Action of Covenant – to claim damages as a result of breach of contract, deed, or other covenant, to fine someone


writ of covenant:

1. Hist. A writ for one claiming damages as a result of a breach of a promise under real or other covenant. — aka breve de conventione. See CONVENTIONE. [1]

     Excerpt from Frederick Pollock & Frederic W. Maitland’s The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I (2d ed. 1899):

     “The writ of covenant (breve de conventione) is not mentioned by Glanvill; but it appears within a short time after the publication of his book & already in the early years of Henry III.  It can be had ‘as a course’ at all events when the tenement that is in question is of small value. Before Henry’s death it has become a popular writ…  The great majority of actions of covenant are brought merely in order that they may be compromised.  We doubt whether any principle was involved in the choice; but may infer that the procedure instituted by this writ was cheap & expeditious for those who wished to get their final concord.” [2]


1. Hist. A writ for the breach of a written covenant.  This writ was often used when parties wished to convey land by fine. — aka writ of covenant.

n. (13c.)

1. An amicable (friendly) final agreement or compromise of a fictitious or actual suit to determine the true possessor of land.  The fine was formerly used a s form of conveyance to disentail an estate. — aka final concord; finalis concordia.  See FOOT OF THE FINE.

    Excerpt from C.H.S. Fifoot’s History & Sources of the Common Law: Tort & Contract (1949):

     “A peculiar & persistent use of the writ [of covenant] was in levying a fine.  A fine — finalis concordia — was the compromise of a suit, settled upon terms approved by the court. The dispute, while it might be a reality, was more often fictitious, & was chiefly used as a means of conveying land… Soon after [Glanvill’s] book was written, an innovation was made in the procedure which endured until 1833. The terms of the compromise, agreed by the parties & approved by the judges, were entered upon a threefold indenture, one fo the parts being given to each of the litigants & the third — the ‘foot’ or bottom of the document — being kept among the records of the court. The parties thus obtained incontestable evidence & abundant security, & either could sue the other if the agreement were not implemented.” [3]

      Excerpt from Peter Butt’s Land Law (2d ed. 1988):

     “Unlike the recovery, which was a real action, the fine was a compromised fictitious personal action, originally designed as a method of ensuring security in conveyancing & only later being employed for the purpose of barring estates tail. In outline, it operated in the following manner. The intending purchaser brought an action, begun by writ of covenant, against the intending vendor. The parties then applied to the court to compromise the action; by the terms of the compromise (finis) the intending vendor admitted that the land belonged to the intending purchaser because he had given it to him, & the terms of the compromise were recorded in the court records. The fine owed its popularity as a means of conveyancing to two factors, neither of which was present in the standard method of conveyance by means of feoffment. First, the enrolling in the court records provided evidence of the transaction which was both permanent & free form the danger of forgery. Secondly, the effect of the fine was to set running a short period of limitations at the expiration of which all claims to the land were barred. It was this second aspect, which made the device attractive as a means of ‘barring’ fees tail.” [4]

foot of the fine:

1. Hist. At common law, the fifth & last part of a fine of conveyance. This part included the entire matter, reciting the names of the parties & the date, place, & before whom it was acknowledged or levied. — aka chirograph.

vb. (14c.)

1. To impose or assess (a fine or a tax) by legal authority <levy a tax on gasoline>.

2. To enlist for service in the military <the troops were quickly levied>.

3. To declare or wage (a war) <the rival clans levied war against each other>.

4. To take or seize property in execution of a judgment <the judgment creditor may levy on the debtor’s assets>.

adj. (15c.)

1. Of, relating to, or involving things (such as lands & buildings) that are fixed or immovable <real property> <a real action>.

2. Civil law. Of, relating to, or attached to a thing (whether movable or immovable) rather than a person <a real right>.

3. Actual; genuine; true <real authority>.

4. (Of money, income, etc.) measured in terms of purchasing power rather than nominal value; adjusted for inflation <real wages>.

adj. (14c.)

1. Of or affecting a person <personal injury>.

2. Of or constituting personal property <personal belongings>


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[1] Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: 2 Frederick Pollock & Frederic W. Maitland, The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I 216-17 (2d ed. 1899)

[3]: C.H.S. Fifoot, History & Sources of the Common Law: Tort & Contract 256 (1949)

[4]: Peter Butt, Land Law 102-03 (2d ed. 1988)

To be Added:

[3]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition by Jack Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931


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