Definition of seisin
Middle English saysen, or seysen (“to seize”) from Old French seisir, saisir from Vulgar Latin *sacire, from the same Proto-Indo-European root as Gothic (satjan) and Old English settan.
seisin (plural seisins)
- (law, common law, historical) A feudal term for an entitlement to a freehold estate with a right to immediate possession; still used in technical discussions of real property law today.
Seisin is the term denoting the legal possession of a feudal fiefdom (i.e. an estate in land). It was used in the form of "the son and heir of X has obtained seisin of his inheritance", and thus is effectively a term concerned with conveyancing in the feudal era. In the feudal age the king alone "owned" all the land of England by his allodial right, all his subjects merely held tenures in fiefs, that is to say estates-in-land.
Tenures subject to seisin
Seisin is believed to have been applicable only to freehold tenures, that is to say a tenure exceeding a mere term for life and which was heritable, on condition of payment of the appropriate feudal relief. Freehold tenure was anciently thought the only form of feudal land tenure worthy to be held by a free man. Tenure, and the variety thereof, was the very essence of feudal society and the stratification thereof, and the possession of a tenure (i.e. holding, from Latin teneo "to hold") was legally established by the act of seisin.
Varieties of seisin
Seisin used in the normal course of events is of two kinds, "in law" and "in deed". Each carries with it a differing strength of tenure. It came to be said that later that in the conveyance of a fee by deed of feofment there must be livery of seisin.
- Seisin in law
"Livery" (or delivery) by "seisin in law" occurred when the parties to the transaction went within sight of the land to be conveyed and the transferor declared to the recipient that possession had been granted. This constituted however only an incomplete conveyance.
- Seisin in deed
By physically entering onto the land the transferee converts or "delivers" his seisin in law into seisin in deed. Instead of a physical entry on to the land, sometimes a token of the land (e.g. a turf, or similar) would be handed over ceremoniously. A tenant seised in deed as well as in law thus had obtained the best legal title to his tenure available.
Current legal status
Seisin is now confined to possession of the freehold, though at one time it appears to have been used for simple possession without regard to the estate of the possessor. Its importance is considerably less than it was at one time, owing to the old form of conveyance by feoffment with livery of seisin having been superseded by a deed of grant, and the old rule of descent from the person last seised having been abolished in favour of descent from the purchaser. Lord Denning controversially supported the abolition of the concept of seisin, however the common law has since decided to maintain the concept of seisin. At one time the right of the wife to dower and of the husband to an estate by curtesy depended upon the doctrine of seisin. The Dower Act (1833-1834), however, rendered the fact of the seisin of the husband of no importance, and the Married Women's Property Act 1882 practically abolished the old law of curtesy.
Modern legal interpretation
Modern courts have interpreted seisin as approximating to modern "freehold" ownership of land (Deshong v. Deshong, 186 Pa. 227, 40 A.402.) or the right to immediate possession (Williams v. Swango, 365 Ill. 549, 7 N.E.2d 306, 309.).
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