Landlordism: Its Origin and Growth, August, 1896.
By John Wheelwright

The following letter, without the Addenda and Notes, was read at the General Meeting of the English Land Restoration League, held in the Large Hall of the Working Men's Club and Institute Union, Clerkenwellroad, London, on May 20th, 1896, and is printed at the request of the Committee:—


I regret that I can only attend your meeting in spirit. Still I may ask you to convey a message from an old student, who, for half a century, has held fast to ideas which perhaps few in your assembly have thoroughly grasped.

I told Henry George that English stupidity mistakes law for right, without duly considering what law is, and how it is made.

1 No holder could convey an estate (in capite), to another without a royal licence (licencia alienare) and, to avoid difficulty, lawyers invented Fines and Recoveries, or fictitious suits at law. If A wished to sell to B, B claimed the land as his in Court, A appeared to defend and then agreed that B's was a just claim and so put an end or finis to the suit and received the money. In Recoveries, A and his witness would fail to appear on the appointed day for hearing, and judgment went by default.
2 To remedy the inconvenience of suitors following the Court from great distances the De Banco, or fixed Court of King's Bench, was substituted for the Curia Regis by Edward I.
3 King Stephen won the goodwill of the Barons by allowing them to hunt deer and build castles on their estates.
4 After 18 Henry III, once in three weeks (Dugdale, Origin. Juridic., p. 26). Manors were Baronies and are still Lordships, having their law courts for the benefit of the tenants who should be exempted from many law costs. Lords by alienating parcels of their manors created so many new manors and thus evaded their obligations, to the loss of the State. Hence the statute Quia Emptores (18 Edw. I.,c.1), which fixed the responsibility on the chief lord or original owner; and primogeniture was the logical outcome. It follows that all existing manors date from a period anterior to 18 Edw. I. (A.D. 1289-90.)
5 To guard the public rights, another inquisition called an Inquisitio ad quod damnum was held to enquire whether the community would suffer by permitting a man to enclose, or to make new roads or close old ones, or to alienate, or exchange, lands on a large scale.

Now the Conqueror wisely introduced the Feudal System, and his Domesday Book informed him of the value of the land for taxation. Under that system the tenure of land meant the tenure of office. The landholder was responsible for the welfare of the people, for the national revenue and defence, and was daily liable to dismissal; he could no more sell his tenure of land than the Prime Minister, the Commander in Chief, or the First Lord of the Admiralty could sell their official residences, or the Lord Chief Justice his office.1 The manor lord, assisted by his tenants, held his Court and dispensed justice; some had power of life and death. The Barons had their Courts, and the Supreme Court was the Coram Rege, held before the King as he travelled through the country.2 Law and Government were inexpensive then. Landholders could not hunt or shoot over their tenure without a much-coveted licence—called free warren; neither could they empark for deer, erect a dovecote, build a mansion, nor fell trees (except for repairs of hedges, etc.) without Royal permission;3 and they were obliged to hold Courts once a fortnight.4 If they sold land without a licence it was forfeited, unless they paid a fine and obtained a pardon. Though the fees paid on every change of tenure went to make up the revenue, it seemed expedient in time to grant tenures for life; next, that the son, knowing the management of the estate, should inherit the tenure, provided he paid the customary fees. Land was granted by Knight's fees, not by acres; that is, the grantee had to bring into the field a quota of Knights, mounted and armed, with their attendants, to do State service; hence, one land tax was called a "scutage,” from the Latin for a Knight's shield. Suppose now (the feudal lord having been permitted to devise his tenure by will) that a man, holding three Knight's fees, left them among five sons: each of them could fairly plead that he held less than a Knight's fee, and so the State would lose the services of three Knights. To remedy this, the Act, Quia Emptores, was passed, fixing the responsibility, as of old, on the eldest son however the land went. So, in fact, the law of Primogeniture is strong evidence of State proprietorship, though popularly believed to be devised for family aggrandisement. King Richard I. raised money from land to go crusading, which he resumed because he had no power to alienate State property, and he considered that the usufruct, during his absence, settled the account. On the death of every landholder, the rights of the State were guarded by an inquisition to ascertain what land he held, and of whom the Crown or a middle lord; its value; and the relationship and age of the heir. If the heir was under age, he was placed in ward until he came of age, paid his fees, and sued out his livery of seisin in the Court of Wards and Liveries. In common language, the land was delivered for him to seize or hold. But, should the heir be the widow or female child, not being able to go to war, she was obliged to marry the man selected for her who could go to war, according to the conditions of land tenure. The marriage of these wards was sold for large sums.5

