Land Tenure, the legal manner in which land is held. Tenure is from the Latin tenere, “to hold. Title in fee simple, or freehold tenure, is the primary form of land holding in Great Britain and the United States. Land held in fee simple belongs absolutely to the owner and his or her heirs, without limitations or qualifications. The owner may use the land as he or she wishes, sell it or give it away, and dispose of it by will. In practice, however, land ownership is not absolute. The owner must pay taxes on the land, and in many communities must comply with zoning, sanitary, and other regulations. The state or municipality may take the land by eminent domain for public use by paying fair compensation.

Leasehold tenure is the holding of land by lease or other formal agreement, as in the case of a tenant farmer.

Development of Land Tenure

In Anglo-Saxon England some of the land was held under absolute ownership without obligation to anyone, a form of ownership called alodium. After the Norman Conquest of 1066 feudalism was introduced. In theory, all land belonged to the king. He distributed it among the greater lords, who in turn divided it among lesser lords. Under feudalism each landholder was a tenant of his king or lord and owed obligations to his superior. One of the chief obligations of the landholder, or vassal, was military service. Alodial ownership of land declined as feudal tenure became established.

The chief form of feudal tenure was knight's service. The land was divided among more than 60,000 knights, each of whom was obligated to give the king 40 days of military service each year. Others who held land under serjeanty tenure were obligated to give minor or symbolic services, such as presiding at ceremonial functions or providing token quantities of weapons. Religious organizations held land under tenure requiring them to provide religious services.

In the form of feudal tenure called socage, or free and common socage, tenants were given land to use in return for fixed quantities of farm products or labor. Later, these obligations took the form of money payments. Under socage, the tenant could not alienate (transfer) his land unless he paid a fee. Gradually, tenants won the right to sell their land or will it to heirs without paying a fee.

Under Charles II (reigned 1660–85) knight's tenure was abolished. Gradually socage developed into freehold tenure. Finally, in 1925, the Law of Property Act abolished all other tenures.

The rules of entail and primogeniture were other aspects of feudal tenure. The rule of entail restricted inheritance to a limited class of descendants. Under primogeniture land went to the oldest son after the death of the father. Primogeniture and entail were abolished by the Administration of Estates Act of 1925.

Few of the feudal features of land tenure were brought to the American colonies. The idea of absolute ownership became well established, and landholders won the right of free alienation. In some states ownership is declared to be alodial, in others to be in free and common socage. These terms no longer carry their original meanings, however. In effect, they now mean the same as freehold tenure.