Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769)

Sir William Blackstone

Of Real Property; and, First, of Corporeal Hereditaments

The objects of dominion or property are things, as contradistinguished from persons: and things are by the law of England distributed into two kinds; things real, and things personal.{Things real are such as are permanent, fixed, and immoveable, which cannot be carried out of their place; as lands and tenements: things personal are goods, money, and all other moveables; which may attend the owner’s person wherever he thinks proper to go.

In treating of things real, let us consider, first, their several sorts or kinds; secondly, the tenures by which they may be held; thirdly, the estates which may be had in them; and, fourthly, the title to them, and the manner of acquiring and losing it.

First, with regard to their several sorts or kinds, things real are usually said to consist in lands, tenements, or hereditaments. Land comprehends all things of a permanent, substantial nature; being a word of a very extensive signification, as will presently appear more at large. Tenement is a word of still greater extent; and though in its vulgar acceptation it is only applied to houses and other buildings, yet in its original, proper, and legal sense it signifies every thing that may be held, provided it be of a permanent nature; whether it be of a substantial and sensible, or of an unsubstantial ideal kind. Thus liberum tenementum, franktenement, or freehold, is applicable not only to lands and other solid objects, but also to offices, rents, commons, and the like:1 and as lands and houses are tenements, so is an advowson a tenement; and a franchise, and office a right of common, a peerage, or other property of the like unsubstantial kind, are, all of them, legally speaking, tenements.2 But an hereditament, says Sir Edward Coke,3 is by much the largest and most comprehensive expression; for it includes not only lands and tenements, but whatsoever may be inherited, be it corporeal, or implement of furniture which by custom descends to the heir together with an house, is neither land, nor tenement, but a mere moveable; yet, being inheritable, is comprised under the general word, hereditament: and so a condition, the benefit of which may descend to a man from his ancestor, is also an hereditament.4

Hereditaments then, to use the largest expression, are of two kinds, corporeal, and incorporeal. Corporeal consist of such as affect the senses; such as may be seen and handled by the body: incorporeal are not the object of sensation, can neither be seen nor handled, are creatures of the mind, and exist only in contemplation.

Corporeal hereditaments consist wholly of substantial and permanent objects; all which may be comprehended under the general denomination of land only. For land, says Sir Edward Coke,5 comprehends in its legal signification any ground, soil, or earth whatsoever; as arable, meadows, pastures, woods, moors, waters, marshes, furzes, and heath. It legally includes also all castles, houses, and other buildings: for they consist, says he, of two things; land, which is the foundation; and structure thereupon: so that, if I convey the land or ground, the structure of building passes therewith. It is observable that water is here mentioned as a species of land, which may seem a kind of solecism; but such is the language of the law: and I cannot bring an action to recover possession of a pool or other piece of water, by the name of water only; either by calculating its capacity, as, for so many cubical yards; or, by superficial measure, for twenty acres of water; or by general description, as for a pond, a watercourse, or a rivulet: but I must bring my action for the land that lies at the bottom, and must call it twenty acres of land covered with water.6 For water is a moveable, wandering thing, and must of necessity continue common by the law of nature; so that I can only have a temporary, transient, usufructuary property therein: wherefore if a body of water runs out of my pond into another man’s, I have no right to reclaim it. But the land, which that water covers, is permanent, fixed, and immoveable: and therefore in this I may have a certain, substantial property, of which the law will take notice, and not of the other.

Land has also, in its legal signification, an indefinite extent, upwards as well as downwards. Cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad coelum [whoever has the land possesses all the space upwards indefinitely], is the maxim of the law, upwards; therefore no man may erect any building, or the like, to overhang another’s land: and, downwards, whatever is in a direct line between the surface of any land, and the center of the earth, belongs to the owner of the surface; as is every day’s experience in the mining countries. So that the word “land” includes not only the face of the earth, but every thing under it, or over it. And therefore if a man grants all his lands, he grants thereby all his mines of metal and other fossils, his woods, his waters, and his houses, as well as his fields and meadows. Not but the particular names of the things are equally sufficient to pass them, except in the instance of water; by a grant of which, nothing but a right of fishing:7 but the capital distinction is this; that by the name of a castle, messuage, toft, croft, or the like, nothing else will pass, except what falls with the utmost propriety under the term made use of; but by the name of land, which is nomen generalissimum [the most general name], every thing terrestrial will pass.8


     1.    Co. Litt. 6.
     2.    Co. Litt. 19, 20.
     3.    1. Inst. 6.
     4.    3 Rep. 2.
     5.    1 Inst. 4.
     6.    Brownl. 142.
     7.    Co. Litt. 4.
     8.    Ibid. 4, 5. 6.