Statute of Mortmain, 1279
This statute, by King Edward I, was aimed at preventing land
passing to the hands of immortal institutions, and thus out of
the control and taxation system operated by the state. The Church
was the main target.
(Stubbs' "Charters," p. 457.)
The king to his Justices of the Bench, greeting. Where as of late
it was provided that religious men should not enter into the fees
of any without the will and licence of the lords in chief of whom
these fees are held immediately; and such religious men have,
notwithstanding, later entered as well into their own fees as
into those of others, appropriated, them to themselves, and buying
them, and sometimes receiving them from the gift of others, whereby
the services which are due of such fees, and which at the beginning,
were provided for the defence of the realm, are unduly withdrawn,
and the lords in chief do lose their escheats of the same; we,
therefore, to the profit of our realm, wishing to provide a fit
remedy in this matter, by advice of our prelates, counts and other
subjects of our realm who are of our council, have provided, established,
and ordained, that no person, religious or other, whatsoever presume
to buy or sell any lands or tenements, , or under colour of gift
or lease, or of any other term or title whatever to receive them
from any one, or in any other craft or by wile to appropriate
them to himself, whereby such lands and tenements may come into
mortmain under pain of forfeiture of the same. We have provided
also that if any person, religious or other, do presume either
by craft or wile to offend against this statute it shall be lawful
for us and for other immediate lords in chief of the fee so alienated,
to enter it within a year from the time of such alienation and
to hold it in fee as an inheritance. And if the immediate lord
in chief shall -be negligent and be not willing to enter into
such fee within the year, then it shall be lawful for the next
mediate lord in chief, within the half year following, to enter
that fee and to hold it, as has been said; and thus each mediate
lord may do if the next lord be negligent in entering such fee
as as been said. And if all such chief lords of such fee, who
shall be of full age, and within the four seas and out of prison,
shall be for one year negligent or remiss in this matter, we,
straightway after the year is completed from the time when such
purchases, gifts, or appropriations of another kind happen to
have been made, shall take such lands and tenements into our hand,
and shall enfief others therein by certain services to be rendered
thence to us for the defence of our kingdom ; saving to the lords
in chief of the same fees their wards, escheats and other things
which pertain to them, and the services therefrom due and accustomed.
And therefore we command you to cause the aforesaid statute to
be read before you, and from henceforth firmly kept and observed.
Witness myself at Westminster, the 15th day of November, the 7h
year of our reign.
From Ernest F. Henderson, Select Historical Documents of the
Middle Ages, (London: George Bell and Sons, 1910), 148-149
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© Paul Halsall June 1997