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Mortmain, statute of

Mortmain, statute of, 1279. Mortmain refers to property held by a ‘dead hand’ and therefore inalienable. Kings and barons objected to persons granting their land to a religious institution and receiving it back again, having shed, in the process, their military and other feudal obligations. The provisions of Westminster (1259) declared against alienation of land without the lord's permission. Edward I's statute of 1279 forbade such transfers on pain of forfeiture, to the chagrin of the clergy. Loopholes in the statute were found and repeated efforts were made to block them. After the Reformation, bequests were more likely to be made to charities or educational establishments, and exceptions to the prohibition of mortmain were made in favour of Oxford and Cambridge colleges, and trusts like the British Museum.

J. A. Cannon

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