1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Shelley's Case, Rule in

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SHELLEY’S CASE, RULE IN, an important decision in the law of real property. The litigation was brought about by the settlement made by Sir William Shelley (c. 1480–1549), a judge of the common pleas, of an estate which he had purchased on the dissolution of Sion Monastery. After prolonged argument the celebrated rule was laid down by Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Bromley, who presided over an assembly of all the judges to hear the case in Easter term 1580–1581. The rule may be stated as follows: when an ancestor by any gift or conveyance takes an estate of freehold and in the same gift or conveyance an estate is limited, either mediately or immediately, to his heirs or the heirs of his body, in such a case the word “heirs” is a word of limitation and not of purchase; that is to say, the estate of the ancestor is not a life or other freehold estate with remainder to the heirs or heirs of the body, but an estate in fee or an estate tail according to circumstances. The rule is a highly technical one, and has led to much litigation and in many cases without a doubt to the defeat of a testator’s intentions. It is said to have had its origin in the wish of the law to preserve to the lords their right of wardship, which would have been ousted by the heir taking as purchaser and not as successor. The rule is reported by Lord Coke in 1 Reports 93 b. (see also Van Grutten v. Foxwell, 1897, A.C. 658). In the United States the rule in Shelley’s case was at one time in operation as a part of the common law, but it has been repealed by statute in most states.