Commentaries on the Laws of England - Book the First
by William Blackstone
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[Footnote u: L. of N. b. 6. c. 2. Sec. 12.]

[Footnote w: See page 414.]

[Footnote x: Stat. 1 Jac. I. c. 4. & 3 Jac. I. c. 5.]

[Footnote y: Stat. 11 & 12 W. III. c. 4.]

[Footnote z: Stat. 3 Car. I. c. 2.]

2. THE power of parents over their children is derived from the former consideration, their duty; this authority being given them, partly to enable the parent more effectually to perform his duty, and partly as a recompence for his care and trouble in the faithful discharge of it. And upon this score the municipal laws of some nations have given a much larger authority to the parents, than others. The antient Roman laws gave the father a power of life and death over his children; upon this principle, that he who gave had also the power of taking away[a]. But the rigor of these laws was softened by subsequent constitutions; so that[b] we find a father banished by the emperor Hadrian for killing his son, though he had committed a very heinous crime, upon this maxim, that "patria potestas in pietate debet, non in atrocitate, consistere." But still they maintained to the last a very large and absolute authority: for a son could not acquire any property of his own during the life of his father; but all his acquisitions belonged to the father, or at least the profits of them for his life[c].

[Footnote a: Ff. 28. 2. 11. Cod. 8. 47. 10.]

[Footnote b: Ff. 48. 9. 5.]

[Footnote c: Inst. 2. 9. 1.]

THE power of a parent by our English laws is much more moderate; but still sufficient to keep the child in order and obedience. He may lawfully correct his child, being under age, in a reasonable manner[d]; for this is for the benefit of his education. The consent or concurrence of the parent to the marriage of his child under age, was also directed by our antient law to be obtained: but now it is absolutely necessary; for without it the contract is void[e]. And this also is another means, which the law has put into the parent's hands, in order the better to discharge his duty; first, of protecting his children from the snares of artful and designing persons; and, next, of settling them properly in life, by preventing the ill consequences of too early and precipitate marriages. A father has no other power over his sons estate, than as his trustee or guardian; for, though he may receive the profits during the child's minority, yet he must account for them when he comes of age. He may indeed have the benefit of his children's labour while they live with him, and are maintained by him: but this is no more than he is entitled to from his apprentices or servants. The legal power of a father (for a mother, as such, is entitled to no power, but only to reverence and respect) the power of a father, I say, over the persons of his children ceases at the age of twenty one: for they are then enfranchised by arriving at years of discretion, or that point which the law has established (as some must necessarily be established) when the empire of the father, or other guardian, gives place to the empire of reason. Yet, till that age arrives, this empire of the father continues even after his death; for he may by his will appoint a guardian to his children. He may also delegate part of his parental authority, during his life, to the tutor or schoolmaster of his child; who is then in loco parentis, and has such a portion of the power of the parent committed to his charge, viz. that of restraint and correction, as may be necessary to answer the purposes for which he is employed.

[Footnote d: 1 Hawk. P.C. 130.]

[Footnote e: Stat. 26 Geo. II. c. 33.]

3. THE duties of children to their parents arise from a principle of natural justice and retribution. For to those, who gave us existence, we naturally owe subjection and obedience during our minority, and honour and reverence ever after; they, who protected the weakness of our infancy, are entitled to our protection in the infirmity of their age; they who by sustenance and education have enabled their offspring to prosper, ought in return to be supported by that offspring, in case they stand in need of assistance. Upon this principle proceed all the duties of children to their parents, which are enjoined by positive laws. And the Athenian laws[f] carried this principle into practice with a scrupulous kind of nicety: obliging all children to provide for their father, when fallen into poverty; with an exception to spurious children, to those whose chastity had been prostituted by consent of the father, and to those whom he had not put in any way of gaining a livelyhood. The legislature, says baron Montesquieu[g], considered, that in the first case the father, being uncertain, had rendered the natural obligation precarious; that, in the second case, he had sullied the life he had given, and done his children the greatest of injuries, in depriving them of their reputation; and that, in the third case, he had rendered their life (so far as in him lay) an insupportable burthen, by furnishing them with no means of subsistence.

[Footnote f: Potter's Antiq. b. 4. c. 15.]

[Footnote g: Sp. L. l. 26. c. 5.]

OUR laws agree with those of Athens with regard to the first only of these particulars, the case of spurious issue. In the other cases the law does not hold the tie of nature to be dissolved by any misbehaviour of the parent; and therefore a child is equally justifiable in defending the person, or maintaining the cause or suit, of a bad parent, as a good one; and is equally compellable[h], if of sufficient ability, to maintain and provide for a wicked and unnatural progenitor, as for one who has shewn the greatest tenderness and parental piety.

[Footnote h: Stat. 43 Eliz. c. 2.]

II. WE are next to consider the case of illegitimate children, or bastards; with regard to whom let us inquire, 1. Who are bastards. 2. The legal duties of the parents towards a bastard child. 3. The rights and incapacities attending such bastard children.

1. WHO are bastards. A bastard, by our English laws, is one that is not only begotten, but born, out of lawful matrimony. The civil and canon laws do not allow a child to remain a bastard, if the parents afterwards intermarry[i]: and herein they differ most materially from our law; which, though not so strict as to require that the child shall be begotten, yet makes it an indispensable condition that it shall be born, after lawful wedlock. And the reason of our English law is surely much superior to that of the Roman, if we consider the principal end and design of establishing the contract of marriage, taken in a civil light; abstractedly from any religious view, which has nothing to do with the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the children. The main end and design of marriage therefore being to ascertain and fix upon some certain person, to whom the care, the protection, the maintenance, and the education of the children should belong; this end is undoubtedly better answered by legitimating all issue born after wedlock, than by legitimating all issue of the same parties, even born before wedlock, so as wedlock afterwards ensues: 1. Because of the very great uncertainty there will generally be, in the proof that the issue was really begotten by the same man; whereas, by confining the proof to the birth, and not to the begetting, our law has rendered it perfectly certain, what child is legitimate, and who is to take care of the child. 2. Because by the Roman laws a child may be continued a bastard, or made legitimate, at the option of the father and mother, by a marriage ex post facto; thereby opening a door to many frauds and partialities, which by our law are prevented. 3. Because by those laws a man may remain a bastard till forty years of age, and then become legitimate, by the subsequent marriage of his parents; whereby the main end of marriage, the protection of infants, is totally frustrated. 4. Because this rule of the Roman laws admits of no limitations as to the time, or number, of bastards so to be legitimated; but a dozen of them may, twenty years after their birth, by the subsequent marriage of their parents, be admitted to all the privileges of legitimate children. This is plainly a great discouragement to the matrimonial state; to which one main inducement is usually not only the desire of having children, but also the desire of procreating lawful heirs. Whereas our constitutions guard against this indecency, and at the same time give sufficient allowance to the frailties of human nature. For, if a child be begotten while the parents are single, and they will endeavour to make an early reparation for the offence, by marrying within a few months after, our law is so indulgent as not to bastardize the child, if it be born, though not begotten, in lawful wedlock: for this is an incident that can happen but once; since all future children will be begotten, as well as born, within the rules of honour and civil society. Upon reasons like these we may suppose the peers to have acted at the parliament of Merton, when they refused to enact that children born before marriage should be esteemed legitimate[k].

[Footnote i: Inst. 1. 10. 13. Decretal. l. 4. t. 17. c. 1.]

