An Introduction to the History of the Land Law

By A. W. B. Simpson | Go to book overview

III
The Tenant's Interest in the Land

AN obvious consequence of the tenurial system is that a number of persons have interests of some sort in the same parcel of land. At the bottom of the feudal ladder there will be a tenant who has seisin of the land and is called the tenant in demesne, and at the top there is the King; in between there may be a string of mesne lords, who are lords and tenants at the same time. This posed something of a problem in analysis to the early lawyers, and it might have been solved in a variety of ways. One solution would have been to conceive of the tenant in demesne as the 'owner' of the land, and to treat the interest of the lords in the land as iura in re aliena. But this was not the way in which the position was looked at, and perhaps the explanation lies in the materialism which is a striking feature of medieval legal thought in England. As Professor Hargreaves put it:

'This materialism is a phenomenon which pervades the whole of the mediaeval land law. Whenever it meets with a conception which we should now regard as a right, it tends to transform it into an almost concrete thing.'1

This attitude of mind also encouraged the rejection of any theory which would say that the lord 'owned' the land, and that the rights of tenants in the land were iura in re aliena. Such a theory would have led inevitably to saying that the King, who was ultimately lord of all land, was the 'owner' of all land.

The lawyers never adopted the premise that the King owned all the land; such a dogma is of very modern appearance. It was sufficient for them to note that the King was lord, ultimately, of all the tenants in the realm, and that as lord he had many rights common to other lords (e.g. rights to escheats) and

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1
Hargreaves, Introduction to the Principles of Land Law, p. 48.

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