Definition of mortmain in English:



  • The status of lands or tenements held inalienably by an ecclesiastical or other corporation.

    • ‘All Catholic governments tightened up legislation against mortmain.’
    • ‘Royal licences to acquire property in mortmain allowed for a period of expansion into adjacent properties in the early 14th century.’
    • ‘New laws on mortmain limited the size of donations that might be bequeathed to religious foundations.’
    • ‘Hospitals and poor houses found the charitable bequests on which they had always relied dwindling, and, as ecclesiastical institutions, they were cut off from further endowments by legislation of 1749 restricting mortmain.’
    • ‘The rest was in the hands of the Church and nobility, protected against sale by entail or mortmain, or owned by urban corporations, or bourgeois landowners.’


Late Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French and Old French mortemain, from medieval Latin mortua manus dead hand (probably alluding to impersonal ownership).