[Footnote k: Rogaverunt omnes episcopi magnates, ut consentirent quod nati ante matrimonium essent legitimi, sicut illi qui nati sunt post matrimonium, quia ecclesia tales habet pro legitimis. Et omnes comites et barones una voce responderunt, quod nolunt leges Angliae mutare, quae hucusque usitatae sunt et approbatae. Stat. 20 Hen. III. c. 9. See the introduction to the great charter, edit. Oxon. 1759. sub anno 1253.]

FROM what has been said it appears, that all children born before matrimony are bastards by our law; and so it is of all children born so long after the death of the husband, that, by the usual course of gestation, they could not be begotten by him. But, this being a matter of some uncertainty, the law is not exact as to a few days[l]. And this gives occasion to a proceeding at common law, where a widow is suspected to feign herself with child, in order to produce a supposititious heir to the estate: an attempt which the rigor of the Gothic constitutions esteemed equivalent to the most atrocious theft, and therefore punished with death[m]. In this case with us the heir presumptive may have a writ de ventre inspiciendo, to examine whether she be with child, or not[n]; which is entirely conformable to the practice of the civil law[o]: and, if the widow be upon due examination found not pregnant, any issue she may afterwards produce, though within nine months, will be bastard. But if a man dies, and his widow soon after marries again, and a child is born within such a time, as that by the course of nature it might have been the child of either husband; in this case he is said to be more than ordinarily legitimate; for he may, when he arrives to years of discretion, choose which of the fathers he pleases[p]. To prevent this, among other inconveniences, the civil law ordained that no widow should marry infra annum luctus[q]; a rule which obtained so early as the reign of Augustus[r], if not of Romulus: and the same constitution was probably handed down to our early ancestors from the Romans, during their stay in this island; for we find it established under the Saxon and Danish governments[s].

[Footnote l: Cro. Jac. 541.]

[Footnote m: Stiernhook de jure Gothor. l. 3. c. 5.]

[Footnote n: Co. Litt. 8.]

[Footnote o: Ff. 25. tit. 4. per tot.]

[Footnote p: Co. Litt. 8.]

[Footnote q: Cod. 5. 9. 2.]

[Footnote r: But the year was then only ten months. Ovid. Fast. I. 27.]

[Footnote s: Sit omnis vidua sine marito duodecim menses. LL. Ethelr. A.D. 1008. LL. Canut. c. 71.]

AS bastards may be born before the coverture, or marriage state, is begun, or after it is determined, so also children born during wedlock may in some circumstances be bastards. As if the husband be out of the kingdom of England (or, as the law somewhat loosely phrases it, extra quatuor maria) for above nine months, so that no access to his wife can be presumed, her issue during that period shall be bastard[t]. But, generally, during the coverture access of the husband shall be presumed, unless the contrary can be shewn[u]; which is such a negative as can only be proved by shewing him to be elsewhere: for the general rule is, praesumitur pro legitimatione[w]. In a divorce a mensa et thoro, if the wife breeds children, they are bastards; for the law will presume the husband and wife conformable to the sentence of separation, unless access be proved: but, in a voluntary separation by agreement, the law will suppose access, unless the negative be shewn[x]. So also if there is an apparent impossibility of procreation on the part of the husband, as if he be only eight years old, or the like, there the issue of the wife shall be bastard[y]. Likewise, in case of divorce in the spiritual court a vinculo matrimonii, all the issue born during the coverture are bastards[z]; because such divorce is always upon some cause, that rendered the marriage unlawful and null from the beginning.

[Footnote t: Co. Litt. 244.]

[Footnote u: Salk. 123. 3 P.W. 276. Stra. 925.]

[Footnote w: 5 Rep. 98.]

[Footnote x: Salk. 123.]

[Footnote y: Co. Litt. 244.]

[Footnote z: Ibid. 235.]

2. LET us next see the duty of parents to their bastard children, by our law; which is principally that of maintenance. For, though bastards are not looked upon as children to any civil purposes, yet the ties of nature, of which maintenance is one, are not so easily dissolved: and they hold indeed as to many other intentions; as, particularly, that a man shall not marry his bastard sister or daughter[a]. The civil law therefore, when it denied maintenance to bastards begotten under certain atrocious circumstances[b], was neither consonant to nature, nor reason, however profligate and wicked the parents might justly be esteemed.

[Footnote a: Lord Raym. 68. Comb. 356.]

[Footnote b: Nov. 89. c. 15.]

THE method in which the English law provides maintenance for them is as follows[c]. When a woman is delivered, or declares herself with child, of a bastard, and will by oath before a justice of peace charge any person having got her with child, the justice shall cause such person to be apprehended, and commit him till he gives security, either to maintain the child, or appear at the next quarter sessions to dispute and try the fact. But if the woman dies, or is married before delivery, or miscarries, or proves not to have been with child, the person shall be discharged: otherwise the sessions, or two justices out of sessions, upon original application to them, may take order for the keeping of the bastard, by charging the mother, or the reputed father with the payment of money or other sustentation for that purpose. And if such putative father, or lewd mother, run away from the parish, the overseers by direction of two justices may seize their rents, goods, and chattels, in order to bring up the said bastard child. Yet such is the humanity of our laws, that no woman can be compulsively questioned concerning the father of her child, till one month after her delivery: which indulgence is however very frequently a hardship upon parishes, by suffering the parents to escape.

[Footnote c: Stat. 18 Eliz. c. 3. 7 Jac. I. c. 4. 3 Car. I. c. 4. 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 12. 6 Geo. II. c. 31.]

3. I PROCEED next to the rights and incapacities which appertain to a bastard. The rights are very few, being only such as he can acquire; for he can inherit nothing, being looked upon as the son of nobody, and sometimes called filius nullius, sometimes filius populi[d]. Yet he may gain a sirname by reputation[e], though he has none by inheritance. All other children have a settlement in their father's parish; but a bastard in the parish where born, for he hath no father[f]. However, in case of fraud, as if a woman be sent either by order of justices, or comes to beg as a vagrant, to a parish which she does not belong to, and drops her bastard there; the bastard shall, in the first case, be settled in the parish from whence she was illegally removed[g]; or, in the latter case, in the mother's own parish, if the mother be apprehended for her vagrancy[h]. The incapacity of a bastard consists principally in this, that he cannot be heir to any one, neither can he have heirs, but of his own body; for, being nullius filius, he is therefore of kin to nobody, and has no ancestor from whom any inheritable blood can be derived. A bastard was also, in strictness, incapable of holy orders; and, though that were dispensed with, yet he was utterly disqualified from holding any dignity in the church[i]: but this doctrine seems now obsolete; and in all other respects, there is no distinction between a bastard and another man. And really any other distinction, but that of not inheriting, which civil policy renders necessary, would, with regard to the innocent offspring of his parents' crimes, be odious, unjust, and cruel to the last degree: and yet the civil law, so boasted of for it's equitable decisions, made bastards in some cases incapable even of a gift from their parents[k]. A bastard may, lastly, be made legitimate, and capable of inheriting, by the transcendent power of an act of parliament, and not otherwise[l]: as was done in the case of John of Gant's bastard children, by a statute of Richard the second.

[Footnote d: Fort. de LL. c. 40.]

[Footnote e: Co. Litt. 3.]

[Footnote f: Salk. 427.]

[Footnote g: Salk. 121.]

