The Doctor and Student (1518)

Christopher St. Germain

The sixteenth question of the student, whether a man who has a villein may with conscience keep lands to him and to his heirs, as he may by the law

Stud. A villein is granted to a man for term of life, the villein purchaseth lands to him and to his heirs, the tenant for term of life entereth; in this case by the law he shall enjoy the lands to him and to his heirs; whether shall he do so in like wise in conscience?

Doct. Methinketh it first good to see whether it may stand with conscience, that one man may claim another to be his villein, and that he may take from him his lands and goods, and put his body in prison if he will: it seemeth he loveth not his neighbour as himself that doth so to him.

Stud. That law hath been so long used in this realm, and in other also, and hath been admitted so long in the laws of thes realm, and in divers other laws also, and hath been affirmed by bishops, abbots, priors; and many other men both spiritual and temporal, which have taken advantage by the said laws, and have seized the lands and goods of their villeins thereby, and call it their right inheritance so to do: that I think it not good now to make doubt, ne to put it in argument, whether it stand with conscience, or not? And therefore I pray thee, admitting the law in that behalf to stand in conscience, shew me thine opinion in the questeon that I have made.

Doct. Is the law clear, that he that hath the villein but only for term of life, shall have the lands that that villein purchaseth in fee to him and to his heers?

Stud. Yes, verily I tale it so.

Doct. I should have taken the law otherwise: for if a seigniory be granted to a man for term of life, and the tenant attourn, and after the land escheat, and the tenant for term of life, entereth, he shall have there none other estate in the land than he had in the seigniory: and methinketh that it should be like law in this case, and that the lord ought to have in the land but such estate as he hath in the villein.

Stud. The cases be not alike: for in the case of the escheat the tenant for term of life of the seigniory hath the lands in lieu of the seigniory, that is to say, in the place of the seigniory, and the seigniory is clearly extinct: but in this case he hath not the land in lieu of the villein; for he shall have the villein still as he had before, but he hath the lands as a profit come by means of the villein, which he shall have in like case as the villein had them, that is to say, of all goods and chattels he shall have the whole property, and of a lease for term of years he shall have the whole term, and for term of life he shall have the same estate, the lord shall have in the villein during the life of the villein, and of land in fee-simple; and of an estate-tail that the villein hath, the lord shall have the whole fee-simple, although he had the villein but only for term of years, so that he enter or seise according to the law before the villein alien, or else he shall have nothing.

Doct. Verily, and if the law be so, I think conscience followeth the law therein. For admitting that a man may with conscience have another man to be his villein, the judgment of the law in this case (as to determine what estate the lord hath in the land by his entry) is neither against the law of reason nor against the law of God, and therefore conscience must follow the law of the realm. But I pray thee let me make a lettle digression, to hear thine opinion in another case somewhat pertaining to the question, and it is this: If an executor have a villein that his testator had for term of years, and he purchaseth lands in fee, and the executor entereth into the land, what estate hath he by his entry?

Stud. A fee-simple, but that shall be to the behoof of the testator, and shall be an asset in his hands.

Doct. Well then, I am content with thy conceit at this time in this case, and I pray thee proceed to another question.

Stud. Forasmuch as it appeareth in this case, and in some other before, that the knowledge of the law of England is right necessary for the good ordering of conscience; I would hear thine opinion, if a man mistake the law, what danger it is in conscience for the mistaking of it.

Doct. I pray thee put some case in certain thereof that thou doubtest in, and I will with good-will shew thee my mind therein, or else it will be somewhat long, or it cannot be plainly declared, and I would not be tedious in this writing.