1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Demesne

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DEMESNE (Demeine, Demain, Domain, &c.),[1] that portion of the lands of a manor not granted out in freehold tenancy, but (a) retained by the lord of the manor for his own use and occupation or (b) let out as tenemental land to his retainers or “villani.” This demesne land, originally held at the will of the lord, in course of time came to acquire fixity of tenure, and developed into the modern copyhold (see Manor). It is from demesne as used in sense (a) that the modern restricted use of the word comes, i.e. land immediately surrounding the mansion or dwelling-house, the park or chase. Demesne of the crown, or royal demesne, was that part of the crown lands not granted out to feudal tenants, but which remained under the management of stewards appointed by the crown. These crown lands, since the accession of George III., have been appropriated by parliament, the sovereign receiving in return a fixed annual sum (see Civil List). Ancient demesne signified lands or manors vested in the king at the time of the Norman Conquest. There were special privileges surrounding tenancies of these lands, such as freedom from tolls and duties, exemption from danegeld and amercement, from sitting on juries, &c. Hence, the phrase “ancient demesne” came to be applied to the tenure by which the lands were held. Land held in ancient demesne is sometimes also called customary freehold. (See Copyhold.)

  1. The form “demesne” is an Anglo-French spelling of the Old Fr. demeine or demaine, belonging to a lord, from Med. Lat. dominicus, dominus, lord; dominicum in Med. Lat. meant proprietas (see Du Cange). From the later Fr. domaine, which approaches more nearly the original Lat., comes the other Eng. form “domain,” which is chiefly used in a non-legal sense of any tract of country or district under the rule of any specific sovereign state, &c. “Domain” is, however, the form kept in the legal phrase “Eminent Domain” (q.v.).