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The Alienation Office was a British Government body charged with regulating the 'alienation' or transfer of feudal lands without a licence from the Government.

The first regulatory structure for dealing with alienation of lands was created during the reign of Henry III. The king issued an ordnance prohibiting the tenants in chief of feudal lands from alienating those lands without a proper licence from the state. The penalty for not going through the licencing system was forfeiture of the lands concerned. The next major change occurred in 1327, when the penalty for not following the licensing system was changed from forfeiture to a fine. The fine was payable to the Hanaper of the Chancery. As with many British legal and regulatory systems a gradual evolution took place to an accepted system. The penalty for alienating land without a licence became one year's revenue from that land, and the payment required for an alienation licence was one third of the value of the land to be alienated.

In 1576, the Alienation Office itself was first properly established. Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester was granted a 10 year lease which covered the revenues due under the alienation of property licensing regime. The lease also covered the monies payable from 'pre-fines' that became payable during the actual process within the jurisdiction of the Court of Final Pleas. The Office developed from the structures that Dudley created during this period. Ten years later an extension of the lease was granted to Thomas Dudley and Robert Wrotte. They were acting as agents for Robert Dudley. Robert Dudley died in 1588, but the regime he created continued in place, and in 1595 it was further extended. The extension covered fines imposed for writs of entry in the process of common recovery.

During the period of the English Commonwealth there was a brief gap in the office's existence. It was abolished in September 1653, but was resurrected a year later once the value of the revenue it produced was realised. More drastic change occurred in 1661. During that year feudal tenures were finally abolished. The concept of tenure in chief was removed from English law, and regulations restricting the free conveyance of land were removed. However, the Alienation Office was to continue in existence for nearly another 200 years. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the assumption of the throne by William III and Mary II, a new derivation of the powers of control over the Alienation Office was created. From May the following year the Commissioners of the Treasury exercised control over the Office following letters patent. The letters patent were created under the Privy Seal.

During the 18th century a small extension of the jurisdiction of the office took place. In 1758, post fines were dealt with by the Office. It both assessed and collected them. However, sheriffs still continued to remit a sum of equal value to the amount that post fines for their country would have been to the Exchequer. The century closed with an extensive inquiry by a House of Commons select committee into the workings and financing of the office.

The pace of reform in the United Kingdom gather pace in the 1830s, and the structure of the Alienation Office did not survive that decade. In 1834, land conveyancing was reformed, with the system of fines and recoveries being abolished. That left the Alienation Office with no real function. It was consequently abolished in 1835.

Sources

  • Catalogue of the National Archives of the United Kingdom, record class A full description
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