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Heydon’s Case. - Sir Edward Coke, Selected Writings of Sir Edward Coke, vol. I 
The Selected Writings and Speeches of Sir Edward Coke, ed. Steve Sheppard (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003). Vol. 1.
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(1584) Easter Term, 26 Elizabeth I In the Court of Exchequer.
First Published in the Reports, volume 3, page 7a.*
Ed.: This is a construction of leases, life estates, and statutes. Otlery, a religious college, gave a tenancy in a manor also called “Otlery” to Ware and his son. The tenancy was established by copyhold, an ancient device for giving a parcel of a manor to a tenant, usually in return for agricultural services, which was something like a long-running lease with special privileges for each party. Ware and his son held their copyhold to have for their lives, subject to the will of the lord and the custom particular to that manor. The Wares’ copyhold was in a parcel also occupied by some tenants at will. The college then leased the parcel to Heydon for a period of eighty years in return for rents equal to the traditional rent for the components of the parcel. The following year, the college was dissolved and lost its lands and rents to Henry VIII, although the act of dissolution kept in force grants made within the previous year for a term of life. The Court of Exchequer found that the grant to the Wares was within the statute’s protection but that the lease to Heydon was void. The ruling was based on an important discussion of the relationship of a statute to the pre-existing Common Law. By considering the statute as curing a defect in the Common Law, the remedy of the statute was limited to curing that defect. Judges are supposed to construe statutes by seeking the true intent of the makers of the Act, which is presumed to be pro bono publico, or intent for the public good. [The 1658 and some other editions have the name of the college and manor as “Ottery.”]
In an information upon an intrusion in the Exchequer, against Heydon, for intruding into certain lands, &c. in the county of Devon: upon the general issue, the jurors gave a special verdict to this effect:
First, they found that parcel of the lands in the information were ancient copyholds of the manor of Otlery, whereof the warden and canons regular of the late college of Otlery were seised in the right of the said college; and that the warden and canons of the said college, 22 Hen. 7. at a court of the said manor, granted the same parcel by copy, to Ware the father and Ware the son, for their lives, at the will of the lord, according to the custom of the said manor; and that the rest of the land in the information was occupied by S. and G. at the will of the warden and canons of the said college for the time being, in the time of Henry the Eighth. And further that the said S. and G. so possessed, and the said Ware and Ware so seised as aforesaid, the said warden and canons by their deed indented, dated 12 January anno 30 Hen. 8. did lease the same to Heydon the defendant for eighty years, rendering certain rents severally for several parcels; and found that the said several rents in Heydon’s lease reserved, were the ancient and accustomed rents of the several parcels of the lands, and found, that after the said lease they did surrender their college, and all the possessions thereof to King Henry the eighth. And further found the statute of 31 Hen. 8. and the branch of it, scil. by which it is enacted, “That if any abbot, &c. or other religious and ecclesiastical house or |[7 b] place, within one year next before the first day of this present Parliament, hath made, or hereafter shall make any lease or grant for life, or for term of years, of any manors, messuages, lands, &c. and in the which any estate or interest for life, year or years, at the time of the making of such grant or lease, then had his being or continuance, or hereafter shall have his being or continuance, and not determined at the making of such lease, &c. Or if the usual and old rents and farms accustomed to be yielden and reserved by the space of twenty years next before the first day of this present Parliament, is not, or be not, or hereafter shall not be thereupon reserved or yielded, &c. that all and every such lease, &c. shall be utterly void.” And further found, that the particular estates aforesaid were determined, and before the intrusion Heydon’s lease began; and that Heydon entered, &c. And the great doubt which was often debated at the Bar and Bench on this verdict, was, If copyhold estate of Ware and Ware for their lives, at the will of the Lords, according to the custom of the said manor, should, in judgment of law be called an estate and interest for lives, within the said general words and meaning of the said Act. And after all the Barons openly argued in Court in the same term, scil. Pasch. 26 Eliz. And it was unanimously resolved by Sir Roger Manwood, ChiefBaron, and the other Barons of the Exchequer, that the said lease made to Heydon of the said parcels, whereof Ware and Ware were seised for life by copy of court-roll, was void; for it was agreed by them, that the said copyhold estate was an estate for life, within the words and meaning of the said Act. And it was resolved by them, that for the sure and true interpretation of all statutes in general (be they penal or beneficial) restrictive or enlarging of the Common Law, four things are to be discerned and considered.
