corvée (kôrvāˈ) [key], under the feudal system, compulsory, unpaid labor demanded by a lord or king and the system of such labor in general. There were national and local variations, but in broad terms the corvée proper included work on the lord's portion of the manorial property and many attendant duties. Military service also came under the general terms of the corvée. The corvée included both regular and exceptional demands. "Real" corvée referred to the duties attached to the ownership or tillage of certain lands; "personal" corvée referred to the duties of specific individuals. During the feudalization of the late Roman Empire, the corvée system was part of the social and economic system, but towns and all individuals were able to liberate themselves by money payment instead of services. In France the royal corvée, compulsory work on public roads, was introduced in the 18th cent. Both the royal and the seignorial corvée bore heavily and almost exclusively upon the peasants and helped cause the French Revolution. In the 19th cent. the corvée was used to build public works, particularly the Suez Canal (1869).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.