not necessarily all contiguous to the manor house
Manor house
A manor house is a country house that historically formed the administrative centre of a manor, the lowest unit of territorial organisation in the feudal system in Europe. The term is applied to country houses that belonged to the gentry and other grand stately homes...

, which was retained by a lord of the manor
Lord of the Manor
The Lordship of a Manor is recognised today in England and Wales as a form of property and one of three elements of a manor that may exist separately or be combined and may be held in moieties...

 for his own use and support, under his own management, as distinguished from land sub-enfeoffed
In English law, subinfeudation is the practice by which tenants, holding land under the king or other superior lord, carved out new and distinct tenures in their turn by sub-letting or alienating a part of their lands....

 by him to others as sub-tenants. The system of manorial land tenure
Manorialism, an essential element of feudal society, was the organizing principle of rural economy that originated in the villa system of the Late Roman Empire, was widely practiced in medieval western and parts of central Europe, and was slowly replaced by the advent of a money-based market...

, broadly termed feudalism
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

, was conceived in Western Europe, initially in France but exported to areas affected by Norman
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 expansion during the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, for example the Kingdoms of Sicily
Kingdom of Sicily
The Kingdom of Sicily was a state that existed in the south of Italy from its founding by Roger II in 1130 until 1816. It was a successor state of the County of Sicily, which had been founded in 1071 during the Norman conquest of southern Italy...

, Scotland
Kingdom of Scotland
The Kingdom of Scotland was a Sovereign state in North-West Europe that existed from 843 until 1707. It occupied the northern third of the island of Great Britain and shared a land border to the south with the Kingdom of England...

, Jerusalem
Kingdom of Jerusalem
The Kingdom of Jerusalem was a Catholic kingdom established in the Levant in 1099 after the First Crusade. The kingdom lasted nearly two hundred years, from 1099 until 1291 when the last remaining possession, Acre, was destroyed by the Mamluks, but its history is divided into two distinct periods....

, and England
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...


Royal demesne

In English common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 the term ancient demesne referred to those lands that were held by the Crown at the time of the Domesday Book
Domesday Book
Domesday Book , now held at The National Archives, Kew, Richmond upon Thames in South West London, is the record of the great survey of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086...

. Immediately following the Norman Conquest all land in England was claimed by the king as his absolute title by allodial right, being the commencement of the royal demesne. The king made immediate grants of very large parcels of land under feudal tenure
Feudal land tenure
Under the English feudal system several different forms of land tenure existed, each effectively a contract with differing rights and duties attached thereto. Such tenures could be either free-hold, signifying that they were hereditable or perpetual, or non-free where the tenancy terminated on the...

 from this demesne, generally in the form of feudal baronies
English feudal barony
In England, a feudal barony or barony by tenure was a form of Feudal land tenure, namely per baroniam under which the land-holder owed the service of being one of the king's barons. It must be distinguished from a barony, also feudal, but which existed within a county palatine, such as the Barony...

. The land not so enfeoffed thus remained within the royal demesne, for example royal manor
-Land tenure:*Manor, an estate in land of the mediaeval era in England*Manorialism, a system of land tenure and organization of the rural economy and society in parts of medieval Europe based on the manor*Manor house, the principal house of a manor...

s administered by royal stewards
Steward (office)
A steward is an official who is appointed by the legal ruling monarch to represent him or her in a country, and may have a mandate to govern it in his or her name; in the latter case, it roughly corresponds with the position of governor or deputy...

 and royal hunting forests
Royal forest
A royal forest is an area of land with different meanings in England, Wales and Scotland; the term forest does not mean forest as it is understood today, as an area of densely wooded land...

. It was from the income produced by these manors retained in the royal demesne that the king financed his administration, until the advent of taxation. Manors in the royal demesne were let out at "farm" to the sheriff
A sheriff is in principle a legal official with responsibility for a county. In practice, the specific combination of legal, political, and ceremonial duties of a sheriff varies greatly from country to country....

 of each shire
A shire is a traditional term for a division of land, found in the United Kingdom and in Australia. In parts of Australia, a shire is an administrative unit, but it is not synonymous with "county" there, which is a land registration unit. Individually, or as a suffix in Scotland and in the far...

 in which they were located. Thus in return for an annual fixed payment made into the Exchequer
The Exchequer is a government department of the United Kingdom responsible for the management and collection of taxation and other government revenues. The historical Exchequer developed judicial roles...

