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Livery of Seisin

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. However, such a charter did not in itself serve as a means of transferring land; rather, it was used simply as evidence that a transfer had taken place. Its language was not "I hereby give" but "Know ye that I have given." A charter of feoffment by itself was not considered an agreement to transfer land, but had to be accompanied by a livery of seisin.

During the Anglo-Saxon period in England, before the Norman Conquest of 1066, the use of writing was rare, so few charters existed. After the Norman invasion, writing was used more often, but charters were still generally short and crude. Eventually, over a period of hundreds of years, the delivery of a charter or deed came to replace the delivery of dirt, twigs, or knives that had been used to convey land in the livery-ofseisin ceremonies.

The Real Property Act of 1845 (8 & 9 Vict. ch. 106 [Eng.]) did not abolish livery of seisin, but it did allow deeds to be used freely as granting devices, which had the same effect. The Law of Property Act, passed in 1925 (15 & 16 Geo. 5, ch. 20 [Eng.]), finally abolished the livery-ofseisin ceremony.


Bergin, Thomas F., and Paul G. Haskell. 1966. Preface to Estates in Land and Future Interests. Brooklyn: Foundation Press.

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