[Footnote h: Stat. 17 Geo. II. c. 5.]

[Footnote i: Fortesc. c. 40. 5 Rep. 58.]

[Footnote k: Cod. 6. 57. 5.]

[Footnote l: 4 Inst. 36.]



THE only general private relation, now remaining to be discussed, is that of guardian and ward; which bears a very near resemblance to the last, and is plainly derived out of it: the guardian being only a temporary parent; that is, for so long time as the ward is an infant, or under age. In examining this species of relationship, I shall first consider the different kinds of guardians, how they are appointed, and their power and duty: next, the different ages of persons, as defined by the law: and, lastly, the privileges and disabilities of an infant, or one under age and subject to guardianship.

1. THE guardian with us performs the office both of the tutor and curator of the Roman laws; the former of which had the charge of the maintenance and education of the minor, the latter the care of his fortune; or, according to the language of the court of chancery, the tutor was the committee of the person, the curator the committee of the estate. But this office was frequently united in the civil law[a]; as it is always in our law with regard to minors, though as to lunatics and idiots it is commonly kept distinct.

[Footnote a: Ff. 26. 4. 1.]

OF the several species of guardians, the first are guardians by nature: viz. the father and (in some cases) the mother of the child. For, if an estate be left to an infant, the father is by common law the guardian, and must account to his child for the profits[b]. And, with regard to daughters, it seems by construction of the statute 4 & 5 Ph. & Mar. c. 8. that the father might by deed or will assign a guardian to any woman-child under the age of sixteen, and if none be so assigned, the mother shall in this case be guardian[c]. There are also guardians for nurture[d], which are, of course, the father or mother, till the infant attains the age of fourteen years[e]: and, in default of father or mother, the ordinary usually assigns some discreet person to take care of the infant's personal estate, and to provide for his maintenance and education[f]. Next are guardians in socage, (an appellation which will be fully explained in the second book of these commentaries) who are also called guardians by the common law. These take place only when the minor is entitled to some estate in lands, and then by the common law the guardianship devolves upon his next of kin, to whom the inheritance cannot possibly descend; as, where the estate descended from his father, in this case his uncle by the mother's side cannot possibly inherit this estate, and therefore shall be the guardian[g]. For the law judges it improper to trust the person of an infant in his hands, who may by possibility become heir to him; that there may be no temptation, nor even suspicion of temptation, for him to abuse his trust[h]. The Roman laws proceed on a quite contrary principle, committing the care of the minor to him who is the next to succeed to the inheritance, presuming that the next heir would take the best care of an estate, to which he has a prospect of succeeding: and this they boast to be "summa providentia[i]." But in the mean time they forget, how much it is the guardian's interest to remove the incumbrance of his pupil's life from that estate, for which he is supposed to have so great a regard[k]. And this affords Fortescue[l], and sir Edward Coke[m], an ample opportunity for triumph; they affirming, that to commit the custody of an infant to him that is next in succession, is "quasi agnum committere lupo, ad devorandum[n]." These guardians in socage, like those for nurture, continue only till the minor is fourteen years of age; for then, in both cases, he is presumed to have discretion, so far as to choose his own guardian. This he may do, unless one be appointed by father, by virtue of the statute 12 Car. II. c. 24. which, considering the imbecillity of judgment in children of the age of fourteen, and the abolition of guardianship in chivalry (which lasted till the age of twenty one, and of which we shall speak hereafter) enacts, that any father, under age or of full age, may by deed or will dispose of the custody of his child, either born or unborn, to any person, except a popish recusant, either in possession or reversion, till such child attains the age of one and twenty years. These are called guardians by statute, or testamentary guardians. There are also special guardians by custom of London, and other places[o]; but they are particular exceptions, and do not fall under the general law.

[Footnote b: Co. Litt. 88.]

[Footnote c: 3 Rep. 39.]

[Footnote d: Co. Litt. 88.]

[Footnote e: Moor. 738. 3 Rep. 38.]

[Footnote f: 2 Jones 90. 2 Lev. 163.]

[Footnote g: Litt. Sec. 123.]

[Footnote h: Nunquam custodia alicujus de jure alicui remanet, de quo habeatur suspicio, quod possit vel velit aliquod jus in ipsa hereditate clamare. Glanv. l. 7. c. 11.]

[Footnote i: Ff. 26. 4. 1.]

[Footnote k: The Roman satyrist was fully aware of this danger, when he puts this private prayer into the mouth of a selfish guardian;

Pupillum o utinam, quem proximus haeres Impello, expungam. Perf. 1. 12.]

[Footnote l: c. 44.]

[Footnote m: 1 Inst. 88.]

[Footnote n: This policy of our English law is warranted by the wise institutions of Solon, who provided that no one should be another's guardian, who was to enjoy the estate after his death. (Potter's Antiqu. l. 1. c. 26.) And Charondas, another of the Grecian legislators, directed that the inheritance should go to the father's relations, but the education of the child to the mother's; that the guardianship and right of succession might always be kept distinct. (Petit. Leg. Att. l. 6. t. 7.)]

[Footnote o: Co. Litt. 88.]

THE power and reciprocal duty of a guardian and ward are the same, pro tempore, as that of a father and child; and therefore I shall not repeat them: but shall only add, that the guardian, when the ward comes of age, is bound to give him an account of all that he has transacted on his behalf, and must answer for all losses by his wilful default or negligence. In order therefore to prevent disagreeable contests with young gentlemen, it has become a practice for many guardians, of large estates especially, to indemnify themselves by applying to the court of chancery, acting under it's direction, and accounting annually before the officers of that court. For the lord chancellor is, by right derived from the crown, the general and supreme guardian of all infants, as well as idiots and lunatics; that is, of all such persons as have not discretion enough to manage their own concerns. In case therefore any guardian abuses his trust, the court will check and punish him; nay sometimes proceed to the removal of him, and appoint another in his stead[p].

[Footnote p: 1 Sid. 424. 1 P. Will. 703.]

2. LET us next consider the ward, or person within age, for whose assistance and support these guardians are constituted by law; or who it is, that is said to be within age. The ages of male and female are different for different purposes. A male at twelve years old may take the oath of allegiance; at fourteen is at years of discretion, and therefore may consent or disagree to marriage, may choose his guardian, and, if his discretion be actually proved, may make his testament of his personal estate; at seventeen may be an executor; and at twenty one is at his own disposal, and may aliene his lands, goods, and chattels. A female also at seven years of age may be betrothed or given in marriage; at nine is entitled to dower; at twelve is at years of maturity, and therefore may consent or disagree to marriage, and, if proved to have sufficient discretion, may bequeath her personal estate; at fourteen is at years of legal discretion, and may choose a guardian; at seventeen may be executrix; and at twenty one may dispose of herself and her lands. So that full age in male or female, is twenty one years, which age is completed on the day preceding the anniversary of a person's birth[q]; who till that time is an infant, and so stiled in law. Among the antient Greeks and Romans women were never of age, but subject to perpetual guardianship[r], unless when married, "nisi convenissent in manum viri:" and, when that perpetual tutelage wore away in process of time, we find that, in females as well as males, full age was not till twenty five years[s]. Thus, by the constitutions of different kingdoms, this period, which is merely arbitrary, and juris positivi, is fixed at different times. Scotland agrees with England in this point; (both probably copying from the old Saxon constitutions on the continent, which extended the age of minority "ad annum vigesimum primum, et eo usque juvenes sub tutelam reponunt[t]") but in Naples they are of full age at eighteen; in France, with regard to marriage, not till thirty; and in Holland at twenty five.

