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(môrt`mān') [Fr.,=dead hand], ownership of land by a perpetual corporationcorporation,
in law, organization enjoying legal personality for the purpose of carrying on certain activities. Most corporations are businesses for profit; they are usually organized by three or more subscribers who raise capital for the corporate activities by selling shares
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. The term originally denoted tenure (see tenuretenure,
in law, manner in which property in land is held. The nature of tenure has long been of great importance, both in law and in the broader economic and political context.
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, in law) by a religious corporation, but today it includes ownership by charitable and business corporations. In the Middle Ages the church acquired, by purchase and gift, an enormous amount of land and other property. The struggle over this accumulation of material wealth was an important aspect of the conflict between church and state. Moreover, lands held by monasteries and other religious corporations were generally exempt from taxation and payment of feudal dues, greatly increasing the burden on secular property. Attempts to limit ecclesiastic mortmain began as early as Carolingian times, and by the late 19th cent. the right of religious bodies to own land was in general highly restricted. In many countries the prevailing principle limited such ownership to absolutely necessary holdings. In the United States ecclesiastic mortmain was never a serious problem, and remaining statutes on the subject are essentially inoperative vestiges of former law.


See H. C. Lea, The Dead Hand (1900); C. Zollman, American Civil Church Law (1917).



one of the norms of feudal law in Western and Central Europe.

Under mortmain, a feudal lord had the right to confiscate part of the property of a deceased peasant, usually the best cattle and clothing or their corresponding monetary value. Until the llth century mortmain applied in some form to all individuals who were personally dependent on the landowner; from the 12th and 13th centuries it began disappearing as the peasants received personal freedom, but endured in some backward localities until the 16th to 18th centuries.

For the church mortmain signified a ban against alienation of the landed property of church institutions; in some countries, every landholding of the church was secured in this fashion. It was abolished in the Protestant countries during the Reformation of the 16th century and in France during the French Revolution.

References in periodicals archive ?
20) Since Roman law served as the basis for the canon law of the church, and the ecclessiasts, who sought to circumvent the Mortmain Statute of the late fourteenth century, were the originators of the use, it seemed logical that the fideicommissum would be the direct ancestor of the use.
Cassandra Mortmain (Garai) lives in a crumbling English castle with her dysfunctional family, including novelist father James (Bill Nighy) who has writer's block, her nudist stepmother Topaz (Tara FitzGerald) and self-obsessed older sister Rose (Rose Byrne).
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain (Garai) lives in a dilapidated English castle with her dysfunctional family, including her novelist father James (exLiverpool Everyman actor Bill Nighy) who has been struck down with writer's block; her nudist step-mother Topaz (Tara FitzGerald) and self-obsessed older sister Rose (RoseByrne).
As they flower into adulthood in the 1930s, sisters Rose and Cassandra subsist in literary squalor with their author father Mortmain and his bohemian lover Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald).
As 17-year-old Cassie Mortmain, newcomer Romola Garai (very reminiscent of the fledgling Kate Winslet) provides the film's perspective firstly through her diary - its narration in bucolic flashback - as she describes how her father brought her and the family to live in a Sussex castle and then ten years later in 1936 when it's all turned sour.
As if to prove it, novelist James Mortmain (Bill Nighy) plonks his family in a crumbling, turreted ruin in the middle of nowhere.
Cassandra, her older sister Rose and her younger brother Thomas live an isolated life, oblivious to the outside world, with their oddball father Mortmain (Bill Nighy) and their beautiful, bohemian stepmother Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald) - a former artists' model and second wife to Mortmain, whose first wife died.
This is a hangover from the old Mortmain Acts that ensured charitable religious trusts made on death or within a year of death were void (not valid as they are today), thereby encouraging the judges so to find, and so to benefit the deceased's family.
No one knows what mortmain is but it is illegal to take it without a fight.
One of the lyrics in MORTMAIN, the moving eulogy to his father, is "A Dead Language: Circa 1885.