Livery Of Seisin (Fr. liverie de seisine; Lat. deliberatio or traditio seisinae). A change of possession naturally accompanies, as it is indeed the best evidence of, a transfer of property. Personal chattels may be corporeally exchanged; but the alienation of immovable property must be certified by some ceremony or act sufficient to express the change of ownership. Under the system of feudal tenures, the possession of lands was delivered by the lords to their vassals, by the solemn and public act of investiture. This ceremony took place upon the land itself, in the presence of the peers of the lord's court, and originally by merely personal acts, without writing. The possession which complete investiture gave to the vassal was called his seisin, and this delivery of it by the superior was the livery of seisin. The design of the ceremony was to notify the transmission of the fee from one hand to another. For the lord, the peers of his court could bear witness to the obligations of servitude which the vassal had assumed, and to the conditions and limitation of the gift, if any had been annexed to it. For the tenant, they could testify to the fact of the grant in the event of a dispute respecting the freehold, and in other respects their testimony sufficed to assure his rights.
But to make the evidence of these rights more certain, and to define more exactly the conditions of the fact, writings came to be introduced, declaring the tenor and terms of the investiture. In the general feudal law, such writings were called brevia testata; that is to say, short written memoranda, attested by witnesses. They bore no date, nor were they executed or sealed by the parties themselves; their authority rested altogether in the testimony of the witnesses. When then, in England, some more precise evidence of the agreement between lord and tenant had come to be required than the mere parol testimony of the peers of the court, these brevia testata were imitated, and a charter of feoffment was executed and delivered to the new possessor of the lands, at the same time with the livery of seisin. This charter of feoffment was the evidence of the gift or grant, and the livery of seisin was only the transfer of the possession. Livery was of two kinds: livery in deed, and livery in law. The former was made, in the words of Sir E. Coke, " by delivery of the ring or haspe of the doore, or of a branch or twigge of a tree, or of a turfe of the land, and with these or the like words, the feoffor and feoffee both holding the deed of feoffment and the ring or haspe, and the feoffor saying: 'Here I deliver you seisin and possession of this house, in the name of all the lands and tenements contained in this deed, according to the form and effect of the deed.' " Livery in law was not upon the land, but in sight of it, and the feoffee's title was not good until the livery was perfected by his actual entry upon the land during the feoffor's life.
These charters of feoffment which accompanied livery of seisin were in early times but rarely signed. Sealing however became common and nearly universal, and imported the assent of parties to the instrument thus attested. This custom of affixing a seal remained long after the occasion for it had passed away, and founded the present rules of law in this respect. As these written charters or deeds (for they are nothing else) became more perfect, the more formal ceremonies of investiture were dispensed with. The doctrine of seisin, however, maintained its place in the English law until very lately. In respect to descents its importance was modified by the statute 3 and 4 William IV.; and in regard to conveyances, lands might still be conveyed by a verbal contract alone, provided it was attended with public delivery of possession, until the latter part of the reign of Charles II., when the statute of frauds and perjuries enacted that there must be thenceforth some evidence in writing to support the grant. (See Frauds, Statute of.) - Livery of seisin is entirely foreign to the American system of conveyances.
A deed properly executed and delivered gives seisin in deed without entry; nor is the entry of an heir required to give him actual seisin.