Mortuary (derived from mors, death) is, in British ecclesiastical law and usage, a gift which is offered to the minister upon the death of one of the parishioners. It was anciently the usage, Selden tells us, to bring the mortuary to the church with the corpse; whence it took the name of corse-present, a name which shows that the payment of the mortuary was once voluntary, though so early as in the reign of Henry III we find that the custom was established. The mortuary was given by way of compensation for the tithes and offerings which the deceased had failed to pay in his lifetime, and for the salvation of his soul. In the reign of Henry VIII the custom was found to be the cause of great exactions on the part of the clergy, and of expensive litigation. Accordingly the statute 21 Henry 8:c. 6, was passed, by which it is enacted that mortuaries shall be taken in the following manner, unless where less or none is due by the custom, viz.: for every person who does not leave goods to the value of tell marks, nothing; for every person who leaves goods to the value of ten marks and under thirty pounds, 3s. 4d.; if above thirty and under forty pounds, 6s. 8d.; if above forty pounds, of what value soever the goods may be, 10s., and no more. It is enacted further that no mortuary shall be paid on the death of a married woman, nor for any child, nor for any one that is not a housekeeper, nor for any wayfaring man; but such wayfaring man's mortuary shall be paid in the parish to which he belonged. This is the statute which regulates mortuaries at the present day (see Blackstone, Commentaries, 2:424; Burns, ecclesiastical Law, title "Mortuary"). The purpose and mode of paying mortuaries anciently are given by Spelmani. He says, "A mortuary was thus paid: the lord of the fee had the best beast of the defunct, by way of a heriot, for the support of his body against secular enemies; and the parson of the parish had the second, as a mortuary for defending his soul against his spiritual adversaries.
Prior to the Reformation in Scotland, the popish priest, after a parishioner's death, claimed a cow and the corpse-cloth, or uppermost cloth — apparently the coverlet of the bed of the deceased. Forret, vicar of Dollar, had gained some new light, and began to preach to the people, and refuse also this customary present. Being summoned on suspicion of Lutheranism before the bishop of Dunkeld, the following colloquy took place:
"Bishop. 'My joy dean Thomas! I am informed that you preach the epistle or gospel every Sunday to your parishioners, and that you take not the cow nor the uppermost cloth from your parishioners, which thing is very prejudicial to the churchmen; and therefore, myjov dean Thomas, I would you took your cow and your uppermost cloth, as other churchmen do, or else it is too much to preach every Sunday, for in so doing you may make the people think that we should preach likewise. But it is enough for you, when you find any good epistle or any good gospel that setteth forth the liberty of the Holy Church, to preach that and let the rest he.'
"The Martyr. Thomas answered, 'My lord, I think that none of my parishioners will complain that I take not the cow nor the uppermost cloth, but will gladly give me the same, together with any other thing that they have; and I will give and communicate with them anything that I have; and so, my lord, we agree right well and there is no discord among us. And whereas your lordship saith it is too much to preach every Sunday, indeed I think it is too little, and' also would wish that your lordship did the like.'
"Bishop. 'Nay, nay, dean Thomas,' saith my lord, 'let that be, for we are not ordained to preach.'
"Martyr. Then said Thomas, 'Whereas your lordship biddeth me to preach when I find any good epistle or a good gospel, truly, my lord, I have read the New Testament and the Old, and 'all the epistles and the gospels, and among them all I could never find an evil epistle or an evil gospel; but if your lordship will show me the good epistle and the good gospel, and the evil epistle and the evil gospel, then I shall preach the good and omit the evil.'
"Bishop. Then spake my lord stoutly, and said, 'I thank God that I never knew what the Old and New Testament was [and of these words rose a proverb which is common in Scotland, Ye are like the bishop of Dunkeldene, that knew neither new nor old law]; therefore, deaf Thomas, I will know nothing but my portnese and my pontifical. Go your way, and let be all these fantasies; for if you persevere in these erroneous opinions, ye will repent it when you may not mend it.'
"Martyr. 'I trust my cause to be just in the presence of God, and therefore I pass not much what do follow thereupon.' " Forret was burned at Edinburgh in 1539. See Fox, Book of Martyrs; Eadie, Eccles. Cyclop. s.v.; Hook, Eccles. Diet. s.v.; Walcott, Sacred Archoeology, s.v. SEE TAXES.