Heriots & Reliefs

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Heriots and Reliefs

The Saxon heriot or succession duty  [instituted by King Canute] paid on the death of a thegn originally took the form of the return of military equipment which was surrendered to the king.

Subsequently it assumed the form of a payment in kind and in money (the relief) and in Norman times the money payment alone was exacted from the heir. It thus became a feudal burden associated with tenure.

And let the heriots be as it is fitting to the degree. An eorl's such as thereto belongs, that is, eight horses, four saddled and four unsaddled, and four helmets and four coats of mail, and eight spears and as many shields, and four swords and 200 mancuses of gold. And after that, a king's thegn's, of those who are nearest to him; four horses, two saddled and two unsaddled, and two swords and four spears and as many shields, and a helmet and a coat of mail and fifty mancuses of gold. And of the medial thegn's, a horse and his trappings and his arms; or his 'healsfang' in Wessex; and in Mercia two pounds; and in East Anglia two pounds. And the heriot of a king's thegn among the Danes who has his soken, four pounds. And if he have further relation to the king, two horses, one saddled and the other unsaddled, and one sword and two spears and two shields and fifty mancuses of gold; and he who is of less means, two pounds.

The relief of a count, which belongs to the king, is eight horses, of which four will be saddled and bridled and with them four breast-plates, four helmets, four lances, four shields, and four swords. The other four horses will be palfreys and post horses with reins and bridles. The relief of a baron is four horses of which two will be saddled and bridled and two breast-plates with them, two shields, two helmets, two lances, two swords. Of the other two horses, one will be a palfrey and the other a post horse, with reins and bridles. The relief of a vavasor, to his liege lord, is a horse which belonged to his father on the day of the latter's death; and a breast plate, helmet, shield, lance, and sword. And if by chance he do not have these, he may acquit himself with payment of one hundred shillings. The relief of a villein is his best animal; whether it be an ox, or horse, it will be his lord's. The relief of him who holds land at an annual rent shall be as much as the rent of one year.


William Stubbs, ed., Select Charters of English Constitutional History, revised by H. W. C. Davis, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), pp. 87-88; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 362-363.