[Footnote q: Salk. 44. 625.]

[Footnote r: Pott. Antiq. l. 4. c. 11. Cic. pro Muren. 12.]

[Footnote s: Inst. 1. 23. 1.]

[Footnote t: Stiernhook de jure Sueonum. l. 2. c. 2. This is also the period when the king, as well as the subject, arrives at full age in modern Sweden. Mod. Un. Hist. xxxiii. 220.]

3. INFANTS have various privileges, and various disabilities: but their very disabilities are privileges; in order to secure them from hurting themselves by their own improvident acts. An infant cannot be sued but under the protection, and joining the name, of his guardian; for he is to defend him against all attacks as well by law as otherwise[u]: but he may sue either by his guardian, or prochein amy, his next friend who is not his guardian. This prochein amy may be any person who will undertake the infant's cause; and it frequently happens, that an infant, by his prochein amy, institutes a suit in equity against a fraudulent guardian. In criminal cases, an infant of the age of fourteen years may be capitally punished for any capital offence[w]: but under the age of seven he cannot. The period between seven and fourteen is subject to much incertainty: for the infant shall, generally speaking, be judged prima facie innocent; yet if he was doli capax, and could discern between good and evil at the time of the offence committed, he may be convicted and undergo judgment and execution of death, though he hath not attained to years of puberty or discretion[x]. And sir Matthew Hale gives us two instances, one of a girl of thirteen, who was burned for killing her mistress; another of a boy still younger, that had killed his companion, and hid himself, who was hanged; for it appeared by his hiding that he knew he had done wrong, and could discern between good and evil; and in such cases the maxim of law is, that malitia supplet aetatem.

[Footnote u: Co. Litt. 135.]

[Footnote w: 1 Hal. P.C. 25.]

[Footnote x: 1 Hal. P.C. 26.]

WITH regard to estates and civil property, an infant hath many privileges, which will be better understood when we come to treat more particularly of those matters: but this may be said in general, that an infant shall lose nothing by non-claim, or neglect of demanding his right; nor shall any other laches or negligence be imputed to an infant, except in some very particular cases.

IT is generally true, that an infant can neither aliene his lands, nor do any legal act, nor make a deed, nor indeed any manner of contract, that will bind him. But still to all these rules there are some exceptions; part of which were just now mentioned in reckoning up the different capacities which they assume at different ages: and there are others, a few of which it may not be improper to recite, as a general specimen of the whole. And, first, it is true, that infants cannot aliene their estates: but[y] infant trustees, or mortgagees, are enabled to convey, under the direction of the court of chancery or exchequer, the estates they hold in trust or mortgage, to such person as the court shall appoint. Also it is generally true, that an infant can do no legal act: yet an infant who has an advowson, may present to the benefice when it becomes void[z]. For the law in this case dispenses with one rule, in order to maintain others of far greater consequence: it permits an infant to present a clerk (who, if unfit, may be rejected by the bishop) rather than either suffer the church to be unserved till he comes of age, or permit the infant to be debarred of his right by lapse to the bishop. An infant may also purchase lands, but his purchase is incomplete: for, when he comes to age, he may either agree or disagree to it, as he thinks prudent or proper, without alleging any reason; and so may his heirs after him, if he dies without having completed his agreement[a]. It is, farther, generally true, that an infant, under twenty one, can make no deed that is of any force or effect: yet[b] he may bind himself apprentice by deed indented, or indentures, for seven years; and[c] he may by deed or will appoint a guardian to his children, if he has any. Lastly, it is generally true, that an infant can make no other contract that will bind him: yet he may bind himself to pay for his necessary meat, drink, apparel, physic, and such other necessaries; and likewise for his good teaching and instruction, whereby he may profit himself afterwards[d]. And thus much, at present, for the privileges and disabilities of infants.

[Footnote y: Stat. 7 Ann. c. 19.]

[Footnote z: Co. Litt. 172.]

[Footnote a: Co. Litt. 2.]

[Footnote b: Stat. 5 Eliz. c. 4.]

[Footnote c: Stat. 12 Car. II. c. 24.]

[Footnote d: Co. Litt. 172.]



WE have hitherto considered persons in their natural capacities, and have treated of their rights and duties. But, as all personal rights die with the person; and, as the necessary forms of investing a series of individuals, one after another, with the same identical rights, would be very inconvenient, if not impracticable; it has been found necessary, when it is for the advantage of the public to have any particular rights kept on foot and continued, to constitute artificial persons, who may maintain a perpetual succession, and enjoy a kind of legal immortality.

THESE artificial persons are called bodies politic, bodies corporate, (corpora corporata) or corporations: of which there is a great variety subsisting, for the advancement of religion, of learning, and of commerce; in order to preserve entire and for ever those rights and immunities, which, if they were granted only to those individuals of which the body corporate is composed, would upon their death be utterly lost and extinct. To shew the advantages of these incorporations, let us consider the case of a college in either of our universities, founded ad studendum et orandum, for the encouragement and support of religion and learning. If this was a mere voluntary assembly, the individuals which compose it might indeed read, pray, study, and perform scholastic exercises together, so long as they could agree to do so: but they could neither frame, nor receive, any laws or rules of their conduct; none at least, which would have any binding force, for want of a coercive power to create a sufficient obligation. Neither could they be capable of retaining any privileges or immunities: for, if such privileges be attacked, which of all this unconnected assembly has the right, or ability, to defend them? And, when they are dispersed by death or otherwise, how shall they transfer these advantages to another set of students, equally unconnected as themselves? So also, with regard to holding estates or other property, if land be granted for the purposes of religion or learning to twenty individuals not incorporated, there is no legal way of continuing the property to any other persons for the same purposes, but by endless conveyances from one to the other, as often as the hands are changed. But, when they are consolidated and united into a corporation, they and their successors are then considered as one person in law: as one person, they have one will, which is collected from the sense of the majority of the individuals: this one will may establish rules and orders for the regulation of the whole, which are a sort of municipal laws of this little republic; or rules and statutes may be prescribed to it at it's creation, which are then in the place of natural laws: the privileges and immunities, the estates and possessions, of the corporation, when once vested in them, will be for ever vested, without any new conveyance to new successions; for all the individual members that have existed from the foundation to the present time, or that shall ever hereafter exist, are but one person in law, a person that never dies: in like manner as the river Thames is still the same river, though the parts which compose it are changing every instant.

THE honour of originally inventing these political constitutions entirely belongs to the Romans. They were introduced, as Plutarch says, by Numa; who finding, upon his accession, the city torn to pieces by the two rival factions of Sabines, and Romans, thought it a prudent and politic measure, to subdivide these two into many smaller ones, by instituting separate societies of every manual trade and profession. They were afterwards much considered by the civil law[a], in which they were called universitates, as forming one whole out of many individuals; or collegia, from being gathered together: they were adopted also by the canon law, for the maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline; and from them our spiritual corporations are derived. But our laws have considerably refined and improved upon the invention, according to the usual genius of the English nation: particularly with regard to sole corporations, consisting of one person only, of which the Roman lawyers had no notion; their maxim being that "tres faciunt collegium[b]." Though they held, that if a corporation, originally consisting of three persons, be reduced to one, "si universitas ad unum redit," it may still subsist as a corporation, "et stet nomen universitatis[c]."

