Time in the Land


The rhetoric of land law must bring the element of eternity through the securities of property. It can become one of three options or diversities. In two sentences - of a kind legal textbooks like to call elegant - the court in the Walsingham's case (1573) declared:-

Wyat had the land, but the land itself is one thing, and the estate in the land is another thing, for an estate in the land is a time in the land, or land for a time, and there are diversities of estates, which are no more than diversities of time, for he who has a fee-simple in land has a time in the land without end, or the land for time without end, and he who has land in tail has a time in the land or the land for time as long as he has issue of his body, and he who has an estate in land for life has no time in it longer than for his own life, and so of him who has an estate in land for the life of another, or for years. Then when Wyat had but an estate in the land for a time as long as there was any issue of the body of his father, and after the failure of such issue the King had a time in the land without end, or the land for time without end, which is termed a fee-simple, the words of Wyat upon his livery could not take that away from the Crown, nor give it to Moulton, and the law does not measure the gift of Wyat according to his words, but according to his ability, and here he was disabled to give the land for a greater time than he had, for which reason no fee-simple could pass.

The concept of estates here in English law has a clear vertical power structure which allows property to lift from site, off from soil and earth and the dominium (of Roman law) towards the duration of powers and rights. The result is a new divisibility, as F. H. Lawson noted in his Introduction to the Law of Property (London 1958, p66), "Since the estate was an abstract entity imagined to serve certain purposes, it could be made to conform to a specification, and the essential parts of the specification were that the estate should represent the temporal aspect of the land - as it were a fourth dimension - that it should be divisible within that dimension in respect of time according to a coherent set of rules, but that the whole of that dimension, the estate, should be regarded as existing at the present moment so that slices of the estate representing rights to successive holdings of the land should be regarded as present estates coexisting at the same time."

Edmund Hardy

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