A Readable Edition of Coke Upon Littleton

Chapter V. Section 117.

Of Socage

Tenure in socage is, where the tenant holds of his lord by certain service [that is, in lieu of] all manner of services, so vice certain that the service be not knights service. As where a man holds his land of his lord by fealty and certain rent for all manner of sendees; or else where a man holds his land by homage, fealty, and certain rent, for all manner of services; or where a man holds his land by homage and fealty for all manner of services; for homage by itself makes not knight’s service.

Tenure in socage Agriculture or tillage is of great account in law, as being very profitable for the common wealth, wherein the goodness of the habit is best known by the privation ; for by laying lands used in tilth [as arable] into pasture, six main inconvenicies daily increase.

  • 1st. Idleness, which is the ground and beginning of all mischiefs.
  • 2d. Depopulation and decay of towns; for where in some towns two hundred persons were occupied and lived by their lawful labours, by converting of tillage into pasture there have been maintained but two or three herdsmen.
  • 3d. Husbandry, which is one of the greatest commodities of the realm, becomes decayed.
  • 4th. Churches are destroyed, and the service of God neglected by diminution of church livings (as by. decay of tithes, &c.)
  • 5th. Injury and wrong is done to patrons and God’s ministers.
  • 6th. The defence of the land against foreign enemies is enfeebled and impaired, the bodies of husbandmen being more strong and able and patient of cold, heat, and hunger, than any other.

The two consequences that follow these inconveniences, are, first, the displeasure of Almighty God ; and secondly, the subversion of the polity and good government of the realm ; and all this appears in our books. And the common law gives arable land, the pre-eminency and precedency over meadows, pastures, woods, mines, and all other grounds whatsoever; and averia camca, the beasts of the plough, have in some cases more privilege than other cattle have. And amongst the Romans agriculture or tillage was of high estimation, insomuch as the senators themselves would put their hand to the plough ; and it is said, that tillage never prospered better than when the senators themselves ploughed.

Etymology Socagium.] Littleton in this chapter Section 119, fetches this word from the original ; Socagium, a soke, or plough. And Bracton agrees herewith. Dicitur socagium (says he) a socco, et inde tenenies dicuntur socmanni, eo qudd deputati sunt tantummodo ad culturam. And it is to be observed, that in the book of Domesday, land held by knight’s service was called Tainland, and land held by socage was called Reveland. And in that book they who held in socage were called by several names, as Socltemanni, or Sokemanni, which still continues. And note, that the legal termination of (agium) in composition signifies service or duty ; as homagium the service of man ; escuagium, service by the shield.

Of the service in socage So that the service be not knights service.] And in the next section he says, that every tenure which is not a tenure in chivalry is a tenure in socage. Here Littleton speaks of tenures of common persons: for grand serjeant is not knight’s service, and yet it is not a tenure in socage, as shall be said hereafter. Also here he means temporal services, and not frankalmoigne, as by the examples he puts is manifest, and as in its proper place shall appear more at large. Also here Littleton speaks of socage largely taken, and so called ab effectu; that is, all tenures that have the like effects and incidents belonging to them as socage has, are termed tenures in socage, albeit originally service of the plough was not reserved. As if originally a rose, a pair of gilt spurs, a rent, and such like, were reserved; these are said to be tenures in socage ab effectu, for that there shall be like guardian in socage, like relief, and such other effects and incidents as a tenure in socage has, and are so termed to distinguish the same from knight’s service. Nay, the worst tenure that I have read of, of this kind, is to hold lands upon the service of performing the office of hangman or executioner. And it seems, in ancient times such officers were not to be hired, unless they were bound thereunto by tenure. And so note, that some tenures in socage are named a causa, and some and the greater part ab effectu.

For homage by itself makes not knight’s service] But it is a presumption, where homage is due, that the land is held by knight’s service, as hath been said.

Section 118.

Also, a man may hold of his lord by fealty only, and such tenure is tenure in socage ; for every tenure which is not tenure in chivalry is a tenure in socage.

Section 119.

And it is said, that the reason why such tenure is called and has the name of tenure in socage, is this: because socagium idem est quod servitium socae, and soca idem est quod caruca, &c. i. e. a soke or a plough. In ancient time, before the limitation of time of memory, a great part of the tenants who held of their lords by socage, ought to come with their ploughs, every of the said tenants for certain days in the year, to plough and sow the demesnes of the lord. And for that such works were done for the livelihood and sustenance of their lord, they were quit against their lord of all manner of services &c. And because that such services were done with their ploughs, this tenure was called tenure in socage. And afterwards these services were changed into money, by the consent of the tenants and by the desire of the lords, viz. into an annual rent, But yet the name of socage remains, and in divers places the tenants yet do such services with their ploughs to their lords; so that all manner of tenures which are not tenures by knights service are called tenures in socage.

