A Partly Truthful Chronicle of the Evolution of Property
1066 to 1485
The STL Market (forerunner of the BTL market)
As every school child knows on the 14th October 1066 William the Conqueror defeated Harold II of England at the Battle of Hastings. Primarily, the loss occurred as Harold had forgotten to wear his sunglasses. When he was hit by the arrow he allegedly said ‘I’m all aquiver’.
A two tier class system was adopted by the conquerors with the minority Normans ruling the bigger Saxon population. History often repeats itself as the Normans, though classified now as French, were actually descendants of the Vikings who had pillaged the four kingdoms of England centuries earlier. After the Vikings had sacked Paris in 845 the French monarch, Charles the Bald (bit rude), a descendant of Charlemagne, decided to turn ‘poacher into gamekeeper’ by appointing a leading Viking warlord, Gaange Rolf, as Duke of the area that became known as Normandy to deter others of his kin. The Vikings were called North-men which eventually became Norman and thus the land Normandy.
William gave great swathes of land to his chief supports on which they were obligated to build fortified properties which grew into the great stone castles we see today. This allowed the new Norman overlords to easily control the more numerous Saxon inhabitants.
As rulers William and his descendants enjoyed the many benefits of rank, including hunting, spending many a day chasing down peasants and even the occasional onshore fisherman.
The Norman Lords were also very keen on exercising their privilege of ‘Droit du seigneur’, (French: “right of the lord”). This was a feudal entitlement in medieval Europe giving the local lord to whom it belonged the right to ‘sleep’ the first night with the bride of any one of his vassals.
This may explain the high level of single mothers found documented in the Doomsday Book.
Importantly for us William refined the STL market or to give it full title – The Seize-To-Let Market.
Having seized the country William deemed that all land was now owned by the Crown – what we know as the feudal system. The Crown in turn could then assign a Tenant-in-Chief to use a designated portion of land in return for annual coin or more often for a service such as raising men at arms during times of war. The territorial rank immediately below the Crown was an Earl, followed by manorial Lord in England and Barony in Scotland.
The Tenant-in-Chief could then parcel out the land to tenants or vassals who then owed their superior ‘fealty’ or loyalty, and also ‘homage’ to the same superior. The land could pass to an heir but within a set of rules which included ‘feu duty’ a type of death tax. If a person died without heirs or intestate the crown as the ‘ultimus haeres’ assumed ownership.
I am sure you are all aware of asset protection so I will not repeat the importance of having a Will in place!
William the Conqueror had a son called William (1056 – 1100) who became King of England after his father died, so actually he did have a “Will” (i-am) in place.
Joking apart William the Conqueror had four sons but was reluctant to leave them land that had been taken with blood, plus he did not trust his sons to be good rulers – worth a read on the internet if you have time.
For those of you interested in law the opposite of feudal property tenure is ‘allodial’ tenure which means full and absolute ownership without obligation of service to any superior body. Since 2004 all privately held land in Scotland is allodial. In England the Crown remains the sole owner of all land but the tenure is held by fee simple (freehold).
At this point we should give a quick nod to the peppercorn rent – an oddly British quirk, much like cricket, a sport which was probably created during Saxon or Norman times by children living in the Weald, an area of dense woodlands and clearings in south-east England that lies across Kent and Sussex.
In English law, and other countries with similar common law systems, a legal contract requires that each side must provide consideration. In other words, each party will give something of value to the other party for the contract to be considered binding. To satisfy the requirements for the creation of a legal contract people would use a very small cash payment or other nominal consideration, commonly called a peppercorn. In medieval times condiments were highly sort after to disguise the flavour of winter stored food so they had enough value to meet the legal requirement of consideration in leases – indeed much larger value than its modern cost.
Indeed it is not uncommon, even in the modern day, for a peppercorn rent to be denominated in (sometimes whimsical) physical goods rather than coin or currency. For example, many of the buildings in London’s Covent Garden are leased at a peppercorn rent of “one red apple and a posy of flowers”. The National Coastwatch station at St Albans Head occupies buildings owned by the Encombe Estate in exchange for “one crab per annum if demanded”. Meanwhile the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust leases untenanted land on the Isles of Scilly from the Duchy of Cornwall for one daffodil per year.
In my own leasehold properties I have found the freeholders were reluctant to accept “crabs” from me but maybe it was the way I offered.
So in conclusion – What is the difference between democracy and feudalism?
With democracy, it’s your vote that counts. With feudalism, it’s your Count that votes!
1150 to 1300
The Mobile Home
In around 1170 Genghis Khan invented the mass market mobile home. This was called a Yurt. Although this sounds like a hairy pack animal or a Scandinavian yogurt drink it is in fact a form of tent. Highly portable, it is a round shelter, with a timber frame covered over with skins or felt, usually made from sheep hides, which could contain ten to twelve people easily.
Using these mobile homes Genghis Khan and his Golden Horde were able to make holiday excursions to all the leading cities from China to Europe, via the Middle East and even down to India. The Mongol weekend breaks to Japan in 1274 and 1281 failed to materialise due to bad weather – typhoons or what the Japanese call kamikaze (“divine wind”) – which in modern times you can pick up by eating sushi bought at a bullet train terminal canteen.
