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An inhabited initial from a late-13th-century French text, Li Livres dou Santé, representing the social order of the Middle Ages: the ōrātōrēs (those who pray – clerics), bellātōrēs (those who fight – knights, that is, the nobility), and labōrātōrēs (those who work – peasants)


From Old French fief (whence also fee), from Medieval Latin fevum, a variant of feudum, from Old Frankish *fehu (cattle, livestock), from Proto-Germanic *fehu (cattle, sheep), from Proto-Indo-European *peku-, *peḱu- (sheep). For cognates, see fee.



fief (plural fiefs)

  1. An estate held by a person on condition of providing military service to a superior.
    • 1673, Randle Cotgrave, “Fief”, in A French and English Dictionary, Composed by Mr Randle Cotgrave: With Another in English and French. Whereunto are Added Sundry Animadversionis, with Supplements of Many Hundreds of Words Never Before Printed; with Accurate Castigations throughout the Whole Work, and Distinctions of the Obsolete Words from those that are Now in Use. Together with a Large Grammar, and a Dialogue Consisting of All Gallicismes, with Additions of the Most Useful and Significant Proverbs, with Other Refinements According to Cardinal Richelieu's Late Academy. For the Furtherance of Young Learners, and the Advantage of All Others that Endeavour to Arrive to the Most Exact Knowledge of the French Language, this Work is Exposed to Publick, by James Howell Esq; Inter Eruditos Cathedram Habeat Polyglottes, London: Printed for Anthony Dolle, and are to be sold by Thomas Williams at the Golden Ball in Hosier Lane, OCLC 83780859:
      Fief: m[asculine] A Fief. A (Knights) fee, a Mannor, or inheritance held by homage, and fealty; and given at the firſt, in truſt, and upon promiſe of aſſiſtance, or ſervice in the wars: [] Alſo, a Tenure, or Eſtate in fief, or in fee. This word was firſt heard of, after the conqueſt of Gallia by the Francs (or ancient French-men) when their Soveraign Princes, reſerving ſome land for their own Domains, diſtributed the reſt (by whole Countreys, or large territories) among their Captains, and principal followers, on condition, that they ſhould hold of them, and aid them in their wars; []
    • 1840 June 8, C[harles] Poulett Thomson, “An Ordinance to incorporate the Ecclesiastics of the Seminary of Saint Sulpice of Montreal; to confirm their title to the Fief and Seigniory of the Island of Montreal, the Fief and Seigniory of the Lake of the Two Mountains, and the Fief and Seigniory of Saint Sulpice, in this Province; to provide for the gradual Extinction of Seignioral Rights and Dues within the Seigniorial Limits of the said Fiefs and Seigniories; and for other Purposes [No. 164 of 1840]”, in Copy of Ordinances Passed by the Governor and Special Council of Lower Canada, in the Third and Fourth Years of the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria (Accounts and Papers. United Kingdom. Parliament. House of Commons; 1841, session 1), volume XV, published 3 February 1841, OCLC 926570376, pages 151–152:
      And be it further ordained and enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That the Right and Title of the said Ecclesiastics of the Seminary of Saint Sulpice of Montreal, in and to all and singular the said Fiefs and Seigniories of the Island of Montreal, of the Lake of the Two Mountains, and of Saint Sulpice, and their several Dependencies, and in and to all Seigniorial and Feudal Rights, Privileges, Dues, and Duties arising out of and from the same, and in and to all and every the Domains, Lands, Reservations, Buildings, Messuages, Tenements, and Hereditaments within the said several Fiefs and Seigniories now held and possessed by them as Proprietors thereof, [] shall be and they are hereby confirmed and declared good, valid, and effectual in the Law; []
    • 1992, Franz [Carl Heinrich] Babinger; Ralph Manheim, transl., William C. Hickman, editor, Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time (Bollingen Series; XCVI), Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, →ISBN, page 446:
      The chief obligation of a sipahi was to take up residence on his fief and to be prepared at all times to rally, armed for battle, to his banner-holder's flag on the sultan's order. According to the income of his fief, every sipahi had to raise a fixed number of armed horsemen (cebeli), who followed him on campaigns.
