What is the distinction between the phrase "law of the land" and the similar phrases "law of the kingdom" and "law of the realm" also used in Magna Carta, and which together appear six times in Avalon Project's translation.


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According to Britannica, as I read it, "Law of the Land" means exactly what it says: specifically: the law governing ownership, fee, estate, inheritance, and use, of land.

The Feudal land law

During the critical formative period of common law, ... and land was the most important form of wealth. ... Political power was rural and based on landownership.

Land was held under a chain of feudal relations. Under the king came the aristocratic “tenants in chief,” then strata of “mesne,” or intermediate tenants, and finally the tenant “in demesne,” who actually occupied the property. Each piece of land was held under a particular condition of tenure—that is, in return for a certain service or payment. ... Periodic services tended to be commuted into fixed annual payments, which, under the impact of inflation, ceased to have much value over time. The “incidents,” or contingency rights, however, were assessed at current land value and remained important. For example, the feudal lord had the right to take a tenant’s land if he died without heirs; if he did have heirs, the lord was entitled to compensation for exercising wardship and granting permission to marry (see wardship and marriage).

Succession to tenancies was regulated by a system of different “estates,” or rights in land, which determined the duration of the tenant’s interest. Land held in “fee simple” meant that any heir could inherit (that is, succeed to the tenancy), whereas land held in “fee tail” could pass only to direct descendants. Life estates (tenancies lasting only for one person’s lifetime) could also be created. Title to land was transferred by a formal ritual rather than by deed; this provided publicity for such transactions. Most of the rules governing the terms by which land was held were developed in local lord’s courts, which were held to manage the estates of the lord’s immediate tenants. The emergence of improved remedies in the King’s Court during the late 12th century led to the elaboration and standardization of these rules, which marked the effective origin of the common law.

According to Avalon Project's translation of Magna Carta, there are six references in Magna Carta of "the law of the " (my emphasis):

    1. No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.
    1. It shall be lawful in future for anyone (excepting always those imprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the kingdom, and natives of any country at war with us, and merchants, who shall be treated as if above provided) to leave our kingdom and to return, safe and secure by land and water, except for a short period in time of war, on grounds of public policy- reserving always the allegiance due to us.
    1. We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs only such as know the law of the realm and mean to observe it well.
    1. All fines made with us unjustly and against the law of the land, and all amercements, imposed unjustly and against the law of the land, shall be entirely remitted, or else it shall be done concerning them according to the decision of the five and twenty barons whom mention is made below ....
    1. If we have disseised or removed Welshmen from lands or liberties, or other things, without the legal judgment of their peers in England or in Wales, they shall be immediately restored to them; and if a dispute arise over this, then let it be decided in the marches by the judgment of their peers; for the tenements in England according to the law of England, for tenements in Wales according to the law of Wales, and for tenements in the marches according to the law of the marches. Welshmen shall do the same to us and ours.

It seems clear that there are 3 distinct, overlapping, bodies of law being referenced in Magna Carta:

  1. Law of the land: The traditional body of law by which land tenure, use, etc, had been governed from the Norman Conquest (at least) until Magna Carta, and which King John had violated in various ways.

  2. Law of the marches: A second traditional body of law dealing with, at least, relations between English and Welsh in the marches between England and Wales; and

  3. Law of the realm (or kingdom): The entire body of (what we now term civil and criminal) law, comprising both the traditional bodies of law above as well as that of the monarch's pleasure.

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