Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Demesne Definition:

Land held by a noble under the English feudal system, in absolute ownership.

Related Terms: Feudal System

Ancient and now archaic English land law term referring to land held by a Lord in fee simple including, at the very least, his manor or castle, and often much of the surrounding land.

According to Shumacker, demesne refers to:

"... lands of which the Lord had the absolute property or ownership as distinguished from feudal lands which he held of a superior. Lands which the Lord retained under his immediate control, for the purpose of supplying his table and the immediate needs of his household. Distinguished from that farmed out to tenants...."

Thomas Williams defined demesne as follows in his 1816 Compendious and Comprehensive Law Dictionary:

"Lands which are next or more convenient to the Lord's mansion house, in which he keeps in his own hands for the support of his family, and hospitality, are called his demesne."

In Stroud's 1890 Judicial Dictionary:

"Demesne (or) demains, according to the common speech, are the Lord's chief manor placewith the land thereto belonging ... Which he and his ancestors have from time to time In their own manual occupation for the maintenance of themselves and their families.... (A)ll parts of a manner ... are said to be demains."

Also a term used historically in the development of intellectual property, as in public demesne, or public domain, such as material for which copyright has expired.

There is considerable confusion over the origin of the word. Some suggest that it was a faulty rendering of the Latin word dominium (dominion).


  • Shumaker, Walter and Longsdorf, George Foster, The Cyclopedic Dictionary of Law Comprising the Terms and Phrases of American Jurisprudence, Including Ancient and Modern Common Law, International Law, and Numerous Select Titles From the Civil Law, the French and the Spanish Law, Etc., Etc. With an Exhaustive Collection of Legal Maxims, (St. Paul, Minnesota: Keefe- Davidson Law Book Company, 1901)
  • Stroud, F., The Judicial Dictionary of Words and Phrases Judicially Interpreted (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1890) page 198.
  • Williams, Thomas Walter, A Compendious and Comprehensive Law Dictionary Elucidating the Terms and General Principles of Law and Equity (London: Gale and Fenner, 1816).

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