In principle all land in England belonged to the king. There had been allodial land before the Norman Conquest, as there was in most parts of Europe, but the fact of conquest had enabled William I to take everything into his own hands. Thereafter the bulk of the land had been dispersed upon a variety of tenures both military and civil. The commonest form of tenure was in chief by knight service, wherein the tenant swore homage and fealty to the king, was bound to attend him with a given number of armed men when summoned, and provided such counsel and advice as might be requested. Tenancies-in-chief were normally described as honours, and several honours might be grouped into a barony, but the terminology was imprecise. Except in border areas of the north and Wales, William and his successors made it their policy not to group honours into large consolidated estates, which might give their holders control over whole provinces. A tenant-in-chief was linked directly to the king, not only by the service which he was bound to perform, but also by the feudal ‘incidents’ which arose from his tenure. The most important of these was wardship, whereby if a vassal should die leaving his heir under age, control of that heir, and of the estate, passed to the king until the age of majority had been reached.
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