[Footnote a: Ff. l. 3. t. 4. per tot.]

[Footnote b: Ff. 50. 16. 85.]

[Footnote c: Ff. 3. 4. 7.]

BEFORE we proceed to treat of the several incidents of corporations, as regarded by the laws of England, let us first take a view of the several sorts of them; and then we shall be better enabled to apprehend their respective qualities.

THE first division of corporations is into aggregate and sole. Corporations aggregate consist of many persons united together into one society, and are kept up by a perpetual succession of members, so as to continue for ever: of which kind are the mayor and commonalty of a city, the head and fellows of a college, the dean and chapter of a cathedral church. Corporations sole consist of one person only and his successors, in some particular station, who are incorporated by law, in order to give them some legal capacities and advantages, particularly that of perpetuity, which in their natural persons they could not have had. In this sense the king is a sole corporation[d]: so is a bishop: so are some deans, and prebendaries, distinct from their several chapters: and so is every parson and vicar. And the necessity, or at least use, of this institution will be very apparent, if we consider the case of a parson of a church. At the original endowment of parish churches, the freehold of the church, the church-yard, the parsonage house, the glebe, and the tithes of the parish, were vested in the then parson by the bounty of the donor, as a temporal recompence to him for his spiritual care of the inhabitants, and with intent that the same emoluments should ever afterwards continue as a recompense for the same care. But how was this to be effected? The freehold was vested in the parson; and, if we suppose it vested in his natural capacity, on his death it might descend to his heir, and would be liable to his debts and incumbrances: or, at best, the heir might be compellable, at some trouble and expense, to convey these rights to the succeeding incumbent. The law therefore has wisely ordained, that the parson, quatenus parson, shall never die, any more than the king; by making him and his successors a corporation. By which means all the original rights of the parsonage are preserved entire to the successor: for the present incumbent, and his predecessor who lived seven centuries ago, are in law one and the same person; and what was given to the one was given to the other also.

[Footnote d: Co. Litt. 43.]

ANOTHER division of corporations, either sole or aggregate, is into ecclesiastical and lay. Ecclesiastical corporations are where the members that compose it are entirely spiritual persons; such as bishops; certain deans, and prebendaries; all archdeacons, parsons, and vicars; which are sole corporations: deans and chapters at present, and formerly prior and convent, abbot and monks, and the like, bodies aggregate. These are erected for the furtherance of religion, and the perpetuating the rights of the church. Lay corporations are of two sorts, civil and eleemosynary. The civil are such as are erected for a variety of temporal purposes. The king, for instance, is made a corporation to prevent in general the possibility of an interregnum or vacancy of the throne, and to preserve the possessions of the crown entire; for, immediately upon the demise of one king, his successor is, as we have formerly seen, in full possession of the regal rights and dignity. Other lay corporations are erected for the good government of a town or particular district, as a mayor and commonalty, bailiff and burgesses, or the like: some for the advancement and regulation of manufactures and commerce; as the trading companies of London, and other towns: and some for the better carrying on of divers special purposes; as churchwardens, for conservation of the goods of the parish; the college of physicians and company of surgeons in London, for the improvement of the medical science; the royal society, for the advancement of natural knowlege; and the society of antiquarians, for promoting the study of antiquities. And among these I am inclined to think the general corporate bodies of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge must be ranked: for it is clear they are not spiritual or ecclesiastical corporations, being composed of more laymen than clergy: neither are they eleemosynary foundations, though stipends are annexed to particular magistrates and professors, any more than other corporations where the acting officers have standing salaries; for these are rewards pro opera et labore, not charitable donations only, since every stipend is preceded by service and duty: they seem therefore to be merely civil corporations. The eleemosynary sort are such as are constituted for the perpetual distribution of the free alms, or bounty, of the founder of them to such persons as he has directed. Of this kind are all hospitals for the maintenance of the poor, sick, and impotent; and all colleges, both in our universities and out[e] of them: which colleges are founded for two purposes; 1. For the promotion of piety and learning by proper regulations and ordinances. 2. For imparting assistance to the members of those bodies, in order to enable them to prosecute their devotion and studies with greater ease and assiduity. And all these eleemosynary corporations are, strictly speaking, lay and not ecclesiastical, even though composed of ecclesiastical persons[f], and although they in some things partake of the nature, privileges, and restrictions of ecclesiastical bodies.

[Footnote e: Such as at Manchester, Eton, Winchester, &c.]

[Footnote f: 1 Lord Raym. 6.]

HAVING thus marshalled the several species of corporations, let us next proceed to consider, 1. How corporations, in general, may be created. 2. What are their powers, capacities, and incapacities. 3. How corporations are visited. And 4. How they may be dissolved.

I. CORPORATIONS, by the civil law, seem to have been created by the mere act, and voluntary association of their members; provided such convention was not contrary to law, for then it was illicitum collegium[g]. It does not appear that the prince's consent was necessary to be actually given to the foundation of them; but merely that the original founders of these voluntary and friendly societies (for they were little more than such) should not establish any meetings in opposition to the laws of the state.

[Footnote g: Ff. 47. 22. 1. Neque societas, neque collegium, neque hujusmodi corpus passim omnibus habere conceditur; nam et legibus, et senatus consultis, et principalibus constitutionibus ea res coercetur. Ff. 3. 4. 1.]

BUT, with us in England, the king's consent is absolutely necessary to the erection of any corporation, either impliedly or expressly given. The king's implied consent is to be found in corporations which exist by force of the common law, to which our former kings are supposed to have given their concurrence; common law being nothing else but custom, arising from the universal agreement of the whole community. Of this sort are the king himself, all bishops, parsons, vicars, churchwardens, and some others; who by common law have ever been held (as far as our books can shew us) to have been corporations, virtute officii: and this incorporation is so inseparably annexed to their offices, that we cannot frame a complete legal idea of any of these persons, but we must also have an idea of a corporation, capable to transmit his rights to his successors, at the same time. Another method of implication, whereby the king's consent is presumed, is as to all corporations by prescription, such as the city of London, and many others[h], which have existed as corporations, time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary; and therefore are looked upon in law to be well created. For though the members thereof can shew no legal charter of incorporation, yet in cases of such high antiquity the law presumes there once was one; and that by the variety of accidents, which a length of time may produce, the charter is lost or destroyed. The methods, by which the king's consent is expressly given, are either by act of parliament or charter. By act of parliament, of which the royal assent is a necessary ingredient, corporations may undoubtedly be created[i]: but it is observable, that most of those statutes, which are usually cited as having created corporations, do either confirm such as have been before created by the king; as in the case of the college of physicians, erected by charter 10 Hen. VIII[k], which charter was afterwards confirmed in parliament[l]; or, they permit the king to erect a corporation in futuro with such and such powers; as is the case of the bank of England[m], and the society of the British fishery[n]. So that the immediate creative act is usually performed by the king alone, in virtue of his royal prerogative[o].

[Footnote h: 2 Inst. 330.]

[Footnote i: 10 Rep. 29. 1 Roll. Abr. 512. [Transcriber's Note: footnote marker missing in original.]]

[Footnote k: 8 Rep. 114.]

[Footnote l: 14 & 15 Hen. VIII. c. 5.]

[Footnote m: Stat. 5 & 6 W. & M. c. 20.]

[Footnote n: Stat. 23 Geo. II. c. 4.]

