FOLK-LAND, or FOLC-LAND, in early English law was the belonging to the community at large, the ager publicus -- as distinguished from boc-land or land granted to individuals in private ownership.
The conception of the land as primarily belonging to the nation or tribe appears to be universal in early civilization. As civilization advances the right of individuals emerge and increase in importance until, as in England at the present day, the original conception has entirely disappeared.
The process by which it was lost may be shortly stated as follows. (1) Grants of land were made to individuals and to religious corporations (boc-land), subject only to the trinoda necessita (military service, and building bridges and fortresses). The king might hold land so granted. (2) Temporary rights over the folk-land were also granted to individuals, subject to various rent services or money payments. (3) The remaining portion of the folk-land not disposed of in this way came to be regarded as belonging to the king. Ultimately all land was said to be held of the king.
Even where traces of the original conception remained in the rights of commoners the natural order was reversed, and they were regarded as deriving their right from the grant of some individual lord. While the folk-land became the terra Regis, the private property of the king in land merged in the folk-land, and the king of England for many centuries occupied the anomalous position of being ultimate owner of all the land, and sole owner of the old folk-land, and yet, at the same time, incapable of holding land in private ownership. If a king purchased land with any private moneys of his own, it devolved upon his successor in office like the rest of the crown lands.
All this, however, has now been changed. The crown lands have become public lands again, and the management of these is vested in the Commissioners of Woods, Forest, and Land Revenues; and the private estates of the sovereign are now held on the same conditions as those of ordinary persons.