DISTRESS, " districtio," in the juris prudence of the Middle Ages, denotes legal compulsion generally, whether ec clesiastical or civil. One mode of com pulsion extensively adopted among the nations of Teutonic origin was the taking possession of the whole or a part of the property of the offender or defaulter, and withholding it from him until the re quirements of the law had been complied with. This species of distress was called " naam," from nyman, nehmen, to take— a verb common to the Anglo-Saxon, Ger man, and other cognate languages. The modern distress is the " naam," restricted in the taking of personal chattels ; and in its most simple form it may be stated to be—the taking of personal chattels out of the possession of an alleged defaulter or wrong-doer for the purpose of compelling him, through the inconvenience resulting from the withholding of such personal chattels, to perform the act in respect of which he is a defaulter, or to make com pensation for the wrong which he has committed.
Some rights to which the law annexes the remedy by distress, have been con sidered too important to be left to the protection afforded by the mere detention of the distress (by which term the thing taken is also designated), and more effi cacious means of dealing with it have been introduced; and in certain cases a sale of the property taken by way of dis tress is allowed, if, after a certain in terval, the party distrained upon con tinues to be unwilling or unable to do the act required.
Distresses are either for some duty omitted, some default or nonfeasance, — or they are in respect of some wrongful act done by the distrainee. The subject of distress is one of great extent, and in the English law involves a great number of particular cases. Under the head of Distress for Omissions, the most im portant among the feudal duties for which a distress may be taken is Rent Rent, in its original and still most usual form, is a payment agreed to be made by the tenant to his landlord as an equiva lent or a compensation for the occupation of land or a house. Such rent is de nominated rent-service. It comes in lien of and represents the profits of the land granted or demised, and is therefore said to issue ont of the land. To rent-service the law annexes the power of distress, al though there may be no agreement be tween the parties as to distress. But a
rent reserved upon a grant or demise ceases to be a rent-service if it be separated from the ultimate property in the land, generally called the reversion. Thus, if the owner of land in fee demises it for a term of years, reserving rent, and after wards assigns the rent to a stranger, re taining the reversion, or grants the re version, retaining the rent, the rent being disconnected from the reversion is con sidered as a branch severed from the trunk, and is called a dry rent or rent seek, to which the common law annexed no power of distress. In like manner, if the owner of the land, without parting with the land, grants to another a rent out of the land , the grantee having no reversion had only a rent-seck, unless the grant expressly created a power of dis tress, in which case the rent would be a rent-charge. But now, by statute 4 Geo. II. c. 28, § 5, the like remedy by distress is given in cases of rent-seek, as in the case of rent reserved upon lease.
All rents, though distinguished by a variety of names derived from some par ticular circumstance attached to them, are resolvable into Rent-service, Rent-seek, or Rent-charge, and there may now be a distress for every species of rent, though a practical difference still subsists as to the mode of dealing with distresses taken for the one or for the other.
There may also be distress for Heriots and Tolls.
There is also Distress for Damage done, which is called Distress for Damage feasant. Cattle or dead chattels may be taken and be detained to compel the pay ment of a reasonable sum of money by way of satisfaction for the injury sus tained from such cattle or dead chattels being wrongfully upon property in the occupation of the party taking them, and doing damage there, either by acts of spoliation or merely by incumbering such property. This is called a distress of magethings taken damage-feasant (doing da occupier of land is allowed notonly to defend himself from damage by driving out or removing the cattle, but also to detain the thing which did the injury till compensation be made for the trespass. Upon referring to Spelman and Ducange, it will be seen that a simi lar practice obtained on the Continent amongst the Angli, Werini, Ripuarii, and Burgundian.