Or a post-fine mess…

It’s truly a fine mess that reader Perry Streeter landed The Legal Genealogist in with a question that hit the blog this week.

In an abstract at the National Archives of the United Kingdom, he came across a reference to a transaction recorded, or dated, 5 September 1693.

It read: “Receipt by ANTHONY BURNUP to FRANCIS HAMLIN for £4 10s. for a Post Fine of Tickridge Farm in Westhoathly, East Grinstead.”1

Perry was able to find a definition of post-fine: “In old conveyancing. A fine or sum of money, (otherwise called the “king’s silver”) formerly due on granting the lioentia concordandi, or leave to agree. In levying a fine of lands. It amounted to three-twentieths of the supposed annual value of the land, or ten shillings for every five marks of land. 2 Bl. Comm. 350.”2

That doesn’t help much, does it?

So, he said, he was “still unclear about what that may mean” and had two specific questions: “(1) Can any information of potential value be inferred from this brief abstract?” and (2) “Is the original record likely to yield any information of genealogical value?”

Okay then… let’s break this down.

First of all, we need to know what the heck a fine is (or was). From the definition, we know this is something to do with land since it has to do with conveyancing, and a conveyance by definition is “an instrument in writing under seal, (anciently termed an ‘assurance,’) by which some estate or interest in lands is transferred from one person to another; such as a deed, mortgage, etc. 2 Bl. Comm. 293, 295, 309.”3

And we can look up the term “fine” in the law dictionaries and get more: “In conveyancing. An amicable composition or agreement of a suit, either actual or fictitious, by leave of the court, by which the lands in question become, or are acknowledged to be, the right of one of the parties. 2 Bl. Comm. 349.”4

Now… you’re already seeing the pattern here, aren’t you? You’ve already noticed that the last part of both of those definitions is a cross-reference to source information — and that the definition Perry found has the same sort of reference: “2 Bl. Comm. 350.”

So what’s that? It’s to the major reference work on English common law that we all occasionally need to consult: Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.

Blackstone's Commentaries

William Blackstone was the youngest son of a prosperous middle class London family who basically didn’t make good as a young lawyer. He went into academia, and decided to give a series of lectures on the law. Those lectures became the cornerstone of what became known as Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, a four-volume work published originally between 1765 and 1769 and perhaps the most comprehensive review of the common law ever written — and, not coincidentally, cemented Blackstone’s later success as a lawyer and judge.5

The four books of Blackstone’s Commentaries are Of the Rights of Persons,6 Of the Rights of Things,7 Of Private Wrongs,8 and Of Public Wrongs.9 They’re abbreviated by number, so the reference is these definitions is to Book 2, or Book the Second, Of the Right of Things.

And by tracking down just about any copy of this volume on one of the book digitization websites such as Google Books, HathiTrust or Internet Archive, we can find out a whole lot more about fines:

• It was a way of transferring ownership of land and having that transfer recorded.10

• It was done by way of a friendly lawsuit, with royal permission, where one side to the lawsuit agreed that the land really belonged to the other side.11

• The end of the suit ended all suits or controversies over the ownership of the land and so had to be recorded the same way a deed would be.12

• And of course the king got his fees for the whole thing.13

And it’s that last part where Perry’s issue comes in. One fee was called the primer fine, and it was paid when the suit was started by the complaining party, the plaintiff. The second fee was called the post fine, and that’s when the defendant offers to settle and the settlement is now going to go forward.14

So… now we know what a fine was — it was abolished during the reign of William IV in the 19th century15 — what does the abstract tell us — and do we go after the documents?

The abstract tells us there was a dispute over the ownership of Tickridge Farm between Anthony Burnup and Francis Hamlin, and it was settled by agreement between them. Since the document was Burnup to Hamlin, and the fine was to the person who got the land,16 Hamlin should have ended up with the farm.

Is there more of genealogical in the original document?

Without looking, there’s no possible way for us to know… and, as genealogists, we always want to know. Maybe there’s an original signature. That alone has genealogical value. Maybe there’s a witness to a signature, giving us a friend or neighbor or associate to research. Maybe it’ll get us to the court file for the underlying lawsuit.

And maybe there are other related papers… That’s a real possibility, considering that the document was found in a collection of lawyers’ papers from a firm that existed in East Sussex from the mid-1700s until 1916.17

See what a fine mess you’ve got us into, Perry?

Good luck …


SOURCES

  1. See Catalogue description, Receipt by ANTHONY BURNUP to FRANCIS HAMLIN for £4 10s. for a Post Fine of Tickridge Farm in Westhoathly, East Grinstead, Discovery: SAS-DM/191, The National Archives (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ : accessed 30 Nov 2018).
  2. TheLaw.com Dictionary (https://dictionary.thelaw.com : accessed 30 Nov 2018), “post-fine.”
  3. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 273, “conveyance.”
  4. Ibid., 494, “fine.”
  5. See generally Encyclopaedia Britannica (https://www.britannica.com/), “Sir William Blackstone,” rev. 6 July 2018.
  6. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book the First: Of the Rights of Persons (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1765).
  7. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book the Second: Of the Rights of Things (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1766).
  8. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book the Third: Of Private Wrongs (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1768).
  9. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book the Fourth: Of Public Wrongs (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1769).
  10. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book the Second: Of the Rights of Things, 3d ed. (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1768), 348-349; digital images, Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org : accessed 30 Nov 2018).
  11. Ibid., 349.
  12. Ibid., 349-352.
  13. Ibid., 350.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 494, “fine.”
  16. Ibid.
  17. See Catalogue description, ARCHIVE OF DRAKE AND LEE OF LEWES, SOLICITORS (SAS/DM), Discovery: SAS-DM, The National Archives (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ : accessed 30 Nov 2018).
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