Time of memory.] Time of memory [or rather perhaps time out of memory] is when no man alive has had any proof to the contrary, or has any conusance to the contrary, as shall be hereafter said in its proper place. And of necessity this change hereafter spoken of, must be before time of memory; for within time of memory the services of the plough cannot be changed into money by consent of the tenant and the desire of the lords, scilicet, into an annual rent, neither by release or confirmation or other conveyance, so long as the seignory remains, as shall be said in its due place.

Ought to come with their ploughs] The plough is named propter excellentiam; but the sickle and the scythe, for the reaping in harvest, and such like, are also included. For as carucata terra, a ploughland, may contain houses, mills, pasture, meadow, wood, &c. as pertaining to the plough ; so under the service of the plough, all services of tillage and husbandry are included.

Chapter X. Section 162

Tenure in Burgage.

Tenure in burgage is, where in an ancient borough the king is lord, and they who have tenements within the borough hold of the king their tenements at a certain rent by the year. And such tenure is but tenure in socage.

Section 164.

And it is to wit, that the ancient towns called boroughs are the most ancient towns in England; and from these towns come the burgesses of parliament, when the king has summoned his parliament. Every borough incorporate that had a bishop within time of memory, is a city, albeit the bishopric be dissolved; as Westminster had of late a bishop, and therefore it yet remains a city. The burgh of Cambridge, an ancient city, as it appears by a judicial accord (which is to be preferred before all others) where mos civitatis Cantabrigiae is found by the oath of twelve men, the recognitors of assize; which (omitting many others) I thought good to mention, in remembrance of my love and duty alma matri academiae Cantabrigiae. There are within England two archbishoprics, and twenty-three other bishoprics. Therefore so many cities there are; and Cambridge and Westminster being added, there are in all twenty-seven cities within this realm, and may be more than at this time I can call to memory. It is not necessary that a city be a county of itself; as Cambridge, Ely, Westminster &c. are cities, but are no counties of themselves, but are part of the counties where they are

Section 170.

Time out of mind: Is where there is no memory of man to the contrary. But if there be any sufficient proof of record or writing to the contrary, albeit it exceed the memory, or proper knowledge of any man living, yet is it within the memory of man. And this is the reason, that regularly a man cannot prescribe or allege a custom against a statute, because that is matter of record, and is the highest proof and matter of record in law. But yet a man may prescribe against an act of parliament when his prescription or custom is saved or preserved by another act of parliament.

Common law: The law of England is divided, as hath been said before, into three parts; 1st: The common law, which is the most general and ancient law of the realm, of part whereof Littleton wrote. 2dly: Statutes or acts of parliament. And 3dly: Particular customs (whereof Littleton also makes some mention). I say particular, for if it be the general custom of the realm, it is part of the common law. The common law has no controller in any part of it, but the high court of parliament; and if it be not abrogated or altered by parliament, it remains still. The common law appears in the statute of Magna Charta and other ancient statutes (which for the most part are affirmations of the common law) in the original writs, in judicial records, and in our books of terms and years. Acts of parliament appear in the rolls of parliament, and for the most part are in print. Particular customs are to be proved.

Section 171.

Also, every borough is a town, but not e converso. More shall he said of customs in the tenure of villeinage.

Chapter XI. Section 172.

Of Villeinage.

Tenure in villeinage is most properly, when a villein holds of his Tenure in villeinage is where lord to whom he is a villein, certain lands or tenements according the service is to the custom of the manor, or otherwise, at the will of his lord, and to do to his lord, villein service; as to carry and recarry the dung of his lord out of the city, or out of his lord’s manor unto the land of his lord, and to spread the same upon the land, and such like. And some freemen hold their tenements according to the custom of certain manors, by such services. And their tenure also is called tenure in villeinage, and yet they are not villeins; for no land holden in villeinage, or villein land, nor any custom arising out of the land, shall ever make a freeman villein. But a villein may make free land to be villein land to his lord; as where a villein purchases land in fee-simple, or in fee-tail, the lord of the villein may enter into the land, and oust the villein and his heirs for ever; and after, the lord (if he will) may let the same land to the villein, to hold in villeinage.

Villeinage is the service of a bondman. And yet a free man may do the service of him that is bond. And therefore a tenure in villeinage is twofold; one, where the person of the tenant is bond, and the tenure servile; the other, where the person is free, and the tenure servile.

Section 175.

Also, every villein is either a villein by title of prescription, to wit, that he and his ancestors have been villeins time out of mind of man; or he is a villein by his own confession in a court of record.

Littleton, Sir Thomas; Coventry, Thomas; Coke, Edward. “A Readable Edition of Coke Upon Littleton” [Saunders] 1830. https://archive.org/details/areadableeditio00cokegoog