Thaneland was land leased, often for three lives, on condition that it returned to the owner on the death of the lessee or the expiration of the lease. Most thaneland was land leased by the Church before the Conquest, presumably to fulfil the military obligations it owed to the Crown. The tenant in thaneland would have had to provide military servicein return for the lease. In theory, at least, thaneland was inalienable; in practice, however, the Church often had great difficulty in recovering the land at the end of the lease.
Domesday Book records thaneland in 22 entries, all but two small properties being royal or ecclesiastical holdings, the majority in circuit 2, probably a reflection of the eccentricities of the commissioners rather than of the actual distribution of thaneland.
For further information, see Paul Vinogradoff, Paul, English society in the eleventh century: essays in English medieval history (1908); R.R. Darlington, 'Introduction to the Wiltshire Domesday', Victoria History of the county of Wiltshire, vol. 2, edited by R.B. Pugh and E. Crittall (1955), pages 42-177; and R. Welldon. Finn, An introduction to Domesday Book (1963).