6 “The state of landed property, in general, must be considered literally, as the ground upon which the real history of nations is founded. ..All worldly wealth is derived from the fulness of the earth; and it is by the weal or woe of the peasant, that the prosperity of nations is principally to be defined.”—Sir Fran. Palgrave, History of England, p. 251.
7 Stat. 12 Chas. 11., C. 24, is one of those acts of national injustice which has still to be redressed. The shamelessness of that procedure was aggravated by the revenue thereby lost being principally made up by the substitution of a hereditary excise on beer and ale brewed for sale, while that brewed in families for their own consumption was exempt. Thus the national beverage of the commonalty was made hereditarily subject to taxation, that the nobility and gentry might be freed from the obligations on which they hold their estates, (Scott & Farr, Hist. Engl., p. 376). When feudal tenures were abolished in continental states an equivalent land tax was levied. Our esteemed landholders, who recalled Charles II., settled £100,000 a year on him, in lieu of the fees, besides the excise. He sold Dunkirk to Louis XIV. for £208,441, and reaped the full fruits, disgrace included. He accepted an annual pension of £200,000 a year from Louis to restore the Roman Catholic religion, and, with Lord Danby, treated for the sale of the nation to the French king (Ibid., p. 393). Now, what did our patriotic king with the money? Out of £2,500,000 granted by Parliament for warlike purposes, he paid his private debts, the nature of which is explained in the "secret services," Camden Soc. 1851. His mistress the Duchess of Portsmouth had £12,000 a year pension, and more in gifts. The Duchess of Cleveland, Nell Gwynne, and other mistresses, were also liberally endowed from the taxes, and after establishing modern landlordism, Charles earned the nation's gratitude for blessing it with some ducal landlords and hereditary legislators by his personal exertions.
8 Antiquissimo tempore, sic erat in Dominorum potestate connexuni, ut quando vellent, possent auferre Rem in feudum a se datam. From the most ancient times it was in the power of the King to resume the land he had granted to any one.—Sir Martin Wright, Tenures, p. 14.
9 "The earth, therefore, and all things therein (minerals) are the general property of all mankind, from the immediate gift of the Creator." This is invulnerable. "There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination, and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property, or that soie and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe. And yet there are very few that will give themselves the trouble to consider the original and foundation of this right. "Pleased as we are with the possession, we seem afraid to look back to the means by which it was acquired, as if fearful of some defect in our title; or at best we rest satisfied with the decision of the laws in our favour, without examining the reason or authority, upon which those laws have been built. We think it enough that our title is derived by the grant of the former proprietor, by descent from our ancestors, or by the last will and testament of the dying owner; not caring to reflect that (accurately and strictly speaking) there is no foundation in nature or in natural law, why a set of words upon parchment should convey the dominion of land; why the son should have a right to exclude his fellow creatures from a determinate spot of ground, because his father had done so before him; or why the occupier of a particular field or of a jewel, when lying on his death bed and no longer able to maintain possession, should be entitled to tell the rest of the world which of them should enjoy it after him.
... It is well if the mass of mankind will obey the laws when made without scrutinizing too nicely into the reasons of making them. But, when law is to be considered, not only as a matter of practice, but also as a rational science, it cannot be improper or useless to examine more deeply the rudiments and grounds of these positive constitutions of society."— Blackstone, Com., B. ii., c. 1.

What we call the liberties of England were chiefly stages in the rise of landlordism.6 Magna Charta was wrung from King John in the landlord interest, and the King retaliated by inserting a clause binding the Barons to extend to their tenants the same privileges as they obtained for themselves. Hence the farmer should pay no more rent than his landlord pays to the Exchequer for the same land. Manifestly, if landlordism could bring about the abolition of the Court of Wards and Liveries, the inquisitions aforesaid would cease, the people, losing touch with the soil, would soon be oblivious of their rights, and a closer approximation to private property in land would follow. Landlords did abolish the Court by bribing Charles II., and taxing beer and cider to make up the loss to the revenue.7 The iniquitous Act was carried by a majority of two only, and many of the minority argued that land was the proper subject for taxation.

However, every law student is taught the elementary lesson that there is no private property in land in England. One can merely hold an estate in it. Just as the farmer holds an estate of his landlord, that landlord holds an estate of the Crown or people. Both are tenants of the people ultimately, and it cannot be too generally known that, by precedent, the representatives of the people can instruct the Crown to resume every acre of the land in the country without compensation.8 Whatever value was added to the soil by the farmer, he was paid for by the consuming public. Similarly the leasehold builder on urban land has been paid. Why then should we again pay our own tenant who contributes nothing and confiscates the improvements of his sub-tenants?

Herbert Spencer contended, in ignorance, that a man can buy land with money honestly acquired. Not so, he can only buy the loan or tenure of it, and become a tenant at will liable to resumption at any time. As there is no private property in land, it is public property and must ever remain so, because none can convey a stronger title than they receive,9 and when you hear a person call a landholder a landowner, it is a sure sign that he is ignorant of his country's history.

I am, yours faithfully,

P.S.—These principles, or leading features, are easy to remember. Land is public property on loan. The lawyer's device of lending in perpetuity, means virtually giving it, which is impossible; and the loan, as such, on any scale, can always be resumed by Parliament through the Crown.


10 The ancient folcland, folkland, land of the people, became the terra Regis, the land of their representative, the King, so called from kynyng or cynyng, the chief of the kyn or cyn, a tribe or kin. Sir Francis Palgrave derives from the Celtic cen or cean, signifying head or, chief.

We refer generally to the Norman Conquest for the basis of our land tenure, when all England was held of the Crown,10 or symbol of the people's sovereignty, and the wearer was called the King, as being their representative head, who could only grant, or lend, land; but should he affect to give it, the law officer drafting the deed would correct the mistake by describing the land as remaining parcel of some royal manor, and fix a rent; thus we find colonial lands held as of the manors of Shene, Woodstock, Greenwich, &c. The grantee was said to have the land in his tenure (or holding in capite, from the Latin for head), as a loan from the King, which he acknowledged by making some return (or paying rent, corrupted from the Latin reddi—he returns). These rents were Knights' services, or plough and labour services, from soca, a plough, or farm produce—very commonly eggs; or nominal