, the sheriff was free to extract and retain whatever additional revenue he was able from the land "farmed", which amount was by design considerably greater than the "farm". The royal demesne could be increased, for example, as a result of forfeiture where a feudal tenure would determine and revert to its natural state in the royal demesne. During the reign of George III, Parliament appropriated most of the royal demesne, in exchange for a fixed annual sum, called the Civil List
Civil list
-United Kingdom:In the United Kingdom, the Civil List is the name given to the annual grant that covers some expenses associated with the Sovereign performing their official duties, including those for staff salaries, State Visits, public engagements, ceremonial functions and the upkeep of the...

. The position of the royal estate of Windsor
Windsor, Berkshire
Windsor is an affluent suburban town and unparished area in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire, England. It is widely known as the site of Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the British Royal Family....

, still owned by the monarch and never alienated since 1066, may be a rare remnant of the royal demesne.

Lord's waste

A portion of the demesne lands, called the lord's waste
Lord's waste
Lord’s Waste was common land where all members of the community had right of passage.-Lord’s Waste Settlements:In many settlements during the early modern period illegal building was carried out on lord’s waste land by squatters who would then plead their case to remain with local support...

, served as public roads and common pasture land for the lord and his tenants.

Later development

Initially the demesne lands were worked on the lord's behalf by villeins or by serf
A spin exchange relaxation-free magnetometer is a type of magnetometer developed at Princeton University in the early 2000s. SERF magnetometers measure magnetic fields by using lasers to detect the interaction between alkali metal atoms in a vapor and the magnetic field.The name for the technique...

s, who had no right of tenure on it, in fulfillment of their feudal obligations. As a money economy
Money is any object or record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given country or socio-economic context. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange; a unit of account; a store of value; and, occasionally in the past,...

 developed in the later Middle Ages, the serfs' corvée
Corvée is unfree labour, often unpaid, that is required of people of lower social standing and imposed on them by the state or a superior . The corvée was the earliest and most widespread form of taxation, which can be traced back to the beginning of civilization...

came to be commuted to money payments. With the advent of the Early modern
Early modern Europe
Early modern Europe is the term used by historians to refer to a period in the history of Europe which spanned the centuries between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, roughly the late 15th century to the late 18th century...

 period, demesne lands came to be cultivated by paid labourers. Eventually many of the demesne lands were leased out either on a perpetual (i.e., hereditary) or a temporary renewable basis so that many peasants functioned virtually as free proprietors after having paid their fixed rents. In times of inflation
In economics, inflation is a rise in the general level of prices of goods and services in an economy over a period of time.When the general price level rises, each unit of currency buys fewer goods and services. Consequently, inflation also reflects an erosion in the purchasing power of money – a...

 or debasement of coinage, the rent might come to represent a pittance, reducing the feudal aristocrat to poverty among a prosperous gentry. Demesne lands that were leased out for a term of years remained demesne lands, though no longer in the occupation of the lord of the manor (see, for example, Musgrave v Inclosure Commissioners (1874) LR 9 QB 162, a case in which the three judges of the Queen's Bench Divisional Court and everyone else concerned assumed without argument that farms which were let by the lord of the manor were part of the lord’s demesne land).

Derivative usage

Since the demesne surrounded the principal seat of the lord, it came to be loosely used of any proprietary territory: "the works of Shakespeare are this scholar's demesne."

The term has also become synonymous with a park in many places, for example in Moira, County Down
Moira, County Down
Moira is a village in County Down, Northern Ireland. It is in the northwest of the county, near the borders with counties Antrim and Armagh. The M1 motorway and Dublin–Belfast railway line are nearby. The settlement has existed since time immemorial...

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