Manuscripts and Special Collections

Lease and assignment of lease


Temporary conveyance of property for a fixed period of time.

Features of leases

  • 12th-20th centuries
  • various sizes
  • written on parchment or paper
  • may be written in Latin until 1733
  • indenture (wavy top edge)
  • seal

Important words and phrases

Leases were granted by a 'lessor'. The person taking the lease was the 'lessee'.

How to identify a lease:

  • The easiest way to spot a lease is to look for the phrase 'hath demised granted set and to farm let'. In Latin, the phrase is 'ad firmam dimisi'
  • Leases are always granted for a certain period of time, after which time the land would revert to the lessor
  • There will be a rent payable to the lessor at specified times during the year, and sometimes services carried out for the lessor. The words usually used here are 'yielding and paying...'

Other features of leases which might or might not appear are:

  • A consideration, or 'entry fine' - sometimes a lease was granted in return for a cash payment
  • Reservation of certain rights to the lessor, e.g. shooting rights, or the right to extract minerals
  • Covenants and conditions relating to the upkeep of the property, or the husbandry expected on an estate
  • Clauses detailing what steps could be taken if the lessee failed to pay rent or abide by the terms of the lease

Most leases were granted for one of the following terms:

  • A term of months or years, as specified in the lease. 7 years, 14 years or 21 years were especially popular
  • A term of lives. These leases were usually for the lives of three specified people, for example, 'during the natural lives of the said A aged about 65 years, his son B aged about 20 years and his daughter C aged about 18 years, and for the natural life of the survivor or longest liver of them'. In this case, the theory was that the property would remain in the family for a substantial amount of time, since every time one of the 'lives' died, the lease would be surrendered and demised again to another three lives. This form of lease - known as a 'lease for lives' - was popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Long building leases, and tenancy agreements 'from year to year' are discussed further in other pages in this Skills Unit.

User beware!

If the lease is for 6 months or a year, and there is a very small consideration (5 or 10 shillings), or a nominal rent such as a peppercorn or a red rose, then it is possible that the document is not a 'real' lease, but was drawn up for another purpose. It might well be part of a lease and release.

Likewise, very long leases for 500 or 1,000 years are probably documents relating to family settlements or mortgages.

Assignment of Lease

An Assignment of Lease was created when a lessee wished to leave leasehold property before the end of the term. With the consent of the lessor, he assigned the residue of the lease (the remaining period of time) to another person. The new lessee took on the lease according to all the original conditions. The assignment therefore looks back to the original lease, and begins with a recital of the original lease and its 'provisos' (conditions). The new part of the deed begins with the words 'Now This Indenture Witnesseth'. Another clue that it is an assignment comes with the words, 'have granted, bargained, sold, assigned and set over...', and with the statement that the property is assigned 'for and during the rest and residue of the term recited...'


Ne D 3792 - Counterpart lease from John Holles, 1st Earl of Clare and his wife to Henry Bell of a mansion house and all outbuildings in Nottingham; 7 Jan. 1629

Photo of deed Ne D 3792

View this deed

This is a good example of a deed of lease. It is written on a medium sized piece of paper, 49 cm wide by 27 cm high. It is in English.

We know it is a lease because of the following characteristics:

  • It is an indenture, that is, the top of the deed is cut in a wavy line. This indicates that the deed was made between two or more parties. Some pairs of indentures were cut from the same sheet of parchment, and could be verified by checking that the top parts of each fitted together correctly
  • It begins with the words 'This Indenture...'
  • It includes the phrase 'grant and to farm lett'
  • The property is transferred to Henry Bell for a term of 21 years
  • There is an annual rent of twenty shillings, payable on the quarter days of Michaelmas (29 September) and Lady Day (25 March)
  • It has been signed and sealed by Henry Bell, the lessee. This makes it a counterpart - the other part of the indenture was retained by the lessor

This transcription of the important parts of the lease has been broken down into the standard sections common to most deeds from the early modern period onwards.


[line 1] This Indenture made the seuententh day of January in the Year of the Raigne of our Souereigne Lord Charles by the grace

[line 2] of God, Kinge of England Scotland Fraunce and Ireland defender of the faythe &c. the fourth [i.e. 17 January 1628/9]


[line 2] Betweene the Right Hon[oura]ble John Earle

[line 3] Clare, And Lady Anne his Wiefe of the one p[ar]te, And Henry Bell of the Towne of Nottingh[a]m, Cordweyner of the other p[ar]te

Operative Parts or 'Testatum'

[line 3] Witnesseth

[line 4] that the said Earle, and Lady Anne his Wiefe, for divers good causes them hereunto mooueinge [moving], as also for the Rent hereafter in theis present[s]

[line 5] expressed & reserued, Have demised graunted and to farme Letten, And by theis p[rese]nt[s] doe demise graunt & to farme Lett, unto the said Henry

[line 6] Bell, his Executo[rs] Adm[inistrators] and Assignes


[line 6] One Mansion or dwellinge house, in Nottingh[a]m aforesaid, wherein hee the said Henry Bell now dwelleth

[line 7] Together with all other the out houses Cellars and Yard, to the said dwelling house belongeinge or usually letten


[line 7] To haue and to

[line 8] hould the said dwelling house, together with all the aforedemised p[re]misses, unto him, the said Henry Bell, his Executo[rs] Adm[inistrators] and Assignes

[line 9]from the Feast day of Thanunciac[i]on of our Blessed Lady Marye the Virgine, next and ym[m]ediatly ensueinge after the date of these p[rese]nts, for, and

[line 10] duringe the whole terme and tyme of One and Twenty Years, from, and next after the said Feast ensueinge fully to be compleate & ended

[line 11] Yealdinge, and payeinge, theirefore Yearely, unto the said Earle and Lady Anne his Wiefe, or the survivor of them, their Heyres Executo[res]

[line 12] or Adm[inistrators] the iust some of twenty shillings of Lawfull money of England, duringe the naturall Liefe of Patronell Allvy,wife of Henry

[line 13] Allvy, of Nottingh[a]m aforesaid Cordweyner, Att the twoo usuall terms & feasts in the yeare, That is to say, att the feast day of St Mychaell Tharchangell, and Thannunciac[i]on of our blessed Lady Mary the Virgine by even and equall porc[i]ons

Covenants, Conditions and Provisos

Covenants include:

  • If Petronella Allvy dies before the term of 21 years ends, Henry Bell must pay four marks [13 shillings and 4 pence] annually to the Earl and his wife
  • The Earl and his wife are entitled to enter the premises to distrain [seize goods] if the rent is unpaid for more than 14 days. They are entitled to re-possess the premises if the rent is unpaid for more than 28 days and no distraint is possible
  • Henry Bell covenants to put the property into good repair at his own costs before 20 March 1630/31; and to maintain the good repair throughout the tenancy
  • Henry Bell covenants to leave and deliver up the property at the end of the term


[line 35] In witnes hereof the p[ar]ties abouesaid to

[line 36] theis p[rese]nte Indentures interchaungeably haue sette to their hands and seales the day and yeare first aboue written


[Signature of Henry Bell]


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