Ownership in general involves two elements, the holding of the legal title and the right to the beneficial use. When these are separated, the legal title being granted to one party and the beneficial use to another, there is created a use or trust.

Uses were first introduced into England as a result of the adoption of the Statute of Mortmain. This statute, passed in 1269, provided that no more land should be granted to any religious corporation. To evade the effect of the statute the ecclesiastical judges and lawyers invented the use, copied after the fidei commissei of the Roman law, so as to permit lands being granted to a third party to hold for the use of the church. This particular use of the use was stopped in 1392 by the passage of the Act of 13 Richard II., prohibiting land being granted to anyone to hold for the use of a religious corporation. The use, however, had been by this time widely adopted for many different purposes, both legitimate and illegitimate. It was used to avoid some of the incidents and hardships of the feudal tenures, to transfer (the beneficial interest in) land without the necessity of livery of seisin; to defraud creditors; and to avoid forfeitures. A great impetus was given to its use for the last purpose by the War of the Roses, with its frequent changes of fortune and their accompanying executions and forfeitures. After the close of this war a great deal of opposition to uses developed in Parliament, and during the reigns of Henry VII. and Henry VIII., a series of acts was directed against them, the most important of which acts were as follows: 3 Henry VII., C. 4, forbidding deeds of gift on trust made to defraud creditors; 4 Henry VII., C. 17, declaring uses liable to wardship and reliefs; 19 Henry VII, C. 15, declaring them liable to execution; 26 Henry VIII., C. 13, declaring them liable to forfeiture. These series of acts culminated in the famous Statute of Uses, 27 Henry VIII, which will be discussed in the following section.

The introduction of uses into English law dates from about the same period of legal history as the creation of courts with equitable jurisdiction. As the rights of the cestui que use could at all times only be protected by the chancery courts, we find uses occupying an important place in equitable jurisprudence almost from the origin of the system.

The following is an illustrative early bill involving the doctrine of uses:

"To the most reverend Father in God and his most gracious Lord, the Bishop of Exeter, Chancellor of England.

" Humbly beseecheth William Holt, Esquire, that whereas Stephen Holt, his father, who died lately, before Michaelmas last, in his lifetime purchased certain lands, rents and tenements in the County of Sussex, and thereof enfeoffed Master John Debenham, Richard Monek, John Holt, William Goldsmith, clerks; Andrew Blake, John Bedeford, and others, to the intent (that they should) enfeoff him or his heirs when they should be required (to do so); after whose death, the said William, as son and heir of the said Stephen, his father, required them to enfeoff him according to the intent of the said feoffment; and they refused, and will not do it, but keep the said lands, rents, and tenements in their hands, by great extortion, and to the great damage of the said suppliant. May it please your most gracious Lordship to cause them to come before you by writ of our Lord the King, under a certain pain, and to examine them of the truth, and to do what right and good faith demand, so that no such extortion nor deceit be suffered; for God and in way of charity."