The Fee Tail and the Common Recovery in Medieval England, 1176-1502

The Fee Tail and the Common Recovery in Medieval England, 1176-1502

The Fee Tail and the Common Recovery in Medieval England, 1176-1502

The Fee Tail and the Common Recovery in Medieval England, 1176-1502

Synopsis

"Fee tails" were a building block for family landholding from the end of the thirteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century. The classic entail was an interest in land which was inalienable and could only pass at death by inheritance to the lineal heirs of the original grantee. Biancalana's study considers the origins, development and use of the entail, and the origins of a reliable legal mechanism for the destruction of individual entails, the common recovery.

Excerpt

This book began as a study of the common recovery, a feigned action in the Court of Common Pleas. A holder of land in fee tail could transfer land free of the entail by means of a common recovery. The aim of the study was threefold: to discover when lawyers invented the device, to trace subsequent refinements and elaborations, which made the device at once more powerful and more efficient, and to determine the kinds of transactions in which landholders used the device in its first decades of existence. Research on that initial project revealed that lawyers invented the device in the 1440s and that by 1502 they had developed the common recovery into pretty much its final form. By 1502 common recoveries were used in over 200 transactions annually. By reconstructing the contexts of the recoveries gleaned from the plea rolls between 1440 and 1502 one could determine the kinds of transactions in which landholders used the common recovery.

That initial study grew backwards into the present book. Because the common recovery was a device for barring fee tails, I became curious about other methods lawyers had developed for conveying land free of entails. But then it seemed inadequate to speak of various devices for the barring of entails without speaking of fee tails themselves. Where did they come from? When and how did grants in fee tail come to be perpetual? And under what circumstances and for what purposes did landholders put their land in fee tail? For the origins of entails one had to go back to 1176, when the royal officials of Henry II invented the assize of mort d'ancestor, a rapid action that enforced royal, common law rules of inheritance. Fee tails were invented as a means of avoiding the doctrines that enabled royal government to enforce common law rules of inheritance. As much as I would have liked to summarize existing accounts of the origin, development, and use . . .

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