1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Folkland

FOLKLAND (folcland). This term occurs three times in Anglo-Saxon documents. In a law of Edward the Elder (c. i. 2) it is contrasted with bookland in a way which shows that these two kinds of tenure formed the two main subdivisions of landownership: no one is to deny right to another in respect of folkland or bookland. By a charter of 863 (Cod. Dipl. 281), King Æthelberht exchanges five hides of folkland for five hides of bookland which had formerly belonged to a thane, granting the latter for the newly-acquired estates exemption from all fiscal exactions except the threefold public obligation of attending the fyrd and joining in the repair of fortresses and bridges. Evidently folkland was not free from the payment of gafål (land tax) and providing quarters for the king’s men. In ealdorman Alfred’s will the testator disposes freely of his bookland estates in favour of his sons and his daughter, but to a son who is not considered as rightful offspring five hides of folkland are left, provided the king consents. It is probable that folkland is meant in two or three cases when Latin documents speak of terra rei publicae jure possessa.

Two principal explanations have been given to this term. Allen thought that folkland was similar to the Roman ager publicus: it was the common property of the nation (folc), and the king had to dispose of it by carving out dependent tenures for his followers more or less after the fashion of continental beneficia. These estates remained subject to the superior ownership of the folk and of the king: they could eventually be taken back by the latter and, in any case, the heir of a holder of folkland had to be confirmed in possession by the king. A letter of Bede to the archbishop Ecgbert of York may be interpreted to apply to this kind of tenure. Kemble, K. Maurer, H. C. Lodge, Stubbs and others followed Allen’s lead.

Another theory was started by Professor Vinogradoff in an article on folkland in the English Hist. Review for 1893. It considers folkland as landownership by folkright—at common law, as might be said in modern legal speech. In opposition to it bookland appears as landownership derived from royal privilege. The incidents recorded in the charters characterize folkland as subject to ordinary fiscal burdens and to limitations in respect of testamentary succession. Thane Wallaf has to be relieved from fiscal exactions when his estate is converted from folkland into bookland (C.D. 281). Ealdorman Alfred’s son, not being recognized as legitimate, has to claim folkland not by direct succession or devise, but by the consent of the king. These incidents and limitations are thrown into relief by copious illustrations as to the fundamental features of bookland contained in the numberless “books.” These are exemptions from fiscal dues and freedom of disposition of the owner. This view of the matter has been accepted by the chief modern authorities.

Bibliography.—J. Allen, Inquiry into the Rise and Growth of Royal Prerogative in England (London, 1849); K. Maurer, Kritische Überschau (1853), Band i. 102 ff.; F. W. Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond, 244 ff. (Cambridge, 1897); P. Vinogradoff, “Folcland,” in the Eng. Hist. Rev. (1893), p. 1 ff.; Sir F. Pollock, Land Laws (London, 1896); H. Brunner, Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte, Band i. (2nd ed., 293, Leipzig, 1887–1892).  (P. Vi.)