American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
- n. Law Perpetual ownership of real estate by institutions such as churches that cannot transfer or sell it.
- n. The often oppressive influence of the past on the present.
Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
- n. In law, possession of lands or tenements in dead hands, or hands that cannot alienate, as those of ecclesiastical corporations; unalienable possession. Conveyances and devises to corporations, civil or ecclesiastical, were forbidden by Magna Charta, and have been restrained and interdicted by subsequent statutes. Also called
- n. law The perpetual, inalienable possession of lands by a corporation or non-personal entity such as a church.
- n. literary A strong and inalienable possession.
GNU Webster's 1913
- n. (Law) Possession of lands or tenements in, or conveyance to, dead hands, or hands that cannot alienate.
- n. real property held inalienably (as by an ecclesiastical corporation)
- n. the oppressive influence of past events or decisions
- From Anglo-Norman mortmayn, morte meyn, from Old French mortes meins, after Late Latin phrase mortua manus. See Latin mors ("dead") + manus ("hand"). (Wiktionary)
- Middle English mortemayne, from Old French mortemain : morte, feminine of mort, dead; see mortgage + main, hand (from Latin manus; see man-2 in Indo-European roots). (American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
“On the last occasion the king ennobled him, As prime minister he was most zealous in establishing the supremacy of the State over the Church, and in abolishing the privileges of the nobility together with feudalism, He restricted the jurisdiction of the bishops, impeded the last increment of the so-called mortmain, and reduced the taxes belonging to the chancery of the Roman Curia.”
“It is to this inalienability of all the possessions of the Church, which like the "hand of a dead man" never loosens its grip of what it once has clutched, that the prejudice already referred to against property held in "mortmain" grew up in the thirteenth century.”
“Whatever advantages are obtained by a state proceeding on these maxims, are locked fast as in a sort of family settlement; grasped as in a kind of mortmain for ever.”
“The "oppressive past influence" sense of both "mortmain" and "dead hand" developed from the idea of the dead exercising posthumous control over their property by dictating how it must be used after they die.”
“mortmain", a word coined to represent the condition where land has come into the possession of a dead hand, or in Latin mortua manus.”
“mortmain" were for this reason always regarded as wrong in principle, though the loss occasioned to the feudal lord by the cessation of reliefs, escheats, wardships, marriages, etc., when the land was made over to ecclesiastical uses could not be denied.”
“a sort of family settlement, grasped as in a kind of mortmain forever.”
“The windows blocked all sound, and there was nothing audible in this room at all save the faint ticking of a wall clock with mortmain and company engraved on the face in gold.”
“Alexandria, built over the grave a place of visitation and endowed it with mortmain writing over the door these couplets,”
“Property was kept away from perpetual corporations such as the Church by the doctrine of mortmain.”
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