1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Burgage

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BURGAGE (from Lat. burgus, a borough), a form of tenure, both in England and Scotland, applicable to the property connected with the old municipal corporations and their privileges. In England, it was a tenure whereby houses or tenements in an ancient borough were held of the king or other person as lord at a certain rent. The term is of less practical importance in the English than in the Scottish system, where it held an important place in the practice of conveyancing, real property having been generally divided into feudal-holding and burgage-holding. Since the Conveyancing (Scotland) Act 1874, there is, however, not much distinction between burgage tenure and free holding. It is usual to speak of the English burgage-tenure as a relic of Saxon freedom resisting the shock of the Norman conquest and its feudalism, but it is perhaps more correct to consider it a local feature of that general exemption from feudality enjoyed by the municipia as a relic of their ancient Roman constitution. The reason for the system preserving for so long its specifically distinct form in Scottish conveyancing was because burgage-holding was an exception to the system of subinfeudation which remained prevalent in Scotland when it was suppressed in England. While other vassals might hold of a graduated hierarchy of overlords up to the crown, the burgess always held directly of the sovereign. It is curious that while in England the burgage-tenure was deemed a species of socage, to distinguish it from the military holdings, in Scotland it was strictly a military holding, by the service of watching and warding for the defence of the burgh. In England the franchises enjoyed by burgesses, freemen and other consuetudinary constituencies in burghs, were dependent on the character of the burgage-tenure. Tenure by burgage was subject to a variety of customs, the principal of which was Borough-English (q.v.).

See Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law (1898).