Livery of Seisin by axeloxenstierna
January 27, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: history, law

Medieval English law allowed for several methods for transferring interest in land from one person to another. However, if you wanted to transfer complete and full interest in land to another person, there was only one way: the ceremony of livery of seisin.

The ceremony was simple. The transferor and the transferee would go onto the land being transfered and symbolically pass part of the land from the old owner to the new owner. Recorded ways of doing this include cutting a piece of turf out of the land and handing it to the new owner, or, more frequently, poking the new owner with a twig from the property.

Sometimes, a little rhyme was said during the ceremony. One such rhyme has been recorded for us:

This turf and twig I give to thee /
as free as Aethelstan gave to me /
and I hope a loving brother thou wilt be.

This was also called livery by deed, because the physical act of poking with the twig and saying the rhyme was a “deed” in the literal sense. Our current usage of “deed” as a document signifying transfer of land comes from the fact that a witness would have to sign a document saying that they saw the “deed” of Livery of Seisin being performed. Eventually, the ceremony became unpopular, and only a signed document became required to transfer property — but the term “deed” stuck.


2 Comments so far
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Perhaps I should accost new ACF Fall editors with copies of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction as a rite of transference.

Comment by Andrew Hart

If by “accost” you mean “beat”, then I support this plan.

Comment by ukonvasara

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