1. What was the Common Law before the the Act.
2. What was the mischief and defect for which the Common Law did not provide.
3. What remedy the Parliament hath resolved and appointed to cure the disease of the commonwealth.
And 4. The true reason and remedy; and then the office of all the Judges is always to make such construction as shall suppress the mischief, and advance the remedy, and to suppress subtle inventions and evasions for continuance of the mischief, and pro privato commodo,1 and to add force and life to the cure and remedy, according to the true intent of the makers of the Act, pro bono publico.2 And it was said, that in this case the Common Law was, that religious and ecclesiastical |[8 a] persons might have made leases for as many years as they pleased, the mischief was that when they perceived their houses would be dissolved, they made long and unreasonable leases: Now the stat of 31 Hen. 8. doth provide the remedy, and principally for such religious and ecclesiastical houses which should be dissolved after the Act (as the said college in our case was) that all leases of any land, whereof any estate or interest for life or years was then in being, should be void; and their reason was, that it was not necessary for them to make a new lease so long as a former had continuance; and therefore the intent of the Act was to avoid doubling of estates, and to have but one single estate in being at a time: For doubling of estates implies in itself deceit, and private respect, to prevent the intention of the Parliament. And if the copyhold estate for two lives, and the lease for eighty years shall stand together, here will be doubling of estates simul & semel,3 which will be against the true meaning of Parliament.
And in this case it was debated at large, in what cases the general words of Acts of Parliament shall extend to copyhold or customary estates, and in what not; and therefore this rule was taken and agreed by the whole Court, That when an Act of Parliament doth alter the service, tenure, interest of the land, or other thing, in prejudice of the lord, or of the custom of the manor, or in prejudice of the tenant, there the general words of such Act of Parliament shall not extend to copyholds: But when an Act of Parliament is generally made for the good of the weal public, and no prejudice can accrue by reason of alteration of any interest, service, tenure, or custom of the manor, there many times copyhold and customary estates are within the general purview of such Acts. And upon these grounds the Chief Baron put many cases, where he held, that the Statute of West. 2. De Donis Conditionalibus did not extend to copyholds; for if the statute alters the estate of the land, it will be also an alteration of the tenure, which would be prejudicial to the lord: for of necessity the donee in tail of land ought to hold of his donor, and do him such services (without special reservation) as his donor doth to his lord.
2. Littleton saith, lib. 1. cap. 9. That although some tenants by copy of court-roll have an estate of inheritance, yet they have it but at the will of the lord, according to the course of the Common Law. For it is said, that if the lord put them out, they have no other remedy but to sue to their lord by petition; and so the intent of the Statute de Donis Conditionalibus was not to extend (in prejudice of lords) to such base estates, which as the law was then taken, was but at |[8 b] the will of the lord. And the statute saith, Quod voluntas donatoris in carta doni sui manifeste express. de caetero observetur:4 so that which shall be entailed, ought to be such an hereditament, which is given, or at least might be given by deed or charter in tail.
3. For as much as great part of the land within the realm, is in grant by copy, it will be a thing inconvenient, and occasion great suit and contention, that copyholds should be entailed, and yet neither fine nor common recovery bar them; so as he who hath such estate cannot (without the assent of the lord by committing a forfeiture, and taking a new estate) of himself dispose of it, either for payment of his debts, or advancement of his wife, or his younger children; wherefore he conceived that the Statute de Donis Conditionalibus did not extend to copyholds, quod fuit concessum per totam Curiam.5 But it was said that the statute, without special custom, doth not extend to copyholds; but if the custom of the manor doth warrant such estates, and a remainder hath been limited over and enjoyed, or plaints in the nature of a formedon6 in the descender brought in the court of the manor, and land so entailed by copy recovered thereby, then the custom co-operating with the statute makes it an estate-tail; so that neither the statute without the custom, nor the custom without the statute, can create an estate-tail.
And to this purpose is Littleton, lib. 1. c. 8. for he saith, That if a man seised of a manor, within which manor there hath been a custom which hath been used time out of memory, that certain tenants within the same manor have used to have lands and tenements, to hold to them and their heirs in fee-simple or fee-tail, or for term of life, &c. at the will of the lord, according to the custom of the same manor; and a little after, That Formedon indescender lies of such tenements, which writ, as it was said, was not at the Common Law.
