Freehold, Freeholders and Leaseholders

What is the history, origin and meaning of Freehold and Freeholders in relation to land ownership and rights and how it may impact on you and your history project?

Freehold is now the norm for most landholding except where the land and/or building remains under an underlying landlord but it leased on a longer term known as a leasehold. Freehold evolved from the old fuedal systema nd replaced the system of Copyhold Tenure, which was only abolished in 1926. This ran in parallel with the Land Registry formed in 1862, but which did not require all transactions to be registered.

The original serfdom based land rights and obligations of feudal service for small payments or labour had become largely worthless to the lords of the manors by the late medieval period. It’ is a strange situation as increasing amounts of land began to be considered freehold, quite literally free of any hold of the lord and any obligation of service to him. In what had been a nation where wealth was int he hands of so few, it seems strange that these draconian lords began to relinquish control and rights without the payment for the land to which these freehold rights were granted and attached?

  • from 1429 onwards a person of substance must have freehold land worth at least 40 shillings a year to qualify to vote for the election fo the Knights of the Shire to the House of Commons
  • in 1660 distinction between Knight Service and Socage Tenure was removed
  • from 1926 virtually all forms of feudal tenure were abolished
  • henceforth in English Law only freeholds and Leaseholds are recognised.

Leasehold and Leaseholders: property rights granted by the leasing party (Lessor) to the party renting or leasing (Lessee) the land or property for a given and fixed term. Originally frequently employed as a loan on money, it was not derived from rights in feudal law. In time the Common Law did provide protection to lease holders.

Tracing the Freeholds and Leases for You and Your History Project

If you have connections to places and buildings or parcels of land that you want to know more about you can use the Land Registry online and also your relevant archives to see if you can locate related documents. Often Land and Property documents are retained and if significant enough are at least recorded in the related Manor and Land records. Start at your most relevant Country record office and search the National Archives online. You can normally find some connections if your subjects are likely to have ever owned land. For more on old Copyhold tenure documents take a look here


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