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in early medieval England, a member of the hereditary nobility, as distinguished from an ordinary freeman, or ceorl. The average size of an earl’s holding was 40 hides. As Anglo-Saxon society became feudalized, the earls, in the late seventh century, became part of the general landed aristocracy required to render state service, the thanes. Since the 11th century the term “earl” has designated a noble rank corresponding to that of count.