The Statute of Uses: A Tudor Solution to the Evasion of Feudal Incidents and Its Consequences




Donlon, Patrick

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The Statute of Uses: A Tudor Solution to the Evasion of Feudal Incidents and Its Consequences

Following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, William the Conqueror instituted English feudalism. In return for their title to English lands, William’s Norman supporters were obligated to provide military service and payment of feudal incidents. Essentially, the incidents were payments made to a feudal lord as relief to legally inherit property, compensation for transfer of property to a minor, and various other occurrences. Initial ambiguity concerning the extent of incidents enabled the Crown and other feudal lords to abuse their position. As monarchical authority fluctuated, English vassals consistently sought to establish limitations on the right to incidents. Vassals also began looking for a legal method of evasion preceding the reign of Edward I, whose predecessor established a bureaucratic office to pursue royal incidents relentlessly. Enfeoffment to use, a method of property conveyance that could be employed to avoid feudal obligations, increased in popularity as a means of flexible property settlement. Largely because of this legitimate end, uses were slowly incorporated into English property law. By the reign of Henry VIII, an enfeoffment to use often resulted in the avoidance of feudal incidents. The Crown, alone unable to benefit from the device’s use, was most affected. Initially intent on compromising, King Henry VIII’s solution was rejected. The king, desperate to secure favorable legislation, effectively ignored and reversed two centuries of established legal precedent, guaranteeing the enactment of the Statute of Uses (1536). The Statute was instrumental in the early formation of the doctrines of a trust and led immediately to the Pilgrimage of Grace, which resulted in the Statute of Wills (1540) and the right to flexible methods of devise.



English feudal property law