Skip to Main Content

Legal history: England & common law tradition: Land law

Feet of fines: early conveyancing

'Hec est finalis Concordia'
Feet of fines are - technically - court copies of agreements following disputes over real property. However, in many instances the "disputes" were legal fictions: for generations, this was simply a vehicle to get the final agreement (concord) of transfer of ownership of land from Deforciant (def. seller)to Querent (q or quer. purchaser) officially recorded.

They are mostly in Latin until 1733, except for a short period between 1650 and 1660 where English was used.

Since the Victorian times, they have been the subject of calendars and transcriptions by antiquarians and historians. Major publishers have been the Pipe Roll Society and various local Record Societies. The print volumes are quite often to be found in History reading rooms as much as Law. However, many have since been digitised - try for example British History Online via link below.

Subject search in SOLO using Fines and recoveries -- Great Britain

Real property

For introduction, see Chapters 13-17 in Baker's Introduction to English Legal History (4th ed, 2002)

Find digital versions of the earliest treatises on English law to be printed eg Old Tenures, Littleton's New Tenures (the latter was first printed in 1481 - and remained as a set text until the mid-(19th)) in EEBO see link below.

LOTN: Lands of the Normans

This database is the legacy of a  project which ran from 1 October 2006 to 30 September 2007 under the direction of Professor Daniel Power. "The dual aims of the project were to assess the historical consequences of the end of the Anglo-Norman realm, for England and for France, and to investigate the potential for Information Technology to contribute to historical study. ...  [it] is based on the study of a sample of Anglo-Norman landowners, based on the single most important English source for the confiscations of 1204, the Rotulus de valore terrarum Normannorum. The project team traced the history of each of the lay families and estates that appear in this source through the surviving records, English and French, royal and private, before and after 1204. These records were entered into an online database ...."

Farm: from open field to inclosure

From time immemorial, English land had been cultivated using what is known as the open field system. Within these fields the land was further subdivided into strips. Having, renting, or working a farm did not mean that all "your" strips were contiguous.

Laxton (Nottinghamshire) is the famous surviving example of this old system in operation. One of the Treasures of the Bodleian is the Laxton Map - along with the manuscript terrier describing land tenure in the villages of Laxton and Kneesall, Nottinghamshire - both of 1635

Inclosure meant bringing these strips together & from 1604 onwards inclosure was increasingly achieved by private or local act of parliament. (Radipole (Dorset) in 1604 seems to have be the first area so inclosed.)

By the 1750s inclosure by act of parliament was the accepted norm. By 1914 over 5,200 inclosure acts had been passed, affecting over a fifth of the area of England.

Subject searches to find commentary in SOLO:

Inclosures -- History
Land tenure -- England -- History

Commons -- England -- History