Last edited 27 Dec 2020

Demesne definition

In English feudal law, 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. Demesnes were not necessarily contiguous to the manor house.

The word is derived from the Latin dominus, meaning lord or master of a household, and is a variant of the word domaine.

A royal demesne was the land held and managed by the Crown rather than being granted to feudal tenants. An ancient demesne was land held by the King at the time of the Domesday Book in 1066.

As leaseholder protections were strengthened, demesnes came simply to refer to the lord’s house and the surrounding lands.

The word ‘demesne’ has also taken on a wider meaning, referring to any sort of realm or domain, whether physical or not.

Copyhold was a form of tenure that involved land being held from a manor. Manors were freehold property, bought and sold between major landowners, while within the manors, smaller landholdings were copyhold. See Copyhold for more information.

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