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Medieval English Land Grants

  • In 1285 and 1290, the Parliament of Edward I passed the statutes De Donis and Quia Emptores, effectively making land freely alienable for the first time since the Norman Conquest of 1066; written land grants soon became common legal documents.
  • A common way of getting around the restrictions on selling land before De Donis and Quia Emptores was to transfer land through a long term lease. These arrangements became known as copyhold tenure to distinguish them from full freehold tenure.
  • A grant c.1280 'for a sum of money, homage and service' from 'Alan, son of Geoffrey' to 'Robert Cocus and his wife Beatrice', for 5 1/2 acres to be held by full copyhold tenure — basically an inheritable lease.
  • In an era without any central registry of land transfers or printed legal forms, these handwritten calf skin (vellum) grants were often a landholder's sole record of lawful transfer and possession.
  • A grant c.1285 for 3 pence annual rent from 'Sir William de Watevil of Hempstead, knight, to Stephen Selong of Helion Bumpstead and his wife Isabel, for their homage and service,' — a copyhold tenure limited to the life of the tenant.
  • Many such medieval land transfer documents were inscribed on the reverse to identify the parties and/or land parcels involved.
  • A grant c.1285 for 2 pence annual rent from 'John son of Gilbert Wygg of Great Sampford to Robert Wygg, clerk, for his service, an acre of his land in the field called Merefeld' — another copyhold tenure life estate.
  • The size of the transfer document, and even its identifying inscription, did not necessarily reflect the extent of real property granted. This comparatively tiny one transfers an entire town!
  • A 1282 grant from 'Nicholas son of George de Barentone' transferring an inheritable proprietorship to his ward and nephew, 'Nicholas son of Nicholas de Barentone, for all his right and claim in the whole township of Chigwell which formerly belonged to his father'.
  • Unlike the other grants in this collection, the wax seal on this one is completely intact despite its being 707 years old.
  • A 1304 grant in fee simple from 'John de la Launde' to 'Thomas Boytone and his wife Maud, and to his heirs', of 'a piece of his arable land called The Pretesfeld with the hedges and ditches in Hempstead'.
  • A grant in fee simple c.1291, that was later confirmed by a jury, from 'Edmund Paulyn to Robert Wigg of Great Sampford, clerk: a parcel of his land heading on to the field called Merefield and on to the field called Burefeld'.
  • The jury's seal tag confirming the grant; the jury confirmation indicates that the grantee must have been dispossessed before he could take up occupancy and therefore brought a suit to secure his seisin in the granted land.

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