Quia Emptores II
Bill Long 12/23/04
Moving on to the Statute (Finally)
With the reality as described in the previous essay as our basis, we are now ready to understand this most important statute. Passed in the 18th year of Edward I (1272-1307), the law sought to eliminate the notion of subinfeudation. Or, to put it differently, it sought to replace the concept of subinfeudation with the idea of substitution, which means that the duties owed by the "purchaser" of the land were to the overlord and not the immediate seller of the land. The statute is divided into three chapters. It is known as 18 Edward I, Stat 1. Here is how it flows.
The statute is only about 500 words, with the Latin and English on facing pages in the standard collection of English statutes. Chapter one is itself divided into two sections, the first of which states the problem ("Forasmuch as") and the second of which states the substantive provision of law. Let's look at each briefly.
The problem is stated as follows in the first section of Chapter 1:
"Forasmuch as purchasers ('Quia emptores') of Lands and Tenements of the Fees of great Men and other Lords, have many Times heretofore entered into their Fees, to the Prejudice of the Lords, to whom the Freeholders of such great Men have sold their Lands and Tenements to be holden in Fee of their Feoffors, and not of the chief Lords of the Fees, whereby the same chief Lords have many Times lost their Escheats, Marriages, and Wardships of Lands and Tenements belonging to their Fees...."
In other words, the "chief Lords" were losing their "escheats, marriages and wardships" in some way because the purchasers are "holden in Fee of their Feoffors"--the lesser lords--rather than the chief Lords. Thus, those at the top of the food chain feel that they are not being properly compensated. What to do? Section 2 reads:
"Our Lord the King, in his Parliament at Westminster....granted, provided, and ordained, That from henceforth it shall be lawful to every Freedman to sell at his own Pleasure his Lands and Tenements, or Part of them, so that the Feoffee shall hold the same Lands or Tenements of the chief Lord of the same Fee, by such service and Customs as his Feoffor held before."
That's the point. As a matter of fact this second section of chapter 1 says two points. First, land is freely alienable. It can be sold by any Freedman "at his own Pleasure." But, second, when he sells the land, the Feoffee shall hold the lands of the chief Lord and not of the mesne Lord. He has "stepped into the shoes" of his seller, with duties directly to the chief Lord. By this one stroke of the pen, subinfeudation is terminated. This is the basic principle of our land law today. The purchaser "steps in the shoes" of the seller and assumes all the responsibilities of taxation that the seller once had.
But Edward I and the Parliament were only interested in free alienation of land because they had passed a law five years previously, in 1285, called De Donis Conditionalibus (popularly known as Westminster II) which devised a method, called the fee tail, which would require land to stay in families if it was properly conveyed. More of that in another mini-essay.
Chapters 2 and 3
Now that the major substantive provision of Quia Emptores has been described, the rest can be dispatched more quickly. Chapter 2 deals with apportionment of services if only part of the land is sold. The first section of Chapter 2 says what we would expect, that if only a part of the land is sold, the "Feoffee" (purchaser) must only render services "for so much as pertaineth....to the said chief Lord for the same Parcel."
Chapter 3 applies the statute to another burning issue of the day: Mortmain. In 1279 the Parliament had passed the "Statute of Mortmain" (De viris religiosis) restricting outright gifts of land to the church. The scholars I have read say that the Mortmain statute was ineffective, primarily because there was an "opt out" clause in it whereby the Lords could permit a transfer of land to the Church "for a [hefty] fee." Nevertheless, chapter 3 of Quia Emptores provided:
"the said Sales or Purchases of Lands or Tenements, or any Parcels of them, such Lands or Tenements shall in no wise come into Mortmain....contrary to the Form of the Statute made thereupon of late."
Two very brief provisions in chapter 3 conclude the statute. First, the statute only applies to land held in "fee simple" (the largest estate of land) and that it only has prospective effect, "it extendeth to the Time coming, and it shall begin to take Effect at the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle next coming."
Thus, the facts of Quia Emptores are clear but questions remain. The principal question I have relates to how the "chief Lords" were being neglected or circumvented by the process of subinfeudation. A second question relates to the ways that this process of conveyance actually worked before Quia Emptores. I will be seeking documents or further information to make this more precise for me and for you. In the meantime, you have learned the basics of the most significant land law in the history of the common law.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R.Long