Why, apart from religious reasons, might someone in thirteenth century England give land to a Church?

Why, apart from religious reasons, might someone in thirteenth century England give land to a Church?


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In 1285 the following grant of land was made:

Be it known that I, Robert son of Alan de Waley have given for the salvation of my soul and of my ancestors and successors to God and the Blessed Mary and to the lamp of the Church of Waley… that land called Magna Croke at Drudale in pure and perpetual almo so that Henry de Bethinton, his heirs and assignees may have and hold the said land of God etc rendering annually to God etc one penny on the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary.

The effect of this seems to be that the land became, in effect, the property of Mr Bethinton, he could pass it to his heirs or assignees (I think that means he could sell it). The only condition is that Mr Bethinton must pay a penny every 15th August.

Whatever Mr de Waley's theological opinions a penny a year seems not a great sum for the salvation of himself, his ancestors and successors. If his desire had been to benefit the Church he could have given the land outright to the Church, or at least imposed a higher rental than a penny a year.

Perhaps I am too cynical, but it looks to me as if this may be some sort of thirteenth century creative accountancy or tax avoidance. I do not know why Mr de Waley wished Mr Bethinton to have the possession of the land, but I presume there was some payment involved from Mr de B to Mr de W.

So, what advantage may there have been in owning a lease of land from the Church, for a penny a year; rather than being granted it outright?


I offer this only because no one has yet provided a more informed answer.

A few centuries earlier, writing in the early Eighth century, St Bede complained in his 'History of the English Church and People' [also sometimes called 'Ecclesiastical History of the English People'] that in his day people of influence were taking advantage of the exemption of monastic lands from taxes by having their homes declared monasteries. At that time there were some joint monasteries/convents so declaring one's home a monastery for tax reasons need not mean that husbands and wives had to separate.

In genuine mixed religious houses the monks lived in one part of the establishment and the nuns in another, but in bogus monasteries established as a tax dodge men and women could continue living together according to a secular rather than monastic lifestyle.

Bede worried that the consequent reduction in tax revenues would weaken the Kingdom.

I therefore agree that Robert son of Alan de Waley's arrangement in 1285 was most likely at least partly some sort of Holy tax dodge.


This is an example of frankalmoin, a type of feudal land tenure where land was given to the church free of any military, religous or secular service. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankalmoin

The practice came into disrepute when grants of land were made to the church and then leased back to the donor. In this case, the grant was made to the Church but leased to a third party.

It's entirely possible that the tranasaction was done to satisfy a debt or other obligations between the two Norman lords referred to in the document. In some cases, land was transferred this way when a lord went on crusade however the last and final crusade to the Levant was in 1271 so this wouldn't have been the case here. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninth_Crusade

It is interesting that, around this time, the Statutes of Mortmain in 1279 and 1290 were enacted by King Edward I to preserve the kingdom's revenues by preventing land from passing into the possession of the Church. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statutes_of_Mortmain