Understanding Jersey contracts
From a Jersey Archive leaflet
Jersey recognises two kinds of property, movable and immovable. Movable property includes money, shares, household goods and leases of land for a term of fewer than nine years. Immovable property concerns long-term leases of land, sale of land and sale of rentes that are chargeable on that land. Immovable property was transferred by contracts passed before the Royal Court.
Contracts can be useful when researching family, house and legal history. Contracts have always followed the same format and can be identified by searching for certain key phrases. This article is designed to help the user identify the nature of a contract and to understand the details it contains.
Sir Walter Raleigh instituted registration of documents at the Public Registry in 1602. From this date all contracts of immovable property should, by law, be recorded in the registers of the public registry. Some 17th-century contracts were not registered. Partages, which concern the division of land between heirs, were included in the registers, by law, from 1840 onwards. However partages before this date can be found in the registers. Wills concerning land and property were registered from 1851 onwards.
Rentes figure in most contracts. They constitute an annual payment charged on the land. Land could be leased for rentes and rentes themselves could be sold. Property was rarely sold outright until the19th century; before this date it was generally leased in perpetuity for an annual payment of rente. Rentes usually consist of wheat but can be as varied as wax, chickens, eggs and money.
Identification of contracts
The general layout of a contract is a format that existed from the earliest surviving 14th-century contracts to contracts passed in Court today. The contract will always start with a general salutation naming the Bailiff presiding at the Court and the current King/Queen:
- A Tous ceux qui ces presentes lettres veront ou orront ………… Bailly de L’Isle de Jersey sous notre souvereign ………… Salut en Dieu
The next information contained in the document will be the date of the contract:
- Sachent tous que l’an de grace Mille sept cent dix sept le trenteunieme jour d’aoust furent presentes en droit a St Helier
The document will then record the names of the parties; these people will actually be transferring the land or rente:
- Par devant nous Sara Esnouf femme de Thomas Le Vesconte d’une part et Michel Le Vesconte d’autre part
The document then goes on the record the activity taking place. It is here that you will find the keywords that will enable you to identify the type of contract in front of you:
- Laquelle Sara Esnouf en l’authorite de sondit Mary presentes vendit a fin d’heritage d’elle et de ses hers audit Michel Le Vesconte et pour ses hers
This sentence tells you which party (Sara Esnouf in this case) is selling and also the type of contract. The keywords vendit à fin d’héritage imply that this is a Vente/Sale.
Contracts sometimes include lengthy recitals of previous transactions – if this is the case look down the document for the words aujourd-hui - once you have found these words you will find out what is being done in Court on that particular day. Recitals often include important information concerning previous transactions.
Type of sale
The document will then give details of the type/amount of rente/land being sold/leased/assigned. If land is involved in the transaction this could be quite a lengthy description:
- Trois cabots et demy de froment de rente a recevoir a la St Michel prochaine
The document will then give a list of the people from whom the rente is due to be paid, ie if Sara is selling rente to Michel – the rente must be being paid to her in the first place by a third person. Therefore there is often a list of names of people who did pay Sara – but will now pay the rente to Michel. A typical list may read:
- Sur Philippe Vibert fils Pierre de la Paroisse de St Marie
- Un cabot sur Philippe Vibert fils Pierre de la Paroisse de St Marie, deux cabots sur Jean Le Vesconte fils Pierre de la Paroisse de Grouville
These lists can sometimes be very long if a significant amount of rente is being sold.
The next keywords that you are looking for will give you the price of the transaction:
- Laditte vente hereditalle faite au prix de cent quatorze livres tournois vin et vente une fois payer
If the transaction is a bail à fin d’héritages the price will always be in rentes and the keywords to look for will be:
- Laditte baille hereditalle faite au prix de trois cabots et une sixtonnier de rente a recevoir a la St Michel prochaine
The list of names of people who are to pay the rente will follow.
The entire contract detailing the sale of a rente should read as follows:
- A Tous ceux qui ces presentes lettres veront ou orront ......... Bailly de L’Isle de Jersey sous notre souvereign .......
