Cestui Que Vie Act 1666

Cestui Que Vie Act 1666

I have seen a lot of material on the internet regarding this Act of Parliament claiming a number of things and thought I should have a look at the Act and the claims surrounding it.

Among the claims were the following:

1. The Act was passed in secret whilst the Great Fire of London raged and was passed in Latin so that the ordinary man and woman would not understand what was going on.
2. The Act declared all men (and women) dead, lost at sea and so enabled the state to lay claim to their “worth” .
3. As we are all “lost at sea”, we are therefore subject to Admiralty Law, rather than Common Law or statute.
4. Furthermore, because of the above, the whole basis of our existence has been stolen illegally, and by refuting the fact that we are dead (to do this we have to use various special words and phrases when dealing with officials of the state) we can not only avoid tax, fines and general laws, but in fact we are owed millions (of pounds, dollars or whatever currency applies).

Claim 1. The act was passed in secret whilst the Great fire of London raged and was passed in Latin so that the ordinary man and woman would not understand what was going on.

A quick search on the internet will lead you to various copies of the Act provided by both official government and other sources. The details shown on all the copies of that Act that I have seen are the same and show that it was written in the English of 1666 not Latin. I have reproduced the Act later in this article and you can see that although the language is somewhat convoluted it is still understandable. It is fair to say that whether it was written in Latin or English the vast majority of the population were illiterate at that time so it would have made little difference the the ordinary folk.

“Cestui que vie” derives from the French and means “he or she who lives”. Black’s Law Dictionary confirms that it is a phrase used in legal terms to mean a number of things, e.g. “the insured”, “the policyholder” or “the person who’s life measures the duration of an insurance contract”. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, when the word “trust” is added this refers to “the one who benefits” or “he who has a right to a beneficial interest in and out of an estate the legal title to which is vested in another”. The modern day term for this, again according to Black’s Law dictionary, is “beneficiary”.

Even though we know it was not written in Latin, what about the claim that it was passed in secret as the Great Fire of London raged?

The exact date of the Act is not set out in any of the references that I have been able to find. We know it is dated 1666 and we also know that the Great Fire of London took place that year so on the face of it the claim can neither be proved or disproved. However we do have copies of all the Acts listed in chronological order by Ruffhead-Pickering in their volumes detailing all the Acts of the Realm. This places the Cestui Vie Act 1666 sometime after the Rebuilding of London Act 1666 which as the name suggests detailed the actions needed to rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666. So although we cannot say exactly when the Cestui Vie Act was passed we can be clear that it didn’t take place “as the fire raged” as has been suggested.

Claim 2. The act declared all men (and women) dead, lost at sea and so enabled the state to lay claim to their “worth” .

The act starts with an explanation of why the act was thought to be necessary. I have copied this introduction below:-

1. An Act for Redresse of Inconveniencies by want of Proofe of the Deceases of Persons beyond the Seas or absenting themselves, upon whose Lives Estates doe depend. Recital that Cestui que vies have gone beyond Sea, and that Reversioners cannot find out whether they are alive or dead.
Whereas diverse Lords of Mannours and others have granted Estates by Lease for one or more life or lives, or else for yeares determinable upon one or more life or lives And it hath often happened that such person or persons for whose life or lives such Estates have beene granted have gone beyond the Seas or soe absented themselves for many yeares that the Lessors and Reversioners cannot finde out whether such person or persons be alive or dead by reason whereof such Lessors and Reversioners have beene held out of possession of their Tenements for many yeares after all the lives upon which such Estates depend are dead in regard that the Lessors and Reversioners when they have brought Actions for the recovery of their Tenements have beene putt upon it to prove the death of their Tennants when it is almost impossible for them to discover the same, For remedy of which mischeife soe frequently happening to such Lessors or Reversioners.

As you can read for yourself, it explains that there are times when someone has gone missing but there is no proof that they are alive or dead. The Act specifically refers to tenants who had a right to live in their property for life, but who have gone missing so the property cannot be passed on to someone else. The Act seeks to set out the circumstances in which the individual can be regarded as dead and the property re-allocated.

The phrase “beyond the Seas” is used – this does not mean lost at sea as suggested. Black’s Law Dictionary states that the phrase “beyond the Seas”  ( note the capital “S“) meant that they had gone outside the realm of the British Isles or the United States (which was still British at the time). So what is being said is not that they have been “lost at sea” but that they cannot be found and may have gone outside the realm or otherwise disappeared. Again note that this is the introduction to the Act and is giving an example of what may have happened – it does not state that anyone (or everyone!) is dead.

The Act then goes on as follows:

Cestui que vie remaining beyond Sea for Seven Years together and no Proof of their Lives, Judge in Action to direct a Verdict as though Cestui que vie were dead..
If such person or persons for whose life or lives such Estates have beene or shall be granted as aforesaid shall remaine beyond the Seas or elsewhere absent themselves in this Realme by the space of seaven yeares together and noe sufficient and evident proofe be made of the lives of such person or persons respectively in any Action commenced for recovery of such Tenements by the Lessors or Reversioners in every such case the person or persons upon whose life or lives such Estate depended shall be accounted as naturally dead, And in every Action brought for the recovery of the said Tenements by the Lessors or Reversioners their Heires or Assignes, the Judges before whom such Action shall be brought shall direct the Jury to give their Verdict as if the person soe remaining beyond the Seas or otherwise absenting himselfe were dead.

