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n. Law
A legal arrangement in which a property owner such as an ecclesiastical institution is barred from transferring or selling its property.

[Middle English mortemayne, from Old French mortemain : morte, feminine of mort, dead; see mortgage + main, hand (from Latin manus; see man- in Indo-European roots).]
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


(Law) law the state or condition of lands, buildings, etc, held inalienably, as by an ecclesiastical or other corporation
[C15: from Old French mortemain, from Medieval Latin mortua manus dead hand, inalienable ownership]
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014



1. the condition of lands or tenements held without right of alienation, as by an ecclesiastical corporation.
2. the perpetual holding of land, esp. by a corporation or charitable trust.
[1250–1300; Middle English < Anglo-French, translation of Medieval Latin mortua manus dead hand]
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.


transfer or ownership of real property in perpetuity, as transfer to or ownership by a corporate body like a school, college, or church.
See also: Property and Ownership
-Ologies & -Isms. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.mortmain - real property held inalienably (as by an ecclesiastical corporation)
corp, corporation - a business firm whose articles of incorporation have been approved in some state
immovable, real estate, real property, realty - property consisting of houses and land
2.mortmain - the oppressive influence of past events or decisions
influence - a power to affect persons or events especially power based on prestige etc; "used her parents' influence to get the job"
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.
References in classic literature ?
Already, however, the legal tongues are wagging, and one young law student is loudly asserting that the rights of the owner are already completely sacrificed, his property being held in contravention of the statues of mortmain, since the tiller, as emblemship, if not proof, of delegated possession, is held in a dead hand.
This passage cites Amherst D Tyssen, The Law of Charitable Bequests: With an Account of the Mortmain and Charitable Uses Act, 1888 (William Clowes and Sons, 1888) 177.
Thus in Otranto the figure of 'mortmain', the dead hand of the past reaching out to trouble the present, is bizarrely literalised as the ghostly gauntlet of Alfonso perambulating his usurped castle, much to the servant, Bianca's, comic terror.
Topics addressed include the contribution of London to English common law, the influence of 13th century legislation on mortmain alienation in Flanders on French and English law, tensions between localism and centralism in the tax administration of 19th century England and the United States, the influence of the will theory of contract in the 19th century, the creation of the default judgment in 19th century English procedural reforms, legal resistance to the English Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 in the cities of Chester and Liverpool, public morality and copyright law in 19th century Britain, the relationship between legal education in England and the German historical school of law in the 19th century, and law and India at King's College London.
Though it is the mid-1930s, there's no electricity in the castle, so Cassandra Mortmain sits in the kitchen sink to catch the last light of day as she begins writing the journal that is this delightful novel.
The dynamics of contact are given conceptual importance through the opening sequence of Warren's poem "Mortmain," which he added as a kind of appendix or sequel (or is it a prequel?) at the end of the prose biography of Portrait of a Father.
Cassandra Mortmain (Garai) lives in a crumbling English castle with her dysfunctional family, including novelist father James (Bill Nighy) who has writer's block, her nudist stepmother Topaz (Tara FitzGerald) and self-obsessed older sister Rose (Rose Byrne).
As they flower into adulthood in the 1930s, sisters Rose and Cassandra subsist in literary squalor with their author father Mortmain and his bohemian lover Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald).
As 17-year-old Cassie Mortmain, newcomer Romola Garai (very reminiscent of the fledgling Kate Winslet) provides the film's perspective firstly through her diary - its narration in bucolic flashback - as she describes how her father brought her and the family to live in a Sussex castle and then ten years later in 1936 when it's all turned sour.
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain (Garai) lives in a dilapidated English castle with her dysfunctional family, including her novelist father James (exLiverpool Everyman actor Bill Nighy) who has been struck down with writer's block; her nudist step-mother Topaz (Tara FitzGerald) and self-obsessed older sister Rose (RoseByrne).
As if to prove it, novelist James Mortmain (Bill Nighy) plonks his family in a crumbling, turreted ruin in the middle of nowhere.
Cassandra, her older sister Rose and her younger brother Thomas live an isolated life, oblivious to the outside world, with their oddball father Mortmain (Bill Nighy) and their beautiful, bohemian stepmother Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald) - a former artists' model and second wife to Mortmain, whose first wife died.