Origins and History
In 1256, Henry III issued an ordinance which forbade all tenants in chief from alienating their land without licence under pain of forfeiture. In 1327 the Tenure in Capite, etc Act removed the penalty of forfeiture and substituted for it a fine payable into the Hanaper of Chancery. It was gradually accepted that the fine for a licence of alienation would be equal to one third of the value of the property involved, and that the fine for alienation of land without licence would be equal to one year's value of the land's revenues.
In May 1576 Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was granted a ten year lease of these customary revenues together with the primer or pre-fines payable during the process of land conveyance by final concord in the Court of Common Pleas. The Alienation Office developed from his administration of this grant.
In 1586 the lease expired. A further term was granted during the Queen's pleasure to Thomas Dudley and Robert Wrotte on behalf of the Earl of Leicester. Leicester died in 1588 and it is likely that the Crown took over the office for a brief period.
In 1595 the lease was renewed to the same officers for seven years, with the additional revenue of fines taken for writs of entry in common recoveries.
During the Interregnum, the Alienation Office was abolished in September 1653 by the Barebones Parliament but was restored by the first Protectorate Parliament in September 1654, once its revenue value was ascertained.
In 1661, all feudal tenures were abolished by the Tenures Abolition Act. Tenure in chief disappeared and land was allowed to be freely conveyed.
From May 1689 the commissioners of the Treasury derived their powers over the office during pleasure by letters under the privy seal.
After 1758, post fines were assessed and collected by the Alienation Office, though the sheriffs continued to pay a sum equivalent to the value of post fines for their county into the Exchequer of Receipt.
In 1798 a House of Commons select committee on finance examined the Alienation Office's accounts and investigated staff functions and responsibilities.
In 1834 fines and recoveries were abolished as a form of land conveyancing. The Alienation Office now had no discernible function and was abolished in 1835 by the Officers in Court of Chancery Act. The records were transferred to the Court of Common Pleas.
The structure of the Alienation Office had been defined by the early 17th century although the precise dates are not known. Its main officers were: three commissioners, three clerks, a Receiver General, an Extraordinary Master in Chancery and an office keeper.