[Footnote o: See page 263.]

ALL the other methods therefore whereby corporations exist, by common law, by prescription, and by act of parliament, are for the most part reducible to this of the king's letters patent, or charter of incorporation. The king's creation may be performed by the words "creamus, erigimus, fundamus, incorporamus," or the like. Nay it is held, that if the king grants to a set of men to have gildam mercatoriam, a mercantile meeting or assembly[p], this is alone sufficient to incorporate and establish them for ever[q].

[Footnote p: Gild signified among the Saxons a fraternity, derived from the verb [Anglo-Saxon: gildan] to pay, because every man paid his share towards the expenses of the community. And hence their place of meeting is frequently called the Gild-hall.]

[Footnote q: 10 Rep. 30. 1 Roll. Abr. 513.]

THE parliament, we observed, by it's absolute and transcendent authority, may perform this, or any other act whatsoever: and actually did perform it to a great extent, by statute 39 Eliz. c. 5. which incorporated all hospitals and houses of correction founded by charitable persons, without farther trouble: and the same has been done in other cases of charitable foundations. But otherwise it is not usual thus to intrench upon the prerogative of the crown, and the king may prevent it when he pleases. And, in the particular instance before-mentioned, it was done, as sir Edward Coke observes[r], to avoid the charges of incorporation and licences of mortmain in small benefactions; which in his days were grown so great, that it discouraged many men to undertake these pious and charitable works.

[Footnote r: 2 Inst. 722.]

THE king may grant to a subject the power of erecting corporations[s], though the contrary was formerly held[t]: that is, he may permit the subject to name the persons and powers of the corporation at his pleasure; but it is really the king that erects, and the subject is but the instrument: for though none but the king can make a corporation, yet qui facit per alium, facit per se[v]. In this manner the chancellor of the university of Oxford has power by charter to erect corporations; and has actually often exerted it, in the erection of several matriculated companies, now subsisting, of tradesmen subservient to the students.

[Footnote s: Bro. Abr. tit. Prerog. 53. Viner. Prerog. 88. pl. 16.]

[Footnote t: Yearbook, 2 Hen. VII. 13.]

[Footnote v: 10 Rep. 33.]

WHEN a corporation is erected, a name must be given it; and by that name alone it must sue, and be sued, and do all legal acts; though a very minute variation therein is not material[u]. Such name is the very being of it's constitution; and, though it is the will of the king that erects the corporation, yet the name is the knot of it's combination, without which it could not perform it's corporate functions[w]. The name of incorporation, says sir Edward Coke, is as a proper name, or name of baptism; and therefore when a private founder gives his college or hospital a name, he does it only as godfather; and by that same name the king baptizes the incorporation[x].

[Footnote u: 10 Rep. 122. [Transcriber's Note: Footnotes v and u are in this order in the original.]]

[Footnote w: Gilb. Hist. C.P. 182.]

[Footnote x: 10 Rep. 28.]

II. AFTER a corporation is so formed and named, it acquires many powers, rights, capacities, and incapacities, which we are next to consider. Some of these are necessarily and inseparably incident to every corporation; which incidents, as soon as a corporation is duly erected, are tacitly annexed of course[y]. As, 1. To have perpetual succession. This is the very end of it's incorporation: for there cannot be a succession for ever without an incorporation[z]; and therefore all aggregate corporations have a power necessarily implied of electing members in the room of such as go off[a]. 2. To sue or be sued, implead or be impleaded, grant or receive, by it's corporate name, and do all other acts as natural persons may. 3. To purchase lands, and hold them, for the benefit of themselves and their successors: which two are consequential to the former. 4. To have a common seal. For a corporation, being an invisible body, cannot manifest it's intentions by any personal act or oral discourse: it therefore acts and speaks only by it's common seal. For, though the particular members may express their private consents to any act, by words, or signing their names, yet this does not bind the corporation: it is the fixing of the seal, and that only, which unites the several assents of the individuals, who compose the community, and makes one joint assent of the whole[b]. 5. To make by-laws or private statutes for the better government of the corporation; which are binding upon themselves, unless contrary to the laws of the land, and then they are void. This is also included by law in the very act of incorporation[c]: for, as natural reason is given to the natural body for the governing it, so by-laws or statutes are a sort of political reason to govern the body politic. And this right of making by-laws for their own government, not contrary to the law of the land, was allowed by the law of the twelve tables at Rome[d]. But no trading company is, with us, allowed to make by-laws, which may affect the king's prerogative, or the common profit of the people, unless they be approved by the chancellor, treasurer, and chief justices, or the judges of assise in their circuits[e]. These five powers are inseparably incident to every corporation, at least to every corporation aggregate: for two of them, though they may be practised, yet are very unnecessary to a corporation sole; viz. to have a corporate seal to testify his sole assent, and to make statutes for the regulation of his own conduct.

[Footnote y: 10 Rep. 30. Hob. 211.]

[Footnote z: 10 Rep. 26.]

[Footnote a: 1 Roll. Abr. 514.]

[Footnote b: Dav. 44. 48.]

[Footnote c: Hob. 211.]

[Footnote d: Sodales legem quam volent, dum ne quid ex publica lege corrumpant, sibi ferunto.]

[Footnote e: Stat. 19 Hen. VII. c. 7.]

THERE are also certain privileges and disabilities that attend an aggregate corporation, and are not applicable to such as are sole; the reason of them ceasing, and of course the law. It must always appear by attorney; for it cannot appear in person, being, as sir Edward Coke says[f], invisible, and existing only in intendment and consideration of law. It can neither maintain, or be made defendant to, an action of battery or such like personal injuries; for a corporation can neither beat, nor be beaten, in it's body politic[g]. A corporation cannot commit treason, or felony, or other crime, in it's corporate capacity[h]: though it's members may, in their distinct individual capacities. Neither is it capable of suffering a traitor's, or felon's punishment, for it is not liable to corporal penalties, nor to attainder, forfeiture, or corruption of blood[i]. It cannot be executor or administrator, or perform any personal duties; for it cannot take an oath for the due execution of the office. It cannot be a trustee; for such kind of confidence is foreign to the ends of it's institution: neither can it be compelled to perform such trust, because it cannot be committed to prison[k]; for it's existence being ideal, no man can apprehend or arrest it. And therefore also it cannot be outlawed; for outlawry always supposes a precedent right of arresting, which has been defeated by the parties absconding, and that also a corporation cannot do: for which reasons the proceedings to compel a corporation to appear to any suit by attorney are always by distress on their lands and goods[l]. Neither can a corporation be excommunicated; for it has no soul, as is gravely observed by sir Edward Coke[m]: and therefore also it is not liable to be summoned into the ecclesiastical courts upon any account; for those courts act only pro salute animae, and their sentences can only be inforced by spiritual censures: a consideration, which, carried to it's full extent, would alone demonstrate the impropriety of these courts interfering in any temporal rights whatsoever.

[Footnote f: 10 Rep. 32.]

[Footnote g: Bro. Abr. tit. Corporation. 63.]

[Footnote h: 10 Rep. 32.]

[Footnote i: The civil law also ordains that, in any misbehaviour of a body corporate, the directors only shall be answerable in their personal capacity, and not the corporation. Ff. 4. 3. 15.]

[Footnote k: Plowd. 538.]

[Footnote l: Bro. Abr. tit. Corporation. 11. Outlawry. 72.]

