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Wardship in United Kingdom

History of Wardship

Wardships are described in the Dialogus de Scaccario as “escheats along with the heir” (escaeta cum herede).(Hughes’ edition, p. 133). This expression does not occur elsewhere, but it would be impossible to find any description of wardship which throws more light on its nature and consequences. When the heir of a deceased tenant was unfitted to bear arms by reason of his tender years, the lands were, during his minority, without an effective owner: the lord treated them as temporarily escheated, entered into possession, drew the revenues, and applied them to his own purposes, subject only to the obligation of maintaining the heir in a manner suited to his station in life.

Considerable sums might thus be spent: the Pipe Roll of the seventeenth year of Henry II. shows how out of a total revenue of £50 6s. 8d. from the Honour of “Belveeir,” £18 5s. had been expended on the children of the late tenant. Wardship came to an end with the full age of the ward, that is, in the case of a military tenant, on the completion of his twenty–first year, “in that of a holder in socage on the completion of the fifteenth, and in the case of a burgess when the boy can count money, measure cloth, and so forth.” (Glanvill, VII. c. 9). In socage and burgage tenures no wardship was recognized; the guardianship went to the relations of the ward, and not to his feudal lord. Complicated, but equitable, rules applied to socage. The maternal kindred had the custody, if the lands came from the father’s side; the paternal kindred, if from the mother’s side (Glanvill, VII. c. 11). In plain language, the boy was not entrusted to those who had an interest in his death.

Wardship of females normally ended at the age of fourteen, “because that a woman of such age may have a husband able to do knight’s service.” An heiress who did not succeed to the estate until she was fourteen thus escaped wardship altogether, but if she became a ward at a younger age, the wardship continued till she attained sixteen years unless she married earlier. (Littleton, II. iv. s. 103).

All the remunerative consequences flowing from escheat flowed also from wardship—rents, casual profits, advowsons, services of villeins, and reliefs. Unlike escheats, however, the right of the Crown here was only temporary, and Magna Carta sought3 to provide that the implied conditions should be respected by the Crown’s bailiffs or nominees: the lands must not be wasted or exhausted, but restored to the son when he came of age, in as good condition as when his father died.

Wardship affecting Baronies

One important aspect ought to be emphasized: Wardship affected bishoprics as well as lay baronies, extending over the temporalities of a See between the death of one prelate and the instalment of his successor. It was to the king’s interest to keep sees vacant, while his Exchequer drew the revenues and casual profits. This right was carefully reserved, even in the comprehensive charter in which John granted freedom of election.

Source: Part . Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction, by William Sharp McKechnie (Glasgow: Maclehose, 1914).

See Also

Magna Carta
History of Magna Carta
William Sharp McKechnie
English Court System

English Law: Wardship in the Past

Wardship was the right of the lord over the person and estate of the tenant (see more about this popular legal topic in the U.K. encyclopedia), when the latter was under a certain age. When a tenant (see more about this popular legal topic in the U.K. encyclopedia) by knight’s service died and his heir was under age, the lord was entitled to the custody of the person and the lands of the heir, without any account, until the ward, if a male, should arrive at the age of twenty-one years, and, if a female, at eighteen. Wardship was also incident to a tenure in socage, but in this case, not the lord, but the nearest relation to whom the inheritance could not descend, was entitled to the custody of the person and estate of the heir till he attained the age of fourteen years; at which period the wardship ceased and the guardian was bound, to account. Wardship in copyhold estates partook of that in chivalry and that guardian like the latter, he was needd lib. 7, c. 9; Grand Cout. c. 33; Reg. Maj. c. 42. [1]


Notes and References

  1. Partialy, this information about wardship is based on the Bouvier´s Law Dictionary, 1848 edition. There is a list of terms of the Bouvier´s Law Dictionary, including wardship.

See Also

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Schema Summary

  • Article Name: Wardship
  • Author: Owen Stone
  • Description: History of Wardship Wardships are described in the Dialogus de Scaccario as “escheats along with the heir” (escaeta cum [...]

This entry was last updated: August 11, 2020

Magna Carta


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