• WordNet 3.6
    • n mortmain the oppressive influence of past events or decisions
    • n mortmain real property held inalienably (as by an ecclesiastical corporation)
    • ***
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
    • n Mortmain (Law) Possession of lands or tenements in, or conveyance to, dead hands, or hands that cannot alienate.☞ The term was originally applied to conveyance of land made to ecclesiastical bodies; afterward to conveyance made to any corporate body.
    • ***
Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
    • n mortmain In law, possession of lands or tenements in dead hands, or hands that cannot alienate, as those of ecclesiastical corporations; unalienable possession. Conveyances and devises to corporations, civil or ecclesiastical, were forbidden by Magna Charta, and have been restrained and interdicted by subsequent statutes. Also called deadhand.
    • ***
Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary
    • n Mortmain mort′mān the transfer of property to a corporation, which is said to be a dead hand, or one that can never part with it again
    • ***


Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
F. mort, morte, dead + main, hand; F. main-morte,. See Mortal, and Manual
Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary
Fr. mort, dead, main—L. manus, the hand.


In literature:

Nevertheless it is certain that the number of serfs and mortmains is still very great.
"The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 1 (of 6)" by Hippolyte A. Taine
The mortmain of theorists extinct in science clings as close as that of ecclesiastics defunct in law.
"Medical Essays" by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Fully one half the ground of the city was covered by religious buildings and mortmain property.
"Castilian Days" by John Hay
The world of Islam is held in mortmain by the prophet.
"The Unity of Civilization" by Various
They might defeat the Mortmain Acts.
"Against Home Rule (1912)" by Various
Nor are these estates held altogether in the character or with the evils supposed inherent in mortmain.
"The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. III. (of 12)" by Edmund Burke
The mortmain of the Church was soon to fall upon Urbino, as it had already fallen on Ferrara.
"Renaissance in Italy, Volumes 1 and 2" by John Addington Symonds
Mortmain, Statute of, 212.
"A Student's History of England, v. 1 (of 3)" by Samuel Rawson Gardiner
Half of its area was once covered by religious buildings or mortmain property.
"Cathedrals of Spain" by John A. (John Allyne) Gade
By the law of mortmain religious houses were prohibited from acquiring it.
"Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 7, Slice 3" by Various

In poetry:

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.
"Haunted Houses. (Birds Of Passage. Flight The First)" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow