Land which a tenant holds [or rather, held ] without any deed of transfer in his own possession. His only document is a copy of the roll made by the steward of the manor from the court-roll kept in the manor-house.
“The villein took an oath of fealty to his lord for the cottage and land which he enjoyed from his bounty. ... These tenements were suffered to descend to their children ... and thus the tenure of copyhold was established.” —Lingard: England (vol. ii. chap. i. p. 27, note).
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894