The nature of land ownership

At the time of the earliest property records discussed on this website (circa 1500) land was held (at least in theory) under the feudal system. The Isle of Man had been granted by the King of England to the Stanleys in 1406 and he rented out the greater part of it to the ordinary farmers and people of the Island. A substantial proportion of the entire population (my very rough estimate is one third) were immediate tenants of the Lord in this way. A smaller part of the Island was held freehold by so called barons (initially the Bishop of Man and also the heads of several religious houses) by fealty to the Lord of Man. These barons rented out their land to tenants in much the same way and under the same conditions as the Lord did. The remainder of the Island consisted of the Castles, demenses and also waste ground. Over the centuries (and with the Lord#s licence) waste land was enclosed by and rented out to new tenants.


In addition to the payment of rent the tenants also had certain other customary duties, such as provisioning the castles and providing a small amount of manpower to maintain the Lords property. According to a statute of 1422 the Lord allotted the land to his tenants annually. This implies that they had no right of tenure beyond one year. In practice however it seems that custom dictated that the occupier would retain tenure and that this right was passed on through the family in the nature of inheritance. The earliest surviving manorial rolls (c1500) show that the tenants of any given plot of land would change infrequently and the names of new tenants in often share the same surname as their predecessors. If a tenant became unable to afford the rent on a farm (perhaps due to ill health) then his son would be expected to take over the land from him. (This customary law was documented in a statute of 1577.)


In the mid 16th century the Dissolution of the Monasteries resulted in most of the Baronies being seized by the Crown, and subsequently being granted to new owners. This did not appear to affect their tenants however.


In 1582 a statute was introduced to require any transfer of land between tenants (whether by sale, gift or exchange) to have a special licence from the Lord. The stated reason was that the people were making such transfers unofficially and contrary to "good and laudable order" and undermining the Lord's setting book of tenants. A further statute in 1593 required that any with a claim to land should exhibit proof in writing within 21 years of being dispossessed of it. The interpretation given to these laws by A.W. Moore is that the Lord was reinforcing his ownership of the ground. Whatever the reason, the records do become significantly more informative about land transfers after this date. They were made by the ritual giving a straw from the old to the new tenant, and the records often refer to the "delivery of a straw in court".


An agreement in 1601 between the Lord and his tenants converted some of their customary obligations (such as to provide livestock to feed the soldiers) to a double rent in money. (This second rent was recorded separately for the next century and the change therefore isn't immediately obvious from an examination of the rent rolls.) This agreement did not apply to tenants of the Baronies however. They continued to pay customs as before.


It was possible for tenants to lease land for an extended period (usually for 21 years or until the death of all of three named individuals) but this was relatively uncommon until 1643 when all were compelled to take out leases, most commonly for three lives.(Such leased land was described as a composition.) The records associated with these leases are considerable and genealogically very useful. The leases themselves were later to prove a source of considerable dispute since the Lord considered that by accepting them the tenants had forfeited their earlier customary right of tenure. The eventual resolution came in 1704 when the so called Act of Settlement allowed the Lord's tenants to purchase their leasehold in perpetuity subject to the a payment of an "alienation fine" whenever the land was transferred to a new owner. (Several other changes occurred at the same time, the most obvious of which was the doubling of quarterland rents as recorded within land records.) The provisions of the Act of Settlement did not apply to the Baronies however.


Laws of Inheritance


The heir to land was the eldest son of the deceased. If he had no son then it descended to his eldest daughter. If he had no children then the property reverted to the next heir of the person from whom he inherited it. If any person who would have otherwise inherited had pre-deceased the land holder then their right of inheritance descended to their own heir. (So for example the orphaned daughter of the land-owner's eldest son would take precedence over his other sons.) These rules incidentally have the consequence that the inheritance always descends to the same person regardless of the order in which his relatives and ancestors died.