[Footnote m: 10 Rep. 32.]

THERE are also other incidents and powers, which belong to some sort of corporations, and not to others. An aggregate corporation may take goods and chattels for the benefit of themselves and their successors, but a sole corporation cannot[n]: for such moveable property is liable to be lost or imbezzled, and would raise a multitude of disputes between the successor and executor; which the law is careful to avoid. In ecclesiastical and eleemosynary foundations, the king or the founder may give them rules, laws, statutes, and ordinances, which they are bound to observe: but corporations merely lay, constituted for civil purposes, are subject to no particular statutes; but to the common law, and to their own by-laws, not contrary to the laws of the realm[o]. Aggregate corporations also, that have by their constitution a head, as a dean, warden, master, or the like, cannot do any acts during the vacancy of the headship, except only appointing another: neither are they then capable of receiving a grant; for such corporation is incomplete without a head[p]. But there may be a corporation aggregate constituted without a head[q]: as the collegiate church of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, which consists only of prebendaries; and the governors of the Charter-house, London, who have no president or superior, but are all of equal authority. In aggregate corporations also, the act of the major part is esteemed the act of the whole[r]. By the civil law this major part must have consisted of two thirds of the whole; else no act could be performed[s]: which perhaps may be one reason why they required three at least to make a corporation. But, with us, any majority is sufficient to determine the act of the whole body. And whereas, notwithstanding the law stood thus, some founders of corporations had made statutes in derogation of the common law, making very frequently the unanimous assent of the society to be necessary to any corporate act; (which king Henry VIII found to be a great obstruction to his projected scheme of obtaining a surrender of the lands of ecclesiastical corporations) it was therefore enacted by statute 33 Hen. VIII. c. 27. that all private statutes shall be utterly void, whereby any grant or election, made by the head, with the concurrence of the major part of the body, is liable to be obstructed by any one or more, being the minority: but this statute extends not to any negative or necessary voice, given by the founder to the head of any such society.

[Footnote n: Co. Litt. 46.]

[Footnote o: Lord Raym. 8.]

[Footnote p: Co. Litt. 263, 264.]

[Footnote q: 10 Rep. 30.]

[Footnote r: Bro. Abr. tit. Corporation. 31, 34.]

[Footnote s: Ff. 3. 4. 3.]

WE before observed that it was incident to every corporation, to have a capacity to purchase lands for themselves and successors: and this is regularly true at the common law[t]. But they are excepted out of the statute of wills[u]; so that no devise of lands to a corporation by will is good: except for charitable uses, by statute 43 Eliz. c. 4[w]. And also, by a great variety of statutes[x], their privilege even of purchasing from any living grantor is greatly abridged; so that now a corporation, either ecclesiastical or lay, must have a licence from the king to purchase[y], before they can exert that capacity which is vested in them by the common law: nor is even this in all cases sufficient. These statutes are generally called the statutes of mortmain; all purchases made by corporate bodies being said to be purchases in mortmain, in mortua manu: for the reason of which appellation sir Edward Coke[z] offers many conjectures; but there is one which seems more probable than any that he has given us: viz. that these purchases being usually made by ecclesiastical bodies, the members of which (being professed) were reckoned dead persons in law, land therefore, holden by them, might with great propriety be said to be held in mortua manu.

[Footnote t: 10 Rep. 30.]

[Footnote u: 34 Hen. VIII. c. 5.]

[Footnote w: Hob. 136.]

[Footnote x: From magna carta, 9 Hen. III. c. 36. to 9 Geo. II. c. 36.]

[Footnote y: By the civil law a corporation was incapable of taking lands, unless by special privilege from the emperor: collegium, si nullo speciali privilegio subnixum fit, haereditatem capere non posse, dubium non est. Cod. 6. 24. 8.]

[Footnote z: 1 Inst. 2.]

I SHALL defer the more particular exposition of these statutes of mortmain, till the next book of these commentaries, when we shall consider the nature and tenures of estates; and also the exposition of those disabling statutes of queen Elizabeth, which restrain spiritual and eleemosynary corporations from aliening such lands as they are present in legal possession of: only mentioning them in this place, for the sake of regularity, as statutable incapacities incident and relative to corporations.

THE general duties of all bodies politic, considered in their corporate capacity, may, like those of natural persons, be reduced to this single one; that of acting up to the end or design, whatever it be, for which they were created by their founder.

III. I PROCEED therefore next to enquire, how these corporations may be visited. For corporations being composed of individuals, subject to human frailties, are liable, as well as private persons, to deviate from the end of their institution. And for that reason the law has provided proper persons to visit, enquire into, and correct all irregularities that arise in such corporations, either sole or aggregate, and whether ecclesiastical, civil, or eleemosynary. With regard to all ecclesiastical corporations, the ordinary is their visitor, so constituted by the canon law, and from thence derived to us. The pope formerly, and now the king, as supreme ordinary, is the visitor of the arch-bishop or metropolitan; the metropolitan has the charge and coercion of all his suffragan bishops; and the bishops in their several dioceses are the visitors of all deans and chapters, of all parsons and vicars, and of all other spiritual corporations. With respect to all lay corporations, the founder, his heirs, or assigns, are the visitors, whether the foundation be civil or eleemosynary; for in a lay incorporation the ordinary neither can nor ought to visit[a].

[Footnote a: 10 Rep. 31.]

I KNOW it is generally said, that civil corporations are subject to no visitation, but merely to the common law of the land; and this shall be presently explained. But first, as I have laid it down as a rule that the founder, his heirs, or assigns, are the visitors of all lay-corporations, let us enquire what is meant by the founder. The founder of all corporations in the strictest and original sense is the king alone, for he only can incorporate a society: and in civil incorporations, such as mayor and commonalty, &c, where there are no possessions or endowments given to the body, there is no other founder but the king: but in eleemosynary foundations, such as colleges and hospitals, where there is an endowment of lands, the law distinguishes, and makes two species of foundation; the one fundatio incipiens, or the incorporation, in which sense the king is the general founder of all colleges and hospitals; the other fundatio perficiens, or the dotation of it, in which sense the first gift of the revenues is the foundation, and he who gives them is in law the founder: and it is in this last sense that we generally call a man the founder of a college or hospital[b]. But here the king has his prerogative: for, if the king and a private man join in endowing an eleemosynary foundation, the king alone shall be the founder of it. And, in general, the king being the sole founder of all civil corporations, and the endower the perficient founder of all eleemosynary ones, the right of visitation of the former results, according to the rule laid down, to the king; and of the latter, to the patron or endower.

[Footnote b: 10 Rep. 33.]

THE king being thus constituted by law the visitor of all civil corporations, the law has also appointed the place, wherein he shall exercise this jurisdiction: which is the court of king's bench; where, and where only, all misbehaviours of this kind of corporations are enquired into and redressed, and all their controversies decided. And this is what I understand to be the meaning of our lawyers, when they say that these civil corporations are liable to no visitation; that is, that the law having by immemorial usage appointed them to be visited and inspected by the king their founder, in his majesty's court of king's bench, according to the rules of the common law, they ought not to be visited elsewhere, or by any other authority. And this is so strictly true, that though the king by his letters patent had subjected the college of physicians to the visitation of four very respectable persons, the lord chancellor, the two chief justices, and the chief baron; though the college had accepted this charter with all possible marks of acquiescence, and had acted under it for near a century; yet, in 1753, the authority of this provision coming in dispute, on an appeal preferred to these supposed visitors, they directed the legality of their own appointment to be argued: and, as this college was a mere civil, and not an eleemosynary foundation, they at length determined, upon several days solemn debate, that they had no jurisdiction as visitors; and remitted the appellant (if aggrieved) to his regular remedy in his majesty's court of king's bench.

