Legal Dictionary


Definition of curtesy


curtesy (uncountable)

  1. The tenure that a man is entitled to over the property of his deceased wife if there is a child who could inherit it.


Further reading

Not to be confused with Curtsey.

This article is about the legal doctrine of curtesy.

Note that the content of this article, taken from a 1911 encyclopedia, is probably now out-of-date and largely of historical interest due to changes in the law.

Curtesy, in law, is the life interest which a husband has in certain events in the lands of which his wife was in her lifetime actually seised or sasined for an estate of inheritance.

The customs and the meaning of the word has considerable doubt. It has been said to be an interest peculiar to England and to Scotland, hence called the curtesy of England and the curtesy of Scotland; but this is erroneous, for it is found also in Germany and France. The Mirroir des Justices ascribes it to Henry I. K. E. Digby, that it is connected with curia, and has reference either to the attendance of the husband as tenant of the lands at the lord's court, or to mean simply that the husband is acknowledged tenant by the courts of England.

The requisites necessary to make tenancy by the curtesy are:

  • a legal marriage
  • an estate in possession of which the wife must have been actually seised
  • issue born alive and during the mother's existence, though it is immaterial whether the issue live or die, or whether it is born before or after the wife's seisin.

In the case of gavelkind lands the husband has a right to curtesy, whether there is issue born or not; but the curtesy extends only to a moiety of the wife's lands and ceases if the husband marries again. The issue must have been capable of inheriting as heir to the wife, e.g. if a wife were seised of lands in tail male the birth of a daughter would not entitle the husband to a tenancy by curtesy

  • the title to the tenancy vests only on the death of the wife.

The Married Women's Property Act 1882 has not affected the right of curtesy so far as relates to the wife's undisposed-of realty, and the Settled Land Act 1884, section 8, provides that for the purposes of the Settled Land Act 1882 the estate of a tenant by curtesy is to be deemed an estate arising under a settlement made by the wife.

The application of Courtesy (as spelled in Scots law) was abolished by Section 10 of the Succession (Scotland) Act 1964, in respect of all deaths occurring after the date of that Act. The right of Terce (being the equivalent claim by a wife on her husbands estate) was also abolished by the same provision.

California does not recognize curtesy.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     stare decisis
2.     banish
3.     Miranda warning
4.     AORO
5.     adjudication order
6.     tenancy in common
7.     precedent
8.     lex patriae
9.     appellant
10.     capital punishment