Held of the king

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Damon89, Mar 23, 2013.

  1. Damon89

    Damon89 Senior Member

    I've been reading "Sarum" by Edward Rutherfurd (great book, by the way), and I've met a particular expression I can intuitively understand, but which doesn't seem to make too much grammatical sense. It appears a few times throught the whole book; I ignored it the first time, thinking it was a mere typo, but then found it many times in a passage, sending that hypothesis out of the window (or possibly introducing the one of a very careless editor :p).
    The paragraph I'm talking about is an extract from the will of Walter, a former villein who, by the time of his death, had become a landlord. Here it is, with the expression in bold character:

    My guess would be that it's an archaic or literary form (or possibly legalese) for "held by", in this case to indicate a feudal benefice. Considering how fiefs work, all the land is ultimately officially owned by the king, who bestows it on vassals, who bestow it on vavasours, and so on and so forth. So, even though Walter is giving the above-mentioned estates to his son, he's just extending the vassalage relationships, as the land is not "officially" his.

    This is, however, a mere conjecture. I have been able to find this expression in a few other documents on the internet (mostly law-related, hence my earlier hypothesis of legalese), but none of them seem to provide an explanation for this expression or its usage.
    So I hope that anyone who manages to read through my whole waffle will also be able to help me clear this up. :)

    Thank you!
  2. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    In this case, 'of' means 'from'.
    As I see it, he holds the land in each case as a tenant of the person from whom he has the right to do so.
  3. exgerman Senior Member

    English but my first language was German
    Or better, more specifically, as you suspected, held by William as a vassal of...the various persons mentioned.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2013
  4. Damon89

    Damon89 Senior Member

    Thank you very much for the confirmation!
    Thinking of it as a sort of abbreviation for "held by XYZ as a vassal of" is actually incredibly helpful (sort of a "mnemonic device", if you will), so additional thanks and a complimentary bar of white chocolate to exgerman! :)
  5. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I wonder if you mean Walter.
  6. exgerman Senior Member

    English but my first language was German
    Yes of course.
  7. michael13 Senior Member


    In early modern English, which is used by eg William Shakespeare, OF was used as the modern BY.

    A relic is BELOVED, so nowadays you can say

    the deep purple flowers so beloved by/of artists

    without a change in meaning.
  8. Damon89

    Damon89 Senior Member

    Quite true, the dictionary confirms that "of" can be used, somewhat archaically, to mean "by" and/or indicate the agent in a passive construction. I hadn't thought of looking up "of" in the dictionary, as I thought the expression "held of" was a set phrase.
    This actually opens up two possible interpretations of the sentence. I've added both to my notes for future reference, so thanks to michael13 too! :)
  9. exgerman Senior Member

    English but my first language was German
    So, reading this meaning into the original poster's sentence we are to suppose that Walter willed to his heirs property that belonged to the Earl of Salisbury, the Abbess of Wilton, the king, and the Bishop of Salisbury. Seems highly unlikely to me.
  10. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)

    Which goes with what wandle and exgerman said - land held "of X" is land which is held as a tenant or vassal of X.

    Actually, I believe that what Walter was really willing to his heirs was the right to use/occupy property that belonged to the Earl of Salisbury, &c.

    * It's actually the double-S 'Section' sign, but I don't know how to type that.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2013
  11. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    This is what I thought it meant. Tenant rights can be very important, so if they can be willed to someone else (and I am pretty sure that in some jurisdictions, they can), surely they would be.
  12. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    Just for the future, in case anybody accepts this post as an accurate explanation of the text in the original post, "of" is not synonymous with "by" in the phrase two hundred acres held of the king. The meaning is, as others have suggested, that the land is held by Walter as the king's tenant. The king owns the land. The land is held by Walter (he is the leaseholder). It is the leases that he is passing on to his heirs.

    I'd also comment that there is no suggestion that this will indicates that Walter is a vassal of anybody's. The will is about property and its ownership. Walter owns leases and they are an inheritable commodity.

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