Certainly most people will have heard of the “seven year rule” related to missing persons. If someone goes missing for 7 years or more and during that time there is no evidence that they are still alive then they can be declared “legally dead”. There is nothing sinister in this, you can see from the wording that it is quite clear that this does not seek to declare that we are all dead – the Act very clearly starts with the word “If……“.
The Act also makes it clear that the people who benefit are not the Government, but those who are entitled to make a claim on the estate.
The original Act contained 4 sections, Section 1 is set out above. Sections 2 and 3 have been repealed, and I will deal with Section 4 below. Section 2 (which was annulled in 1948) set the right of the inheritors to complain about a juror if the juror might benefit from the case – this Section is no longer needed as the interested parties in any case involving a jury can challenge the appointment of jurors who they believe to be unsuitable. Section 3 excluded “Traitors” from benefiting from the provisions (remember this was under Charles II and the confiscation of the property of traitors was common practice ). This Section no longer applies in law and was formally annulled in 1863.

So on to Section 4 which is still in force.

If the supposed dead Man prove to be alive, then the Title is revested. Action for mean Profits with Interest.
Provided alwayes That if any person or [X3person or] persons shall be evicted out of any Lands or Tenements by vertue of this Act, and afterwards if such person or persons upon whose life or lives such Estate or Estates depend shall returne againe from beyond the Seas, or shall on proofe in any Action to be brought for recovery of the same [to] be made appeare to be liveing; or to have beene liveing at the time of the Eviction That then and from thenceforth the Tennant or Lessee who was outed of the same his or their Executors Administrators or Assignes shall or may reenter repossesse have hold and enjoy the said Lands or Tenements in his or their former Estate for and dureing the Life or Lives or soe long terme as the said person or persons upon whose Life or Lives the said Estate or Estates depend shall be liveing, and alsoe shall upon Action or Actions to be brought by him or them against the Lessors Reversioners or Tennants in possession or other persons respectively which since the time of the said Eviction received the Proffitts of the said Lands or Tenements recover for damages the full Proffitts of the said Lands or Tenements respectively with lawfull Interest for and from the time that he or they were outed of the said Lands or Tenements, and kepte or held out of the same by the said Lessors Reversioners Tennants or other persons who after the said Eviction received the Proffitts of the said Lands or Tenements or any of them respectively as well in the case when the said person or persons upon whose Life or Lives such Estate or Estates did depend are or shall be dead at the time of bringing of the said Action or Actions as if the said person or persons where then liveing.

Again quite simple – if the person turns out to be alive after all, the loss is reversed plus interest.

Claim 3. As we are all “lost at sea”, we are therefore subject to Admiralty Law, rather than Common Law or statute.

I have no idea where this claim comes from other than the the phrase “beyond the Seas”.  As pointed out above, the Act declares no one dead or lost at sea, but merely provides a way of declaring people dead if they have been missing for 7 years or more and there is no evidence that they are alive. Admiralty Law does cover events at sea ( and was later amended to cover inland waterways and lakes) but otherwise does not apply to general statute or “laws of the land”.  I am aware of some attempts to suggest that birth (as in being born) and berth as in the mooring of a ship and other dual usage of words e.g. banks (as in bank of river vs bank deposits) have in some way been twisted so that Admiralty Law applies but I have seen absolutely no evidence anywhere to suggest that this is anything other than clever word play to back up some otherwise unsubstantiated theory. In fact if you look at the origins of these words they come from different origins and eras. Banks (as in rivers) comes from the Norse languages and bank (as in financial institution) comes from the Italian for table which is where the money lenders did their business. As stated before this appears to be just playing with words which either sound or are spelled the same (in modern English) to paint a false picture.

Claim 4. Furthermore, because of the above, the whole basis of our existence has been stolen illegally, and by refuting the fact that we are dead (to do this we have to use various special words and phrases when dealing with officials of the state) we can not only avoid tax, fines and general laws, but in fact we are owed millions (of pounds, dollars or whatever currency applies).

Again I have no idea where this originates from – it certainly has nothing to do with this Act. Sadly there have been a number of cases where people have tried to follow the suggestions of the “experts” who are peddling this claim and discovered that :
a) It doesn’t work as a way of avoiding tax, fines, etc
b) At best you lose the case and at worst you also get fined (or occasionally jailed) for contempt of court.

Often the losses are blamed on the individuals not understanding what they are doing
and have not quite used the right phrase with the judge i.e. it is their fault they lost and nothing to do with the advice given them.

Summary

The Cestui Vie Act 1666 is not some evil piece of legislation that has somehow stripped you of your rights and enabled the state to steal your identity. Rather it was a very useful piece of legislation dealing with the problem of what to do when a tenant went missing for many years and setting out a process (involving a Jury) whereby the person could be declared dead but also ensured that if the individual tenant turned out to be alive after all, they would not suffer financially. The timing of the Act may well reflect the fact that the Great Plague and the Great Fire would have resulted in many trying to flee to a safer place and disappearing, and also that there was increasing sea exploration where individuals might be away for long periods without any knowledge of what happened to them. One of the earliest recorded usages of the “missing assumed dead” rule which has its roots in common law was the explorer Hudson (of Hudson Bay fame) who in 1611, following a mutiny on his ship, was cast adrift by the mutineers and never seen again!

Link to Act