    • 1995, Constance B. Bouchard, William W. Kibler [et al.], editor, Medieval France: An Encyclopedia (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities; 932), New York, N.Y.; London: Garland Publishing, →ISBN, page 660:
      By the 14th century, however, fief holding was in decline, as salaries and retainer fees, rather than fiefs, became standard for aristocrats in binding their knights to them, and as kings increasingly exercised royal power directly or through judges and bureaucrats, not through dukes and counts. Fief holding, which is what "feudalism" must be considered to mean if the term has any precise meaning at all—and what the term meant when it was coined in the 17th century—had become an insignificant part of social and governmental relations by the end of the Middle Ages.
    • 2001, Samuel Parsons Scott, transl., “Law IX. For What Offenses Committed Against His Lord a Vassal Loses His Fief, and Also How the Lord Loses the Ownership of It if He Commits an Offense Against His Vassal.”, in Robert I[gnatius] Burns, editor, Las Siete Partidas: Volume 4: Family, Commerce, and the Sea: The Worlds of Women and Merchants (The Middle Ages Series), volume IV (Partidas IV and V), Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, →ISBN, page 1001:
      Where a vassal kills the brother, son, or grandson of his lord, he should lose his fief on account of it. We also decree that if a vassal lies with the wife of his lord, or with his daughter or granddaughter, he shall lose his fief; and the same rule applies when he endeavors, in any way, to persuade them to receive him, or to abduct any of them for the purpose of bringing such dishonor upon his lord. By reason of all the offenses aforesaid, and of each of those we enumerated in the preceding law by which a vassal loses his fief when he commits them, a lord also loses the ownership of a fief, if he commits any of said offenses against the person of his vassal, or of his wife, children, grandchildren, or daughters-in-law, and the ownership of the fief will remain in the vassal forever, by the right of perpetual property.
    • 2010, Gerard J. Brault, “The Death of Roland—Laisses 174–176 (verses 2355–2396)”, in The Song of Roland: An Analytical Edition. Volume I. Introduction and Commentary, University Park, Pa.; London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, →ISBN Invalid ISBN, page 256:
      Investiture was the conferring of a fief by the lord to the vassal, and the rite consisted in the handing over by the lord of some symbolic object intended to represent the act of concession. This could be a scepter, ring, glove, and so on, but the lord always retained the object employed. At times an item was actually handed over to the vassal, but this was a cornstalk, a piece of turf, a banner, or something that clearly symbolized the fief itself. The renunciation of a fief was enacted by a similar ceremony. The vassal divested himself of the fief by placing his hands between those of his lord. Then he handed back an object similar to the one that had been received.
  2. Something over which one has rights or exercises control.
    • 1989, Liliane Welch, “Grandparents: A Fragment”, in C. Dino Minni, editor, Ricordi, Things Remembered: An Anthology of Short Stories, Montreal: Guernica Editions, →ISBN, page 59:
      Through the years of my childhood my maternal grandmother remained the one unforgettable presence, the strong country woman ruling over her farm like a medieval lord. On her fief I first opened my eyes to poetry and to the land. [] There was something of the ancient matriarch in her, who had given her life to the ground, who felt that on her fief in southern Luxembourg she stood in the right place.
  3. (figuratively) An area of dominion, especially in a corporate or governmental bureaucracy.


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French Wikipedia has an article on:
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From Old French fief, borrowed from Medieval Latin fevum[1], a variant of feudum, from Old Frankish *fehu (cattle, livestock), from Proto-Germanic *fehu (cattle, sheep), from Proto-Indo-European *peku-, *peḱu- (sheep). Cognate with Old High German fihu (cattle, neat), Old English feoh (cattle, property, money). More at fee.



fief m (plural fiefs)

  1. fief

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  1. ^ Jacqueline Picoche, Jean-Claude Rolland, Dictionnaire étymologique du français, Paris 2009, Dictionnaires Le Robert, →ISBN

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