DOWER is that part of the husband's lands, tenements, or hereditaments to which the wife is entitled for her life upon the husband's death.
Prior to the reign of Charles II. five, and, until the passing of the act 3 & 4 Wm. IV. c. 105, there were four kinds of dower known to the English law.
1. Dower at the common law.
2. Dower by custom 3. Dower ad oath= ecclesim.
4. Dower ex assensu patris.
5. Dower de la plus beale.
This last was merely a consequence of tenure by knights service, and was abo lished by stat. 12 Charles II. c. 24; and the 3rd and 4th having long become ob solete, were finally abolished by the above mentioned statute of Wm. IV.
By the old law, the right called dower extended to all the lands of which the husband was seised at any time during the marriage, and which a child of the husband and wife might by possibility inherit ; and they remained liable to dower in the hands of a purchaser, though various ingenious modes of conveyance were contrived, which in some cases pre vented the attaching of dower ; but this liability was productive of great incon venience, and frequently of injustice. The law, too, was inconsistent, for the wife was not dowable out of her husband's equitable estates, although the husband had his courtesy in those to which the wife was equitably entitled. To remedy these inconveniences the statute above mentioned was passed, and its objects may be stated to be-1, to make equitable estates in possession liable to dower; 2, to take away the right to dower out of lands disposed of by the husband abso lutely in his life or by will ; 9, to enable the husband, by a simple declaration in a deed or will, to bar the right to dower.
"The law of dower," say the Real Property Commissioners, in their Second Report, upon which this statute was founded, " though well adapted to the state of freehold property which existed at the time when it was established, and during a long time afterwards, had, in consequence of the frequent alienation of property which takes place in modern times, become exceedingly inconvenient." In short, dower was
considered and treated as an incum brance, and was never, except in cases of inadvertency, suffered to arise. The in crease of personal property, and the al most universal custom of securing a pro vision by settlement, afforded more ef fectual and convenient means of providing for the wife. Dower at the common law is the only species of dower which affects lands in England generally ; dower by castom is only of local application, as dower by the custom of gavelkind and Borough Enlish ; and freebench applies exclusively to copThold lands. The former is treated of in Robinson's His tory of Gavelkind,' the latter in Watkins on Copyholds.' As to dower at common law, every married woman who has attained the age of nine years is entitled to dower by common law, except aliens, and Jewesses, so long as they continue in their religion. From the disability arising from alienage, a queen, and also an alien licensed by the king, are exempt.
The wife is entitled to be endowed, that is, to have an estate for life in the third part of the lands and tenements of which the husband was solely seised either in deed or in law, or in which he had a right of entry, at any time during the marriage, of a legal or equitable estate of inheritance in possession, to which the issue of the husband and wife (if any) might by possibility inherit.
By Magna Charta it is provided, that the widow shall not pay a fine to the lord for her dower, and that she shall remain in the chief house of her husband for forty days after his death, during which time her dower shall be assigned. The par ticular lands and hereditaments to be held in dower must,be assigned by the heir of the husband, or his guardian, by metes and bounds if divisible, otherwise spe cially, as of the third presentation to a benefice, &c. If the heir or his guardian do not assign, or assign unfairly, the widow has her remedy at law, and the sheriff is appointed to assign her dower ; or the widow may enforce her rights by bill in equity, which is now the usual remedy.