The Statute of Merton
or Provisions of Merton
(Latin: Provisiones de Merton
, or Stat. Merton
), sometimes also known as the Ancient Statute of Merton
, is considered to be the first English statute, and is printed as the first statute in The Statutes of the Realm
The terms of the statute were agreed at Merton between Henry III
and the barons of England in the 20th year of Henry's reign (1235). It was another instance, along with the Magna Carta
twenty years previously, of the struggle between the barons and the king to limit the latter's rights.
Amongst its provisions, the statute allowed a Lord of the Manor to enclose common land (provided that sufficient pasture remained for his tenants), and set out
when and how manorial lords could assert rights over waste land, woods, and pastures against their tenants. It quickly became a basis for English common law, developing and clarifying legal concepts of ownership, and was one of the English statutes carried over into the law of the Lordship of Ireland.
In January 1550, in Edward VI
's reign, long after the Statute had fallen out of use, it was revived under John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, to enable lords to enclose their land at their own discretion — out of keeping with the traditional Tudor anti-enclosure attitude.
The Statute also dealt with illegitimacy — stating that "He is a bastard that is born before the marriage of his parents". It also dealt with women's rights — dowries ("A woman shall recover damages in a writ of dower"), and widows' right to bequeath land ("Widows may bequeath the crop of their lands").
Chapter 4 of this statute was the Commons Act 1236.
Chapters 1 and 2 and 9 were repealed for the Republic of Ireland by section 8 of, and Part I of Schedule 2 to, the Succession Act 1965, subject to the savings in section 9 of that Act. The whole statute was repealed for that Republic by section 1 of, and Part 2 of the Schedule to, the Statute Law Revision