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Putting the Feu in Feudalism

Updated: Apr 29, 2023


As I warned you, I will now begin a deep dive on the title to Elphinstone Tower, which mostly consists of Section D, Burdens. These burdens comprise 10 entries on 26 single-spaced pages, with each page containing approximately one extremely run-on sentence, with multiple centuries of solicitors continuing their habitual avoidance of the full stop, so better to obscure their meaning to any outside their profession. (I am reminded, peripherally, of the many hours I wasted playing the Lord of the Rings trading card game, wherein one's objective was to place or avoid the placement of—depending on one's in-game opinion of the Fellowship—six "burdens" on the Frodo card, which would signal his capitulation to Sauron. 10 burdens would surely have doomed Middle-Earth.)


In any case, Burden Entry No. 1 is a "Feu Disposition", a term I had admittedly never seen before, which LexisNexis helpfully defines as:

The deed by which the dominium utile in a property was transferred by the feudal superior (the owner of a superior feudal interest in land) to a vassal (the person entitled to the use of the land) prior to 28 November 2004, the date on which the feudal system was abolished in Scotland

I am certain this information will serve me well at a pub quiz someday. 2004 seems rather late, but the Scots are a stubborn people.


This particular feu disposition dates to 1850 and is by Catharine, Countess of Dunmore (whose illustrious career Wikipedia summarizes as "promoter of Harris Tweed", but I'll write more about her later, because she kicked multitudinous Victorian ass), on behalf of the then Earl of Dunmore, Charles Adolphus Murray. The Earl was 9 years old at the time (his father, the 6th Earl, having died when he was 4), so was presumably grateful for his mother's help with the legalese. In it, the Dunmores as Patrons grant the Bishop of Edinburgh and his associates the use of the part of the land now marked "graveyard" for "the erection of a Church or Chapel" and as a burying ground. The Earl reserves burial rights for himself, his family and descendants, as well as the option to construct family cemetery vaults, and then goes on to set some ground rules, which I paraphrase thusly:

  1. The church has to be called St. Andrew's Church Dunmore, and it's for the Scottish Episcopal Church's use only. Don't even think about doing secular things there.

  2. I, Catharine, get to appoint the first minister, and when I'm dead, whoever the Earl is gets to do it.

  3. The minister has to be legit and tight with the Episcopalian powers that be.

  4. Half of the "sittings" in the church—by which I think they literally mean, where people sit—have to be free. The Church can charge rent for the other half, but there's some complicated stuff which puts a cap on this (two pounds two shillings annually, apparently), but allows the Earl's family access as long as they don't take up too much space.

  5. You should use the rents and alms to keep the church in good nick, yo.

  6. You have to keep doing all the churchy rites and rituals you're supposed to.

Bish, please.


Rules 7 through 10 are in effect an employment contract for ministers: If the minister ("Incumbent") goes AWOL for more than two months, they can be replaced, if a minister gets too old and infirm, they can retire with an allowance of sorts, if a minister wants to resign, they have to give three months' notice to the Patron. And don't even think about renouncing communion.


Rules 11 through 15 are administrivia for the operation of the Church and, honestly, are far too tedious to summarize. Then the whole thing ends with a note that some of the other burdens in the Title override these rules anyway, which seems like the kind of note you might want to put at the top, but hey, that was fun, wasn't it?


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