An Introduction to the History of the Land Law

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

IX
Future Interests, Perpetuities and the Family Settlement

THE term 'perpetuity' has been applied at various times in the history of the law to refer to various attempts by conveyancers to enable landowners to abuse the power of free alienation of land, by imposing upon that land forms of settlement which made it impossible for their successors in title (usually their children) to deal with it as freely as they themselves had been able to do. Such attempts are an abuse of the power of free alienation, for a settlor who makes such an attempt is using the freedom which the law gives him to deprive others of the same freedom; in consequence at most periods of English legal history the courts have set themselves the task of combating such abuse.

But there are ups and downs in the history of legal thought upon the matter which are extremely difficult to explain in sociological terms -- for example, in terms of a struggle between an entrenched hereditary landed class and a mercantile class eager to see land on the market so that they might become 'squires by purchase'. In a fairly fluid society in which there always seems to have been land for sale such an analysis into 'haves' and 'have-nots' fails to convince, for people move too rapidly from one category into another. Thus in the sixteenth century, for example, a young lawyer could work his way up the profession from quite humble origins and amass an enormous fortune; this he would wish to put into land, and indeed many an English landed family goes back to a successful Inns of Court man of this period. Such a man's attitude to the alienability of land is likely, however, to be inconsistent. Naturally enough he wants plenty of land on the market to purchase, but at the same time he wants to entrench his family by making sure that the land he has purchased will remain inalienable in the future, and not be sold; at no point in his active career will

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