What is Free Bench?

Legal Definition
"Free bench" is a legal term referring to an ancient manorial custom in parts of England whereby a widow, until she remarried, could retain tenure of her late husband's land.

"Free Bench (Lat. francus bancus). The widow's right to a copyhold. It is not a dower or gift, but a free right independent of the will of the husband. Called bench because, upon acceding to the estate, she becomes a tenant of the manor, and one of the benchers, i.e. persons who sit on the bench occupied by the pares curiƦ (Peers of Court)".

The widow of a tenant was usually allowed her free bench, so long as she preserved her chastity. But if any evidence appeared against her, or she declared an intention of remarrying, she had to forfeit her lands.

The rights to free bench varied from manor to manor and were subject to local custom. Some did not have the custom at all.

In a few cases, some very unusual ways of circumventing the problem have been recorded. For instance, the widow submitted to the penalty of riding into court upon a black ram holding its tail in her hand and repeating the following lines of nonsense (as recorded in No. 614 of The Spectator):

"Here I am,
Riding upon a black ram,
Like a whore as I am;
And for my crincum crancum
Have lost my bincum bancum,
And for my tail's game
Have done this worldly shame;
Therefore I pray you, Mr Steward,
Let me have my land again."
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
Dower in copyhold land.
-- Ballentine's Law Dictionary