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How might mining rights work in a medieval feudal society? Would individual lords have the right to mine precious metals on their own demesne, or did kings typically have exclusive mining rights? Would the landholders be required to give a share of the profits to their ruler in addition to their regular tax obligations?

Also, if you did find precious metals on your land, what could you do with them? I assume the king would have exclusive rights to mint coins, but would they also regulate the sale of raw ore?

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    $\begingroup$ How does magic takes part on any of this? $\endgroup$ – Yacomini Sep 21 '16 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ Are you interested in how this worked historically or how it could potentially work in your fictional world? If the former, I would recommend the History SE. If the latter, then we need some more details about your world. $\endgroup$ – Kys Sep 21 '16 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ Well @Vermander, and welcome to Worldbuilding. Your question, as it stands now, is very unspecific and broad. There are so many different answers to this, that all are different, depending on factors that you have not yet stated. I would suggest you look at this nifty link... worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/help ...as it contains all the useful information you need to be able to post the right kind of questions that will yield interesting and useful answers. :) $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 21 '16 at 14:59
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You are basically right on everything.

Local lords would mine what they could on their own property. As king grew in power, they attempted to usurp mining rights. Since the lords didn't want to give up mining rights, it was politically easier for the king to assert minting rights. So the lords would have to sell to only the king to mint the precious metals (a price dictated by the king), so both the king and the local lord got their own cut.

Eventually a the kings got more powerful, they could find ways to directly acquire the mines, through marriage and inheritance, direct purchase, blackmail and coersion, etc.

Note this is one of the big differences between Western Europe and the rest of the world. The Archdukes of Austria had to generate local agreement and grant local privileges to take over the silver mines of Tirol. The Sultan of whatever-dynasty-was-in-charge had no need for such pretense to take everything from Golkonda.

If you found gold or silver on your land, you'd probably dig up as much as fast as you could and sell it to whoever at the highest price, before the King caught wind and forced you into his monopoly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, this is pretty much exactly the information I was looking for. I'm creating a low magic fantasy world with mostly 12-13th century technology. I've found a lot of information on medieval (and pre-medieval) mining techniques, but not much on how the profits were divided. $\endgroup$ – Vermander Sep 21 '16 at 22:49
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kingledion's answers are spot on, but I will add a little to that.

Lords, when in debt, and they frequently were, would sell everything they could to get out of it. They would tax in order to support their lifestyle, but they would also sell off rights to minerals, and it wasn't always to the King. Sometimes they sold them to a neighboring lord to get a cash infusion. Most often it was not the entire rights for all the property, but for a specific mine or area within their fiefdom.

The way it would work sometimes would be this. Lord A needs money now. Lord B has money and sees the potential of being able to sell the raw goods out of Lord A's mines. So he buys the rights to it, sometimes for a certain number of years. The miners, depending on the agreement, can be workers borrowed from Lord A (which Lord A can't afford to pay anyway) and Lord B would also agree to pay them for their labor, perhaps adding a supervisor of his own. Lord A might cut a deal with Lord B so that he can buy his own ore at a cut-rate price, up to a certain amount.

Now in an alternate situation, the King can see the same sort of opportunity and might also seize those rights if Lord A owes the crown a lot of money. Which, if Lord A hasn't been paying the taxes due to the crown because of his lavish lifestyle, he just might.

As to taxes, everything is taxed if it can be, including raw goods. The crown can choose to waive those taxes in favor of getting a certain amount of raw ore shipped to them for free or at a very reduced rate.

You also talked about the King's purview as far as coin minting is concerned. During Medieval times coins were actually not uniform, and many lords had their own coinage. England actually had one of the more uniform systems, early in the Medieval era making coinage a royal right. But even that didn't get a proper unification until 1279, with Edward I. The Florin became more of the standard than anything else because of the banking trade there.

In Europe proper, lords did indeed strike their own coin, as did abbeys and other places. In theory, the right to coin did reside with the King, but there were plenty of others granted that right by the King throughout the Middle ages. Here's a link with some of the basics of banking and coinage of the time.

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