Seigneurs were noblemen, merchants or religious congregations that had been granted a seigneury (very large piece of land) by the governor and the intendant. The seigneur divided his land into parcels called censives, which he gave to censitaires (a type of tenant). The seigneur had certain responsibilities toward the king and his censitaires.

  • He had to swear allegiance to the king. The king could take back the seigneury if the seigneur did not meet his obligations.
  • He had to keep hearth and home; that is, he had to build a manor on his seigneury and live there.
  • Once there were enough censitaires, the seigneur had to build a mill on his seigneury because the peasants needed a mill to grind their wheat into flour.
  • The seigneur also had to provide a piece of land for building a church.

As the owner of the land, the seigneur also had certain rights. Thanks to these rights, he could earn good income from his seigneury once there were enough censitaires.

  • The seigneur received a rent (the cens) for each censive (parcel of land) he granted to a censitaire (tenant). If a censitaire did not pay his rent, the seigneur could take back the land after a few years.
  • Whenever a censitaire ground his wheat at the mill, he had to give some of it to the seigneur.
  • The corvée: The seigneur could force his censitaires to work three or four days each year on his estate without having to pay them.
  • The front pew in the church was reserved for the seigneur.
  • The censitaires had to pay their respect to the seigneur through the Plantation du Mai (planting the maypole).

The seigneur’s rights were the censitaire’s obligations, but the censitaire was also protected by certain rights.

  • The censitaire could give his land to his children or sell it.
  • As long as the censitaire paid his rent, the seigneur could not take it away from him.
  • In New France, censitaires could have their own oven.
  • In New France, censitaires were allowed to hunt and fish to feed their family.

Author: Léon Robichaud 

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