Medieval History Term of the Week: Wardship

It’s been a hectic week, so I haven’t had a chance to post much. I’ll end the week (before the long holiday weekend) with a new term.


In feudal law, rights belonging to the lord of a fief with respect to the personal lives of his vassals. The right of wardship allowed the lord to take control of a fief and of a minor heir until the heir came of age. The right of marriage allowed the lord to have some say as to whom the daughter or widow of a vassal would marry. Both rights brought the lord increased revenue.

In the right of marriage a woman would often pay to have a suitor accepted by the lord or to get out of marrying the lord’s choice for her. This was particularly true in medieval England, where these rights became increasingly commercial and were often sold.

Wardship rights were generally exercised in fiefs held by military service but sometimes also in fiefs held by socage, or agricultural service. The lord received the income of a fief belonging to an heir in his minority until the heir was old enough to render the military and other services required of him, at which time the lord released the fief to him in the material condition in which the lord had originally received it.
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008

From the Magna Carta:

The guardian of the land of an heir who is thus under age, shall take from the land of the heir nothing but reasonably produce, reasonable customs, and reasonable services, and that without destruction or waste of men or goods; and if we have committed the wardship of the lands of any such minor to the sheriff, or to any other who is responsible to us for its issues, and he has made destruction or waste of what he holds in wardship, we will take of him amends, and the land shall be committed to two lawful and discreet men of that fee, who shall be responsible for the issues to us or to him to whom we shall assign them; and if we have given or sold the wardship of any such land to anyone and he has therein made destruction or waste, he shall lose that wardship, and it shall be transferred to two lawful and discreet men of that fief, whoshall be responsible to us in like manner as aforesaid.

2 thoughts on “Medieval History Term of the Week: Wardship”

  1. Steve:

    To begin with, at least important wardships were controlled by the reigning king, at least for his most important vassals. It was a nice source of revenue for the reigning king, too. Widows, especially, had to pay to get out of marriages arranged for them by the king, if they were important enough, and that was a nice source of revenue, too. It would seem that gradually, other wardships were delegated to various important lords, who then had their own source of revenue.
    Anne G

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