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As I understand the British monarchy, all land in the United Kingdom is owned by the monarch. Owners of houses and businesses and the like within the United Kingdom are merely granted the use of the land by the reigning monarch, and are subject to return the land to the monarch if called to do so.

I imagine that this is a right that has been exercised at various points in the past, but likely not very recently. Or, is my assumption wrong and this is a practice that still occurs if the government is looking to condemn property, rezone, etc.? In the United States, this type of activity does occur, but the government is obligated to provide fair compensation to the owners of the property. At least in theory, this would not be true in the United Kingdom.

Does this type of activity occur, and if so, when was the last time it was executed?

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Your premise is incorrect. Land in general in the UK is owned by the owners, not by the monarch. The monarchy has no right to confiscate land any more than elsewhere in the democratic world. While it is true that the 'allodial title' of all land belongs to the crown, this is a historical artifact indicating that the owner of the land still owes certain duties to the Crown, such as the requirement to pay taxes. The same system of allodial ownership operates in most common law countries, including most states of the US, where the ultimate ownership of the land is by the state.

The monarchy (i.e. the monarch personally) owns a certain amount of land which she leases out to others on a long term basis, but it is not a significant fraction of the country; 'The Crown' (which is UK terminology for 'the state') owns a lot more, which is mostly used for government purposes. 'Crown land', originally owned personally by the monarch, is now owned by the government in return for 'civil list' payments..

It is also true that the government has rights to appropriate land under certain conditions, such as war or other emergency, or to make compulsory purchases for the public good, such as to build new infrastructure, and as you say the government is obliged to pay a fair price.

Historically the Crown has confiscated land - most famously Henry VIII confiscating land owned by the Church - but this was not because of any claim that the king owned that land - it was simply confiscated. We are talking a long time ago here. I don't know details of when something like that last took place.

  • Do you have a definitive source for denying the claim? My research shows contradictory claims on the subject. This rather detailed history of land ownership seems to indicate that only the monarch can "own land" and individuals can "hold estates" on that land (through "freehold" leases). However, if the land is not willed to someone by the owner, or properly registered, it returns to sole crown ownership because the crown is the rightful owner. – Michael Kingsmill Jan 23 '13 at 21:18
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    The 'historical' artefact you refer to is entirely a legal nicety with no practical effect. 'Alloidal title' does not give the crown the right to confiscate property. It merely means that certain duties are owed to the crown - payment of taxes for example. It is certainly not true that freehold property not willed by the owner reverts to the crown. The same system operates in most states of the US, where alloidal title is owned by the state. – DJClayworth Jan 23 '13 at 21:31
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    @DJClayworth: yes and no. Land can be returned to the crown if a person dies with no will, and no heirs can be found. – Steve Melnikoff Jan 24 '13 at 19:41
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    @SteveMelnikoff But that is equally true of a pile of bank notes. It has nothing to do with whether the crown "owns" the land. – Martin Bonner Jan 16 at 9:26
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    @MartinBonner Additionally, it (the land, or money) doesn't always go to the Crown. In Cornwall, they go to the Duchy of Cornwall; in Lancashire (more or less) they go to the Duchy of Lancaster. – owjburnham Jul 11 at 16:06

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