Sadly, these Mongol tourists were about as popular as modern day England football fans travelling abroad, although slightly less destructive. Their idea of souvenir collecting was just to take it – simple in theory but often hard to execute. This methodology saved carrying around those pesky, bulky travellers cheques in your saddle bags or inadvertently dropping your credit cards when you pulled out your scimitar for a beheading.
That reminds me of the old joke – how did Genghis Khan conquer Mongolia?
One ‘steppe’ at a time!
In the early years of the Mongol expansion it should be noted that they were the antithesis of property developers. They would arrive at a fully developed city, a thriving metropolis if you will, but leave it as a flattened building plot if they were not let in – much like a hen night out in Newcastle. These warriors of the steppe, like the Egyptians, were keen on pyramids although the Mongols used skulls instead of the more traditional stone or marble which were cheaper but not so long lasting over time.
When Genghis Khan wrongly accused one of his generals of property theft in Samarkand the man allegedly replied – “I didn’t take a fence!”
Although I have portrayed the Mongols as a destructive force, which reflects much historical narrative, in fact at the height of their Empire they had many good facets. Notably law, and its application was a strong point. Inside the boundaries of the Empire it was said a women could cross from one side to the other without being accosted.
Although wives held sway inside their homes and were protected by the law the actual ownership of property was restricted to men, following the father-son line of inheritance.
The Mongols valued their freedom and independence at not being tied down. They regarded people living in fixed abodes as ‘soft’. So is there any property knowledge we can glean from them?
Yes, of course.
You can invest in mobile homes as an income producing asset. They advantage normally is
that these units tend to be cheaper than normal residential units in the BTL and HMO sector. In addition you can buy them complete and ready for letting with financing available subject to status with fixed pitches.
So, what do you need to do to ensure your success? – Well, just do the Asset Academy calculations you would do for any property investment which is basically income v expenses to make sure you will create passive income. Quick tip – remember the pitch rental/service charge will rise over time and the unit will depreciate far quicker than traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ properties so make sure you take all that into account.
Always remember – “A mobile home with a flat tire is still a home!”
1300 to 1521
The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican culture that flourished in central Mexico in the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521. The Aztec peoples included the different ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the “Nahuatl” language, and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 14th to the 16th centuries.
Did you know Oxford University was founded before the Aztec Empire?
That explains the sacrifices my parents had to make to pay for my tuition!
The Aztecs had a complex and hierarchical land ownership system, and drew sophisticated boundary maps that were used to mark different types of land and settle disputes. The Emperor owned personal and royal property which was used as he saw fit. He additionally exercised dominion over newly conquered lands, and could give this land to nobles, warriors, and calpulli (a calpulli was a clan or ward constituting the fundamental unit of Aztec society).
Owners of conquered lands were not necessarily displaced and were usually allowed to continue living on and working their lands.
However, they had to share the profits of the land with their new Aztec owners.
Nobles could own land on a restricted and unrestricted basis. Nobles obtained land by purchasing it from other nobles or as a gift from the emperor for service to the Aztec empire. Purchased land could be sold or willed. Land grants from the emperor sometimes had conditions that required them to be returned to the emperor upon the death of the owner. Warriors had similar rights to purchase land or receive it from the emperor. Institutions such as the army, temples, and certain public offices (judgeships) could also own land which was received from the Emperor. These entities owned the rights to the profits from the land and used them to support the office holder. A key point to remember was the individual office holder did not own the land.
Commoners could not own land on an individual basis. However, they had access to land through their calpulli. Although the calpulli were run by nobles, members of the calpulli were permitted to elect a neighbourhood leader (calpullec) to manage the distribution of communally-owned calpulli land. This land was given to individual families, and generally stayed with the family unless it went uncultivated for two years or the family moved away. If this occurred, the unused land would then be redistributed to other families.
The barrios also had separate undistributed communal lands that families were expected to cultivate. The proceeds of this land were used to pay the barrio’s taxes to the nobles and the emperor. Although the calpulli was responsible for dividing and reassigning the land, individual plots of land were often inherited by subsequent generations of the same family.
So why did the Aztec Empire fall so quickly?
The easy, simple answer available in school history books is that it was all down to the sly Cortes and his Spanish mercenaries. They were able to conquer, despite a deficit in numbers, due to superior weaponry, discipline and tactics.
I see that all those as contributing factors but rather the result rather than the symptoms.
In reality the Aztecs collapsed due to mind-set, ideology and inflexible hierarchy. Their religion required continuous human sacrifice. All very well but it can certainly annoy your subject people who had been conquered. When the Spanish decided to go to arms who were their greatest supporters – the other nations the Aztecs had conquered. Their religion was also set in stone, saying absolute power must be accorded to gods who may well return to earth – I always wonder why, if you are a God why you would keep returning to Earth given the choices available? The same question can of course be applied to Doctor Who, a time Lord who keeps returning to the centre of Cardiff when the entire universe is available to them – what is all that about?
Anyway returning to our South American friends their mind-set combined with a bad case a smallpox ended their reign in Central America.
Takeaway Lesson – Not Montezuma’s Revenge but rather that you should always be open to new ways of thinking. What you, or your closest, thought was impossible can in fact be achieved. If you think you are stuck in the role you were born in you are wrong – just read the bios of the 100 wealthiest people in the world – provided free by Forbes – and you will see very few were born into money.
So learn new things, challenge old ways of thinking, never be that dog that is too old to learn new tricks!
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART THREE – IN NEXT MONTH’S ISSUE.