Last edited 29 Dec 2020


Copyhold was a form of tenure that involved land being held from a manor during the Middle Ages in England. Manors were freehold property, bought and sold between major landowners, while within the manors, smaller landholdings were copyhold.

The inhabitants of manorial lands, or copyholders, were tenants of the manor, with the Lord of the Manor owning the title deeds proper. The terms with which copyholder held their land would vary between manors. Tenants of the land, in return for various privileges, were to render services to the Lord of the Manor as detailed on the manorial roll. A copy of this roll was given to tenants, hence the term ‘copyholder’.

Services required of the copyholder typically involved around 4 days’ work per year, although over time this became a rent equivalent. The resources of the land that could be used and for what purposes were laid out as rights in the manorial roll.

Like freehold estates, copyhold land could be bought and sold, mortgaged, and left in a will to be inherited by descendants. The Lord of the Manor had to approve every transfer of land, as it was surrendered back to him before admittance was granted to the new tenant. A death duty payment, known as a ‘heriot’, was often charged to new tenants who inherited from the death of the previous tenant.

Copyhold of inheritance involved a central tenant landholder who passed the holding to his heir in their will.

Copyhold for lives involved typically three named persons who held the land for the duration of their lives. One would act as tenant and pay rent, while the other two formed a ‘queue’, and would inherit the land upon the death of the first, as well as nominate a new person for the third place.

Whereas copyhold of inheritance was usually capable of being sold, with approval of the Lord, copyhold for lives did not usually allow this as it involved more people with an entitlement on the land.

As a result of the 19th century Copyhold Acts, copyhold tenures were gradually enfranchised and turned into either freeholds or 999-year leaseholds. The remaining copyholds were ended with the Law of Property Act 1925.

The term ‘demesne’ referred to a plot of land attached to a manor that was retained by the owner, or lord of the manor, for their own use (sometimes occupied by leasehold tenants) rather than being granted to freehold tenants.

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