) was the central element of feudalism
and consisted of heritable
property or rights granted by an overlord
to a vassal
who held it in fealty
(or "in fee") in return for a form of feudal allegiance and service, usually given by the personal ceremonies of homage
and fealty. The fees were often lands or revenue-producing real property held in feudal land tenure
: these are typically known as fiefs
. However, not only land but anything of value could be held in fee, including governmental office, rights of exploitation such as hunting or fishing, monopolies in trade, and tax farms
did not imply the giving or receiving of landholdings (which were granted only as a reward for loyalty), but by the eighth century the giving of a landholding was becoming standard.
The granting of a landholding to a vassal did not relinquish the lord's property rights, but only the use of the lands and their income; the granting lord retained ultimate ownership of the fee and could, technically, recover the lands in case of disloyalty or death.
By the middle of the 10th century, fee had largely become hereditary.
The eldest son of a deceased vassal would inherit, but first he had to do homage and fealty to the lord and pay a "relief
" for the land (a monetary recognition of the lord's continuing proprietary rights over the property).