The Doctrine of Tenures
The feudal system was developing in England at the time of the last successful invasion of that country in 1066, but reached its fullest development after the takeover by the Normans.
It was an economic and political system based on the notion that all land belongs to the King, that the great lords (Earls, Dukes, Bishops etc) hold their lands as tenants of the King in return for certain services due to him. Lesser landholders held their lands from the principal lords in return for services due to them. (Hence, the surviving term 'landlord'). And so on, down the line.
The invasion in 1066 led to the replacement of the deceased King Harold by William the Conqueror, and to the replacement of many of Harold's leading tenants-in-chief by Normans. But most of the English were left in possession of their lands though, in accordance with legal theory, all were assumed to hold their lands on the basis of a Crown grant. This 'theory of tenures' was always, in large part, what lawyers describe as a 'legal fiction'.
One point to note is that England was not treated as terra nullius; it was taken over on the basis of conquest, justified by claims to the rightful succession to the throne, and the prior rights of many of the English were respected.
Keywords: conquest, property law, terra nullius
Author: Nettheim, Garth