(French, from main morte, “dead hand”), a category of feudally dependent peasants in France from the 14th to the 18th century. They were found primarily in the eastern part of the country—in Burgundy, Champagne, and Auvergne.
Of all the categories of serfs, the mainmortables had the least personal freedom, with restrictions on their property rights, their freedom to marry, and their right to appear in court. They also paid an arbitrary taille. If a mainmortable died without a male heir, part of his movable property and his entire land holding was surrendered to the seigneur. The mainmortables’ dependent status lasted only while they held their land; upon leaving the land they gained their freedom.