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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services which are due of such fees, and which at the beginning, were provided for the defence of the realm, are unduly withdrawn, and the lords in chief do lose their escheats of the same; we, therefore, to the profit of our realm, wishing to provide a fit remedy in this matter, by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


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall June 1997
halsall@murray.fordham.edu