AS to eleemosynary corporations, by the dotation the founder and his heirs are of common right the legal visitors, to see that that property is rightly employed, which would otherwise have descended to the visitor himself: but, if the founder has appointed and assigned any other person to be visitor, then his assignee so appointed is invested with all the founder's power, in exclusion of his heir. Eleemosynary corporations are chiefly hospitals, or colleges in the university. These were all of them considered by the popish clergy, as of mere ecclesiastical jurisdiction: however, the law of the land judged otherwise; and, with regard to hospitals, it has long been held[c], that if the hospital be spiritual, the bishop shall visit; but if lay, the patron. This right of lay patrons was indeed abridged by statute 2 Hen. V. c. 1. which ordained, that the ordinary should visit all hospitals founded by subjects; though the king's right was reserved, to visit by his commissioners such as were of royal foundation. But the subject's right was in part restored by statute 14 Eliz. c. 5. which directs the bishop to visit such hospitals only, where no visitor is appointed by the founders thereof: and all the hospitals founded by virtue of the statute 39 Eliz. c. 5. are to be visited by such persons as shall be nominated by the respective founders. But still, if the founder appoints nobody, the bishop of the diocese must visit[d].

[Footnote c: Yearbook, 8 Edw. III. 28. 8 Aff. 29.]

[Footnote d: 2 Inst. 725.]

COLLEGES in the universities (whatever the common law may now, or might formerly, judge) were certainly considered by the popish clergy, under whose direction they were, as ecclesiastical, or at least as clerical, corporations; and therefore the right of visitation was claimed by the ordinary of the diocese. This is evident, because in many of our most ancient colleges, where the founder had a mind to subject them to a visitor of his own nomination, he obtained for that purpose a papal bulle to exempt them from the jurisdiction of the ordinary; several of which are still preserved in the archives of the respective societies. And I have reason to believe, that in one of our colleges, (wherein the bishop of that diocese, in which Oxford was formerly comprized, has immemorially exercised visitatorial authority) there is no special visitor appointed by the college statutes: so that the bishop's interposition can be ascribed to nothing else, but his supposed title as ordinary to visit this, among other ecclesiastical foundations. And it is not impossible, that the number of colleges in Cambridge, which are visited by the bishop of Ely, may in part be derived from the same original.

BUT, whatever might be formerly the opinion of the clergy, it is now held as established common law, that colleges are lay-corporations, though sometimes totally composed of ecclesiastical persons; and that the right of visitation does not arise from any principles of the canon law, but of necessity was created by the common law[e]. And yet the power and jurisdiction of visitors in colleges was left so much in the dark at common law, that the whole doctrine was very unsettled till king William's time; in the sixth year of whose reign, the famous case of Philips and Bury happened[f]. In this the main question was, whether the sentence of the bishop of Exeter, who (as visitor) had deprived doctor Bury the rector of Exeter college, could be examined and redressed by the court of king's bench. And the three puisne judges were of opinion, that it might be reviewed, for that the visitor's jurisdiction could not exclude the common law; and accordingly judgment was given in that court. But the lord chief justice, Holt, was of a contrary opinion; and held, that by the common law the office of visitor is to judge according to the statutes of the college, and to expel and deprive upon just occasions, and to hear all appeals of course; and that from him, and him only, the party grieved ought to have redress; the founder having reposed in him so entire a confidence, that he will administer justice impartially, that his determinations are final, and examinable in no other court whatsoever. And, upon this, a writ of error being brought in the house of lords, they reversed the judgment of the court of king's bench, and concurred in sir John Holt's opinion. And to this leading case all subsequent determinations have been conformable. But, where the visitor is under a temporary disability, there the court of king's bench will interpose, to prevent a defect of justice. Thus the bishop of Chester is visitor of Manchester college: but, happening also to be warden, the court held that his power was suspended during the union of those offices; and therefore issued a peremptory mandamus to him, as warden, to admit a person intitled to a chaplainship[g]. Also it is said[h], that if a founder of an eleemosynary foundation appoints a visitor, and limits his jurisdiction by rules and statutes, if the visitor in his sentence exceeds those rules, an action lies against him; but it is otherwise, where he mistakes in a thing within his power.

[Footnote e: Lord Raym. 8.]

[Footnote f: Lord Raym. 5. 4 Mod. 106. Shower. 35. Skinn. 407. Salk. 403. Carthew. 180.]

[Footnote g: Stra. 797.]

[Footnote h: 2 Lutw. 1566.]

IV. WE come now, in the last place, to consider how corporations may be dissolved. Any particular member may be disfranchised, or lose his place in the corporation, by acting contrary to the laws of the society, or the laws of the land; or he may resign it by his own voluntary act[i]. But the body politic may also itself be dissolved in several ways; which dissolution is the civil death of the corporation: and in this case their lands and tenements shall revert to the person, or his heirs, who granted them to the corporation; for the law doth annex a condition to every such grant, that if the corporation be dissolved, the grantor shall have the lands again, because the cause of the grant faileth[k]. The grant is indeed only during the life of the corporation; which may endure for ever: but, when that life is determined by the dissolution of the body politic, the grantor takes it back by reversion, as in the case of every other grant for life. And hence it appears how injurious, as well to private as public rights, those statutes were, which vested in king Henry VIII, instead of the heirs of the founder, the lands of the dissolved monasteries. The debts of a corporation, either to or from it, are totally extinguished by it's dissolution; so that the members thereof cannot recover, or be charged with them, in their natural capacities[l]: agreeable to that maxim of the civil law[m], "si quid universitati debetur, singulis non debetur; nec, quod debet universitas, singuli debent."

[Footnote i: 11 Rep. 98.]

[Footnote k: Co. Litt. 13.]

[Footnote l: 1 Lev. 237.]

[Footnote m: Ff. 3. 4. 7.]

A CORPORATION may be dissolved, 1. By act of parliament, which is boundless in it's operations; 2. By the natural death of all it's members, in case of an aggregate corporation; 3. By surrender of it's franchises into the hands of the king, which is a kind of suicide; 4. By forfeiture of it's charter, through negligence or abuse of it's franchises; in which case the law judges that the body politic has broken the condition upon which it was incorporated, and thereupon the incorporation is void. And the regular course is to bring a writ of quo warranto, to enquire by what warrant the members now exercise their corporate power, having forfeited it by such and such proceedings. The exertion of this act of law, for the purposes of the state, in the reigns of king Charles and king James the second, particularly by seising the charter of the city of London, gave great and just offence; though perhaps, in strictness of law, the proceedings were sufficiently regular: but now[n] it is enacted, that the charter of the city of London shall never more be forfeited for any cause whatsoever. And, because by the common law corporations were dissolved, in case the mayor or head officer was not duly elected on the day appointed in the charter or established by prescription, it is now provided[o], that for the future no corporation shall be dissolved upon that account; and ample directions are given for appointing a new officer, in case there be no election, or a void one, made upon the charter or prescriptive day.

[Footnote n: Stat. 2 W. & M. c. 8.]

[Footnote o: Stat. 11 Geo. I. c. 4.]


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