English Land Law. What is it? Where did it come from?

English Land Law refers to the form of law that deals with the rights to use, alienate, or exclude others from land. In this case, the word ‘Land’ itself includes the actual land( soil, ground and earth) plus any buildings on the land, fixtures attached to it, mines, minerals and some airspace. Meaning that the English Land Law is imperative to the operation of the nation, and without it chaos would ensue.So, where did the common law of the land that is used in today’s society stem from? For the majority of human history, land has been the dominant source of wealth and a statement of class. We can trace modern law all the way back to Roman times, but the groundwork was really put in after the Norman invasion in 1066, when the English Feudal rules were compiled and all land was referenced/valued. This system ensured that all land was owned by the ruling monarch, which partially still stands today.

Estates were granted to lords, who parcelled property out to tenants. Tenants had obligations of work and taxation to the crown, and many peasants were tied to the land. The first ‘writs’ that people used to claim property and property rights against others were transcribed by Henry II’s Chief Minister Ranulf de Glanvill in the 12th century.

Land Law

After the breakdown of feudalism came the ‘Treatise on Tenures’ in the 15th century by Judge Thomas de Littleton, which was much more organised than the previous writs. Landowners who went to fight in the crusades were required to transfer the title to a person close to them so feudal services could be performed. Some who returned found that the person they had trusted with their land would refuse to return it, and the consequent Lord Chancellor decision that the true “use” or “benefit” of the land did not belong to the person on the title and that the owner in equity could be a different person, if this is what ‘good conscience dictated’ was the first recognition of a split in English law, between legal and equitable owner, between someone who controlled title and another for whose benefit the land would be used. This had profound implications, one being that this was the beginnings of ‘Trust Law’.


Furthermore, the implications of disputes over Land Law can be even more controversial. When Liberal Chancellor David Lloyd George tried to introduce a Land Tax, a constitutional crisis occurred as the House of Lords vetoed his radical ‘People’s budget’ of 1909, which many of the peers described as a war on the wealthy. In turn this led to the Government abolishing the Lords power to veto in the 1911 Parliament Act. After these events transpired, the Land Tax itself was certainly not the focus but it had it’s impact. With the Parliament Act and radically changing attitude, the end of the First World War saw the power of the old landed aristocracy had largely been broken.

The History of Land Law and it’s wider effect have only been touched upon within this article, yet we are still able to draw some parallels with today’s Land Law, and understand the impact it can have (as well as how complicated it can be).



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