FEE, an estate in land held of a superior lord on condition of the performance of homage or service (see Feudalism). In English law "fee" signifies an estate of inheritance (i.e. an estate descendable to the heirs of the grantee so long as there are any in existence) as opposed to an estate for life. It is divisible into three species: (1) fee simple; (2) conditional fee; (3) fee tail. (See Estate.) A fee farm rent is the rent reserved on granting a fee farm, i.e. land in fee simple, to be held by the tenant and his heirs at a yearly rent. It is generally at least one-fourth of the value of the land at the time of its reservation. (See Rent.)
The word "fee" has also the sense of remuneration for services, especially the honorarium paid to a doctor, lawyer or member of any other profession. It is also used of a fixed sum paid for the right to enter for an examination, or on admission to membership of a university or other society. This sense of the word is taken by the New English Dictionary to be due to a use of "fee" in its feudal sense, and to represent a sum paid to the holder of an office "in fee."
The etymology of the Med. Lat. feudum, feodum or feum, of its French equivalent fief, and English "fee," in Scots law "feu" (q.v.), is extremely obscure. (See the New English Dictionary, s.v. "Fee.") There is a common Teutonic word represented in Old English as feoh or féo, in Old High German as fehu, meaning property in the shape of cattle (cf. modern Ger. Vieh, Dutch vee). The old Aryan péku gives Sanskrit paçu, Lat. pecus, cattle, whence pecunia, money. The O. Eng. feoh, in the sense of money, possibly survives in "fee," honorarium, though this is not the view of the New English Dictionary. The common explanation of the Med. Lat. feudum or feodum, of which Ducange (Glossarium, s.v.) gives an example from a constitution of the emperor Charles the Fat of the year 884, is that it is formed from the Teutonic fehu, property, and ôd, wealth (cf. Allodium and Udal). This would apparently restrict the original meaning to movable property, while the early applications of feudum are to the enjoyment of something granted in return for service (beneficium). Another theory takes the origin to be fehu alone, in a particular sense of wages, payment for services. This leaves the d- of feudum unexplained. Some have taken the origin to be a verbal form feudare = feum dare. Another theory finds the source in the O. High Ger. fehôn, to eat, feed upon, "take for one's enjoyment."
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)