Meaning of corvée in English:


Pronunciation /ˈkɔːveɪ/

See synonyms for corvée on


  • 1 historical A day's unpaid labour owed by a vassal to his feudal lord.

    ‘It is not known whether that work was undertaken by the free decision of those mountain dwellers or by the local communal authority that imposed corvées on them during winter when work in the fields was minimal.’
    • ‘They may well have been the unwilling victims of the corvée or compulsory labour system, the system that allowed the pharaoh to compel his people to work for three or four month shifts on state projects.’
    • ‘The corvée, forced labour for road construction and maintenance, took hands away from the fields for substantial periods every year; and when, under Louis XVI, it began to be commuted, the cost was added to the tax-bill.’
    • ‘He proposed to abandon controls on the grain trade, abolish internal customs barriers, and commute the corvée into a tax where this had not already happened.’
    • ‘In the aftermath of defeat in the Seven Years War, Louis XV went as far as to commission projects for the abolition of the corvée and the re-establishment of provincial estates in a bid to restore public support.’
    1. 1.1mass noun Forced labour exacted in lieu of taxes, in particular that on public roads in France before 1776.
      ‘they still force the peasants to do corvée’
      • ‘It's past population statistics are the result of registration for corvée and, later, for poll-tax, and can give evidence only of broad trends.’
      • ‘Thus the landlords retained their old labour services without the traditional obligations of a seigneur, while the peasants continued to do their corvée with very little to show in the way of landownership.’
      • ‘Without the subsidy of conquest, documentary sources tell us, taxes slowly crept up, labour corvées became longer, and arbitrary requisitions were more frequent.’
      • ‘West of the Rhine, an increasing number of servile manses also had to do ploughing corvées, and the service of three days of work per week was often required from free manses, which had been exempted from it hitherto.’
      • ‘I understand that on the inner sides of certain pyramid stones have been found crude inscriptions left by the citizens or their corvées.’
      • ‘Sometimes, as in Mecklenburg, Prussia, or Sweden, they prevented their serfs from weaving or smelting iron, in order to protect their sources of agricultural corvée labour.’
      • ‘Since the official repeal of corvée labor in the 1920s, settler employers had faced a dwindling supply of local workers.’


Middle English from Old French, based on Latin corrogare ‘ask for, collect’. Rare in English before the late 18th century.