To which it was answered by the chief Baron, that if the statute (without custom) shall not extend to copyholds, without question the custom of the manor cannot make it extend to them: for before the statute, all estates of inheritance, as Littleton saith, lib. i. cap. 2., were fee-simple, and after the statute no custom can begin, because the statute being made in 13 Edw. 1. is made within time of memory; ergo the estate tail cannot be created by custom; and therefore, Littleton is to be intended (inasmuch as he grounds his opinion upon the custom, that copyholds may be granted in fee-simple, or fee-tail) of a fee-simple conditional at the Common Law: for Littleton well knew, that no custom |[9 a] could commence after the statute of West. 2., as appears in his own book, lib. 2. c. 10. and 34 H. 6. 36. And where he saith, that formedon in descender lies, he also saith, that it lies at the Common Law. And it appears in our books, that, in special cases, a Formedon in the descender lay at the Common Law, before the statute of Westm. 2., which see 4 Edw. 2. Formedon 50. 10 Edw. 2. Formedon 55. 21 Edw. 3. 47. Plowd. Com. 246b. &c.
And where it was further objected, That the statute of West. 2. cannot without custom make an estate tail of copyholds, because without custom, such estate cannot be granted by copy; for it was said, That estates had been always granted to one and his heirs by copy, that a grant to one and the heirs of his body, is another estate not warranted by the custom: So that in such manors, where such estates of inheritance have been allowed by custom, the statute doth extend to them, and makes them, which before were fee conditional, now by the statute estates in tail, and that the statute cannot, as hath been agreed before, alter the custom, or create a new estate not warranted by the custom.
To that it was answered by the chief Baron, That where the custom of the manor is to grant lands by copy in feodo simplici7 (as the usual pleading is) without question, by the same custom lands may be granted to one and the heirs of his body, or upon any other limitation or condition; for these are estates in fee-simple, et eo potius,8 that they are not so large and ample as the general and absolute fee-simple is, and therefore the generality of the custom doth include them, but not e converso;9ad quod non fuit responsum.10 But it was agreed by the whole Court, That another Act made atthe sameParliament, cap. 18. which gave the elegit11 doth not extend to copyholds, for that would be prejudicial to the lord, and against the custom of the manor, that a stranger should have interest in the land held of him by copy, where by the custom it cannot be transferred to any without a surrender made to him, and by the lord allowed and admitted. But it was agreed by them, that other statutes made at the same Parliament, which are beneficial for the copyholder, and not prejudicial to the lord, may be, by a favourable interpretation, extended to copyholds, as cap. 3. which gives the wife a cui in vita,12 and receipt, and cap. 4. which gives the particular tenant a quod ei deforceat;13 and therewith agrees 10 Edw. 4. 2b.
And in this case it was also resolved, That although it was not found that the said rents were the usual rents, accustomed to be reserved within 20 years before the Parliament; yet inasmuch as they have found, that the accustomable rent was reserved, and a custom goes at all times before, for this cause it shall be intended, that it was the accustomable rent within the 20 years, and so it shall be intended, if the contrary benot shewed of the otherside. Andjudgment was entered for the Queen.
[* ][Ed.: See the initial pleadings at 20 Eliz. Rot. 140.]
[1. ][Ed.: For private benefit,]
[2. ][Ed.: For the public good. (for the welfare of the whole state and people)]
[3. ][Ed.: Together and at one time,]
[4. ][Ed.: That the will of the donor, manifestly expressed in the charter of his gift, shall be fromhenceforth observed:]
[5. ][Ed.: which was granted by the whole court.]
[6. ][Ed.: Writ available for one who had a right to lands or tenements from a gift in tail.]
[7. ][Ed.: in fee simple.]
[8. ][Ed.: the rather so,]
[9. ][Ed.: on the contrary.]
[10. ][Ed.: which was not answered.]
[11. ][Ed.: Writ of execution either on a judgment for a debt or damages or on the forfeiture of a recognizance in the king’s court.]
[12. ][Ed.: Writ of entry for a widow against a person to whom her husband had in his lifetime alienated his land subject to her inchoate claims.]
[13. ][Ed.: Writ given to the owners of a particular estate (as for life, in dower, by the courtesy, or in feetail) who were barred of the right of possession by a recovery against them through their default or non-appearance in a possessory action.]