Copyhold was a legal tenure system that existed in England from the medieval period until the mid-19th century. It was a form of land tenure where the tenant, known as a copyholder, held a copy of the lord’s court roll, which specified the terms and conditions of their tenancy. In exchange for their tenancy, the copyholder was required to perform certain duties and pay various fees to the lord of the manor.
The origins of copyhold can be traced back to the feudal system, where land was held by the lord and granted to tenants in return for services or payments. Unlike freehold tenure, where the tenant held the land directly from the king or queen, copyhold was a form of customary tenure that was subject to the jurisdiction of the manorial court. The court roll acted as proof of the copyholder’s rights and obligations and was copied and handed down to successive tenants.
The main feature of copyhold was its hereditary nature. Copyholds could be passed down through generations within a family, as long as the tenant paid the necessary fines and performed the required services. This allowed for some degree of stability and continuity in land ownership. However, copyholders did not have complete control over their land, as they were subject to the customs and regulations of the manor. They were also required to seek permission from the lord if they wanted to make any significant changes to the property or transfer it to another person.
The copyhold system began to decline in the 19th century due to changes in agricultural practices and societal attitudes towards land ownership. The Copyhold Act of 1852 enabled copyholders to convert their tenancies into freehold, giving them complete ownership of their land. This marked the end of a centuries-old system of land tenure and paved the way for a more modern and flexible approach to property ownership in England.