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At its origin in medieval England, copyhold tenure was tenure of land according to the custom of the manor, the "title deeds" being a copy of the record of the manor court.

The privileges granted to each tenant, and the exact services he was to render to his lord in return for them, were described in a book kept by the Steward, who gave a copy of the same to the tenant; consequently these tenants were afterwards called copyholders in contrast to freeholders.[1]

Two main kinds of copyhold tenure developed. Copyhold of Inheritance and Copyhold for Lives.

Copyhold of inheritance had one main tenant landholder who paid rent and undertook duties to the Lord. When they died, the holding normally passed to their next heir - who might be the eldest son/daughter (primogeniture); or youngest son/daughter (Borough English or ultimogeniture); or a division between children (partible inheritance), depending upon the custom of that particular manor. During their life the tenant could usually 'sell' the holding to another person by formally surrendering it to the Lord to be regranted to them. This was recorded in the court roll and formed the new 'copyhold' for the purchaser.

Copyhold for Lives worked in a different way. Three named persons were nominated. The first-named was the holder tenant and held for the duration of their life. The other two were said to be 'in reversion and remainder' and effectively formed a queue. When the first life died, the second-named inherited the property and nominated a new third life for the end of the new queue. These were recorded in the court rolls as the 'copyhold' for this type of tenant. It was not usually possible for these holdings to be sold, as there were three lives with an entitlement. Copyhold for Lives is therefore regarded as a less secure tenancy than Copyhold for Inheritance.

Genealogists may find it helpful to note that copyhold land often did not appear in a will. This is because its inheritance was already pre-determined, as just described. It could not therefore be given or devised in a will to any other person.

Copyholds were gradually enfranchised (turned into ordinary holdings of land – either freehold or 999-year leasehold) as a result of the Copyhold Acts during the 19th century. By this time, servitude to the Lord of the Manor was merely token, discharged on purchasing the copyhold by payment of a "fine in respite of fealty". Part V of the Law of Property Act 1922 finally extinguished the last of them.


See also


Further reading

  • Andrew Barsby (1996) Manorial Law
  • Gray,C.M. (1963) Copyhold, Equity and the Common Law
  • Tawney,R.H. (1912) The Agrarian Problem of the Sixteenth Century

External links

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