1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dower
DOWER (through the Old Fr. douaire from late Lat. dotarium, classical Lat. dos, dowry), in law, the life interest of the widow in a third part of her husband’s lands. There were originally five kinds of dower: (1) at common law; (2) by custom; (3) ad ostium ecclesiae, or at the church porch; (4) ex assensu patris; (5) de la plus belle. The last was a conveyance of tenure by knight service, and was abolished in 1660, by the act which did away with old tenures. Dower ad ostium ecclesiae, by which the bride was dowered at the church porch (where all marriages used formerly to take place), and dower ex assensu patris, by the father of the bridegroom, though long obsolete, were formally abolished by the Dower Act 1834. Dower is governed in the United Kingdom, so far as women married after the 1st of January 1834 are concerned, by the Dower Act 1834, and under it only attaches on the husband’s death to the lands which he actually possessed for an estate of inheritance at the time of his death. It must be claimed within twelve years of the time of its accrual, but only six years’ arrears are recoverable. The wife is also entitled to dower out of equitable estates, but joint estates are exempt. By the act the wife’s dower is placed completely under her husband’s control. It does not attach to any land actually disposed of by him in his lifetime or by his will, nor to any land from which he has declared by deed his wife shall not be entitled to dower. He may also defeat her right, either as to any particular land or to all his lands, by a declaration in his will; while it is subject to all the deceased husband’s debts and contracts, and to any partial estates which he may have created during his life or by his will. A widow tenant in dower may make leases for twenty-one years under the Settled Estates Act 1878. Free-bench is an analogous right in regard to copyhold land; it does not fall within the Dower Act 1834, and varies with the custom of each manor. At common law, and prior to the act of 1834, dower was of a very different nature. The wife’s right attached, while the husband was still living, to any land whereof he was solely seised in possession (excluding equitable and joint estates) for an estate of inheritance at any time during the continuance of the marriage, provided that any child the wife might have had could have been heir to the same, even though no child was actually born. When once this right had attached it adhered to the lands, notwithstanding any sale or devise the husband might make; nor was it liable for his debts. In this way dower proved an obstacle to the free alienation of land, for it was necessary for a husband wishing to make a valid conveyance to obtain the consent of his wife releasing her right to dower. This release was only effected by a fine, the wife being separately examined. Often, by reason of the expense involved, the wife’s concurrence was not obtained, and thus the title of the purchaser was defective during the wife’s lifetime. The acceptance of a jointure by the wife before marriage was, however, destructive of dower, if after marriage she was put to her election between it and dower. By the ingenuity of the old conveyancers, devices, known as “uses to bar dower” (the effect of which was that the purchaser never had at any time an estate of inheritance in possession), were found to prevent dower attaching to newly purchased lands, and so to enable the owner to give a clear title, without the need of the wife’s concurrence, in the event of his wishing, in his turn, to convey the land. All this was, however, swept away by the Dower Act 1834, and a purchaser of land no longer need trouble himself to inquire whether the dower of the wife of the vendor has been barred, or to insist on her concurrence in a fine.
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