Salut en Dieu. Sachent tous que l’an de grace Mille sept cent dix sept le trenteunieme jour d’aoust furent presentes en droit a St Helier Par devant nous Sara Esnouf femme de Thomas Le Vesconte d’une part et Michel Le Vesconte d’autre part. Laquelle Sara Esnouf en l’authorite de sondit Mary presentes vendit a fin d’heritage d’elle et de ses hers audit Michel Le Vesconte et pour ses hers trois cabots et demy de froment de rente a recevoir a la St Michel prochaine sur Philippe Vibert fils Pierre de la Paroisse de St Marie. Laditte vente hereditalle faite au prix de cent quatorze livres tournois vin et vente une fois payer de quelle somme ladite venderesse s’est tenuee payée et satisfaite, et estoit a ce presentes Foy Le Vesconte veuve de Jean Esnouf pere de ladite Sara Esnouf, ladite veuve promet de ne reclamer aucun douaire sur céte presente venditon , et s’obligea ladite venderesse pour elle et ses hers a la fourniture et garantie de ladite venditon sur tous ses biens meubles et heritage presentes et futurs et jurerent lesdits marier que jamais contre les premisses niront ne feront aller apeine de parjure et en special jura ladite femme que pour ce faire elle n’auroit été for cés par sondit mary mais quelle le fait son bon gre , A quoy les comdammes en les moin de ce nous avons seéllé ces Lettres su Seau de notre Baillie presentes ace Elie Dumaresq, Philippe Dumaresq, Raulin Robin, Charles Poingdestre, Edouard de Carteret, James Corbet et Amice La Cloche Escuyer, Jurets du Roy. Signatures and Enregistrée en Decembre 1717
Types of contract
There are many different types of contracts in Jersey. The following contracts are among the most common.
- Assignation. The assignation of an immovable property (land/rente) between two parties that involves no consideration/sum of money/rente. Includes the keywords Assign à fin d’héritage.
- Bail à fin d'héritage, lease in perpetuity. One of the most common contracts for the transfer of property prior to the 19th century. The lease of the land would be exchanged for a certain amount of rente to be paid yearly. The keywords in identifying this document are bailla, ceda et delessa affin d`héritage. The land to be leased is then specified and the amount of rente to be paid.
- Bail et Vente. These contracts become increasingly common in land transactions after the 18th century. The sale will always be for a sum of money and a sum of rente. They will always include the keywords Bail et Vente.
- Partage des Heritages. A contract of division of real estate between co-heirs. Partages are easy to identify firstly by the relationship between the two (or more) parties. Secondly the keywords parties d’héritage appear in the contract.
- Resignation. Records the resignation of all rights to a piece of land or rente. The keywords used in this type of contract are resigna quitta ceda et delaissa à fin et perpetuite d’héritage. The contract will record the right that the resigning party has to the land, and then the amount that party will be paid for the resignation by the second party.
- Retrait It was possible to repossess real property (either rentes or land) when the consideration was paid wholly or partly in cash. The repossessor of the property had to repay the full consideration and also costs.
- Retrait Lignager: repossessed by a relative to the 7th degree
- Retrait Féodal: repossessed by the Seigneur of the Fief on which the property stood
- Vente/Sale of Land for Money. A straightforward sale of a piece of land for a cash sum. It would appear that these sales were comparatively rare before the 19th century. These documents include the keywords vendit quitta ceda et delessa affin d`heritage, indicating a sale, then a
description of the land to be sold would follow.
- Vente de Rente. Sale of a rente for money. Identified by the keywords vendit quitta ceda et delessa affin d`heritage, which would be followed by the amount of rente being sold.
Useful words and phrases
- Audit – to the said
- Bordant – borders with
- Chevallier - Sir
- Contre - against
- Defunte - deceased
- Douaire – widows dower
- Feu – the late (du feu)
- Franc – free, exempt
- Jointures – all joinings to other properties
- Meneur – guardian of children (later tuteur)
- Mitoyennete – co-ownership (eg of wall)
- Orge – barley
- Pieds, perches - Jersey measurements
- Pieds imperial/du roi – Imperial feet
- Possession Quadragenaire – 40 years good title
- Procureur – attorney
- Procureur du Bien Public – attorney for the public good (parish officials)
- Sequestre - trustees
- Veuve – widow
- Vice cachés – hidden defects in a property