[vil-uh n, -eyn, vi-leyn]


a member of a class of partially free persons under the feudal system, who were serfs with respect to their lord but had the rights and privileges of freemen with respect to others.

Also villain.

Origin of villein

Middle English word dating back to 1275–1325; see origin at villain
Can be confusedvillain villein Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for villein

Historical Examples of villein

  • The Anguissola were his family, and their honour was his honour, since as a villein he had no honour of his own.

    The Strolling Saint

    Raphael Sabatini

  • His right to the land, in fact, was not freehold, but tenure by villein socage.

  • And is it really true that a villein with you can rise to be a noble?

    Harold, Complete

    Edward Bulwer-Lytton

  • Can the overlord rede the heart of the villein that feedeth him?

    Long Will

    Florence Converse

  • In five months I were a free man, he said, but to-day I am this man's villein.

    Long Will

    Florence Converse

British Dictionary definitions for villein




(in medieval Europe) a peasant personally bound to his lord, to whom he paid dues and services, sometimes commuted to rents, in return for his land

Word Origin for villein

C14: from Old French vilein serf; see villain
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for villein

early 14c., spelling variant of villain, referring to a feudal class of half-free peasants.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper