Livery of Seisin

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 346

A ceremony performed in medieval England that effected the transfer of land from one party to another.

Livery of seisin was the dominant method of transferring land in England until 1536, and it continued to be legal until 1925. The term livery of seisin means simply "transfer of possession": livery means "delivery" and is from the Old French livrer, and seisin means "possession" and is from the Old French saisir or seisir. The concept behind livery of seisin, therefore, was the symbolic transfer of the possession of land. The entire ceremony of transfer was called feoffment with livery of seisin, with feoffment meaning "a gift," specifically a gift of a freehold interest in a parcel of land. The transferor was the feoffor, the transferee was the feoffee, and the land interest was the fief.

In the Middle Ages, a livery of seisin was essential to convey land from one party to another; without it no real right to land could be transferred. When performing the ceremony, the feoffor, the feoffee, and their witnesses generally stood on the land itself, though it was permissible to stand within view of the land if the feoffee made an actual entry to the land while the feoffor was still alive. During the ceremony the feoffor spoke appropriate words declaring the gift, and then handed the feoffee an object representing that gift, such as dirt, turf, or a twig, or even a ring, a cross, or a knife. If a house was being transferred, the ring of the door might be exchanged.

In addition to delivering possession of the land, the feoffor needed to vacate the land. The feoffor's tenants and others living on the land were expelled, along with their possessions. In some cases, the feoffor performed a ceremony or gesture showing ABANDONMENT of the land, such as by making a sign with the hands, jumping over a hedge, or throwing a rod to the feoffee.

A livery of seisin was sometimes accompanied by a deed, or charter of feoffment, written in Latin, which was used to call attention to the conveyance of land. This was often the case when the transfer in question had special political significance or when it involved complex boundaries. If a charter of feoffment existed, it was read during the livery of seisin...

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