Free Bench

"Free bench" is a legal term relating to an ancient manorial custom in England whereby a widow could retain tenure of the land until she remarried.

"Free Bench (francus bancus). The widow's right to a copyhold. It is not a dower or gift, but a free right independent of the will of the husband. Called bench because, upon acceding to the estate, she becomes a tenant of the manor, and one of the benchers, i.e. persons who sit on the bench occupied by the pares curiæ. (Peers of Court)"

The Widow of a tenant was allowed her free bench, so long as she preserved her chastity. But if any evidence appeared against her she was immediately deprived of her lands, unless she submitted to the penalty of riding into court upon a black ram holding its tail in her hand repeating the following lines as recorded in No. 614 of the The Spectator "Here I am,
Riding upon a black ram,
Like a whore as I am;
And for my crincum crancum
Have lost my bincum bancum,
And for my tail's game
Have done this worldly shame;
Therefore I pray you, Mr Steward,
Let me have my land again."

Manors where this custom is recorded


  • The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
  • Richard Carew's Survey of Cornwall.
  • Berkshire History
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