Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Foot of Fines

Parchment from 1303 showing the three-part,
Final Concord. [source]
The word "fine" has many meanings, several of them deriving from the Latin finis, "end." With that in mind, one can easily guess that a "fine" in the sense of a payment necessary to end some disagreement is the "end product" of the process.

In fact, late 12th century England is where we find the legal practice of creating a "final concord" (shortened to "fine") entering the legal system. The final concord was an agreement between two parties that started as a way to resolve a dispute, but quickly evolved as a way to create any agreement. Fines were originally written up by the Exchequer (because they usually involved money), but by the end of the 14th century they were being handled by the Court of Common Pleas (partially because they became so popular that the Exchequer could not handle all the business).

The physical structure of the Fine can be seen in the illustration. The details were written out three times on a single parchment, twice alongside and once at the "foot" of the document. The parchment was then cut, separating the three pieces. Each party had one of the parts, and the "foot" was kept by the court. Note the wavy lines with characters written on them: proof that a party held the proper documentation was given by fitting the two (or three) irregularly-cut pieces back together!

Because of the security of having the "Foot of Fines" preserved in the records of the court, later disputes were prevented. This became a popular method for married women to make arrangements for the transfer of property, ensuring proper ownership of her own in the case of her husband's death.

The process was abolished by the Fines and Recoveries Act of 1833.


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