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Acton Burnel

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BURNEL, ACTON, STATUTE OP. This statute was passed at Acton Burnet, in Shropshire, at a parliament held by Edward I. in the eleventh year of his reign, on his return from Wales. Acton Burnet was never even a market-town, and Leland says (Itin. vii. 19) that the parliament was held in a great barn. The date of the statute is October 12, 1283. It is remarkable as a proof of the importance which the mercantile class had acquired, and its object was to re cover more quickly debts due to mer chants and traders. Hence it is called the Statute of Merchants (Statutum Mer catorum).

The preamble recites, that " Foras much as merchants which heretofore have lent their goods to divers persons be greatly impoverished because there is no speedy law provided for them to have recovery of their debts at the day of pay ment assigned ; and by reason hereof many merchants have withdrawn to come into this realm with their merchandises, to the damage as well of the merchants as of the whole realm r and therefore "the king by himself and his council ordain and establish" certain remedies for the evils complained of. (Stat. of Realm, i. 53.) The merchant was to bring his debtor before the mayor of London, York, or Bris tol, or before the mayor and a clerk who was appointed by the king, to acknow ledge the debt, and fix a time for payment. The clerk entered the recognizance, and also made a writing obligatory, to which the debtor affixed his seal. The king's seal, provided for the purpose, and kept by the mayor, was likewise appended to the instrument. If the debtor neglected to pay his debt at the time appointed, the mayor ordered his chattels and devisable burgages to be sold, to the amount of the debt, by the appraisement of honest men. The moveables were to be delivered to the creditor if no buyer came forward. In case the debtor's moveables were out of the mayor's jurisdiction, the chancellor was to direct a writ to the sheriff of the county, who was to act with the same authority as the mayor. The statute contains relating to the sale. To against the appraisers' favouring e debtor by fixing too high a price on his goods, they might them selves be forced to take them at their own unfair valuation ; and in that case they became answerable to the creditor for the debt. The statute inferred, on the other hand, that if the goods sold below their value, it was the debtor's fault. If the debtor had no effects, he was to be impri soned until he or his friends had come to someent with the creditor; and the creditor bound to provide him with bread and water, if he were so poor as to be unable to support himself: but the cost of his maintenance added to the original debt, and was required to be repaid before the debtor could obtain his release. The creditor might accept sure ties or mainpernors, who by this act placed themselves precisely in the same situation as the debtor; but they were not liable till the goods of the principal had been sold and found insufficient The statute of Acton Burnel was far ther explained and new provisions added by 13 Edw. I. stat. 3, passed in 1285.

The first statute appears to have been misinterpreted by the sheriffs, and its execution delayed on malicious and false pretences. The king, therefore, in a par !lenient held in his thirteenth year, caused the statute of Acton Burns to be rehearsed, and another Statutum Merca torum (13 Edw. I. stat. 3) was passed, which extended and gave additional faci lities for enforcing the statute of Acton Burnet Recognizances might be taken before the mayor of London, or before some chief warden of a city or of another good town which the king should appoint, or before the mayor and chief warden or other sufficient men chosen or sworn thereto, when the mayor or chief warden could not attend, and before one of the clerks appointed by the king.' If the debtor failed to make good his payment at the time promised in his he was, if a layman, to be placed at once in prison. If he could not be found, the merchant might have writs to all the sheriffs in whose jurisdiction the debtor had lands; and as a last resource the merchant might have a writ directed to any sheriff that he pleased to take the debtor's body. The keeper of the prison became answerable for the debt if he refused to take custody of the debtor. Within a quarter of a year the chattels and lands were to be delivered to the creditor for sale in payment of 'his debt. If within the second quarter he did not make terms, all his goods and lands were to be delivered, the latter as if a gift of freehold, to the creditor, to hold until the debt was paid; the debtor being main tained on bread and water by the mer chant. Precautions were taken against the debtor fraudulently making over his property. Lands given away by feoff ment subsequently to the recognizance were to return to the feoffer. The death of the debtor did not bar the debt ; for though the body of the heir could not be taken, his lands were answerable as much as daring the lifetime of the debtor. The Jews were excluded from the benefits of the statute. (Stat. of Realm, i. 98.) Reeves (Hist. V the English Law, IL 162) observes that the above statute may be " considered as contributing to extend the power of alienating land." Any common creditor by judgment was em powered in the same session to take half the debtor's land in execution, "but a merchant who had resorted to this secu rity might have the whole." He adds that "a recognizance acknowledged with the formalities [here] described was in after times called a statute merchant ;" and " a person who held lands in execu tion for payment of his debt, as hereby directed, was called tenant by statute merchant." Barrington (Obs. oft the more Ancient Statutes, p. 119) states that in 1536 an ordinance of Francis I. was issued, which very much resembled the statutes merchant, and shows, he says, " the more early attention paid to com merce in this country."