Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Property Law and Arunia

Sometimes things get away from me. Searching for a little information or trying to flesh out a minor aspect of Arunia can billow out into a multi-week project. This is one of those times and the thing we're discussing today is, as the title suggests, extremely dry analysis of property law and how it functions in Arunia. Yes, this is the kind of thing that most fantasy authors and people playing D&D would just ignore, handwave, or hastily construct a system to handle. That would serve, too, I'm sure, since no one wants to crawl through a maze of laws and lawyers to read a book about a man who moved to a city or to purchase a farm for their adventuring party. As you've probably noticed by now: I'm not most people.

So I spent a few nights thinking about property law (and all other sorts of legal conundrums) as it might apply across the various states of Arunia. These sorts of things really aren't important in the grand scheme of playing dungeons and dragons (or writing tales) there. Yet, as a concerned historian it is my insane urge and desire to codify them. I present you with a few and a promise (or a threat?) of more to come on Arunian law.

In the highly legalistic society of the Third Empire (based primarily on the reinstitution of old imperial law and the presence of a very developed culture of jurisprudence inherited from both the Temple of Miles and the influence of the dwarves judges of old), property types can be divided into a number of classes, each of which implies a different system of rule and regulation.

The simplest class is the freeholder. Freeholdings have the fewest obligations to their lords, are completely free of rent and fees.* When a freeholder wishes to dispose of his property it is his right to sell it—however, since the land itself belongs to his overlord, he cannot simply choose someone to sell to and be done with it in a private transaction. Indeed, possessing land in almost any state in Arunia is not a true possession unless it is held as an allodial, heritable holding (of which players need only worry when they attain a fortress or other such direct grant, and even then it may not be allodial). Freeholders merely possess the rights associated with using the land. Thus, when a freeholder seeks to transfer these rights, the overlord must be consulted. In this case, it generally constitutes a fee payed to the overlord in addition to whatever is being paid to the former freeholder. The overlord must also approve of the choice of new tenant, and may refuse the sale based on the grounds that the tenant does not meet his standards.

The class below the freeholder is the fee tenant. Fee tenancies owe service (or, rarely, cash) to their overlords in exchange for their holdings. They cannot dispose of their land freely, and must first obtain the permission of their overlord to attempt to transfer rights. As for freeholders, the overlord has the ultimate say over who takes up the new tenancy and may in fact forbid the tenant from selling at all. Unlike the a freeholder, a tenant leaving his property must pay his lord for the lost labors. The tenant taking it up must also pay the overlord for his pains. Additionally, since fiat rulings are frowned upon in the empire, a Board of Inquest must be established from some worthy notables of the locality to determine what the proper fee for the land is in terms of labor or coin. These Quaestors may take as long as three or four months to decide on the proper fee, during which time they must be paid (out of the overlord's purse) and it is wise for the overlord to consult with an advocatus (he probably has one in his household in the form of a clericus, seneschal, or steward) and it may be wise for the new tenant to consult one as well.

Allodial property is granted in perpetuum and can only be dispensed with by the emperor himself or by someone who holds an allodial grant. Many people in the empire and very few people in other states in Arunia are possessed of such rentless property free of all obligations save the most basic loyalty to the imperial system and adherence to imperial law.

*In this case, rents and fees are generally construed to mean labor-service and only rarely monetary payment. It's important to note, however, that in the great urban communes (the incorporated cities of the empire) that rents and fees can be labor (service on public streets, walls, fortifications, in the Night Watch where one exists, etc.) it is also possible for these fees to be cash stipends assessed by household.


  1. Nice article, although your use of the term "freehold" could be confusing for many as it describes the real world concept of leasehold.

    In essence your "freeholder" does not own the land his property sits on, instead he owns a "lease" of the land from his overlord.

    Interestingly the Etymology of the word Lease is derived from the Latin "Laxare" which may be a better fit.

    1. Interesting—I didn't know the post-medieval history of the term. Freehold land is also a type of medieval landholding (based on fee simple and fee tail)... though my medieval property law is pretty rusty so I might be wrong on that count.