Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Gavelkind Definition:

A form of limited land ownership in England pre-Conquest (1066) which vested to all sons equally.

Related Terms: Rent, Coparcenary

Also spelled gavelkinde.

According to Edward Coke, the term gavelkind is simply a phonetic rendition of the phrase "gave all kinds", to all sons alike, premised also on the word gavel which meant rent.

Coke wrote, in this Coke on Littleton two-volume series, that the county of Kent is the only territory of England where gavelkind survived to his era (circa 1628). The justification of gavelkinde was that "every son is as great a gentleman as the eldest son is" even though "the eldest shall bear, as a badge of his birthright, the father's arms without any difference, for that, as Littleton said, he is more worthy of blood."

A form of ownership and transfer of land in England in which all sons of land used and worked on by tenants take equal shares of those rights upon the death of their father, in spite of the preference given to the oldest son in regards to the inheritance of any title or "arms" belonging to the deceased father.

The entitlement to the usage of the land, and to fruits and product of it, but also the obligation to pay rent, was less than that held by a knight.

The land-holder was called a gavelman as his duty was to pay rent (gavel) to the landlord.

The 8th edition of John Bouvier's law dictionary provides a succinct but cryptic definition:

"Gavelkind: The tenure by which almost all lands in England were held prior to the Conquest (1066), and which is still preserved in Kent.

"All the sons of a tenant of gavelkind lands take equally, or their heirs male and female by representation. The wife of such tenant is dowable of one-half the lands. The husband of such tenant has curtesy, whether issue be born or not, but only of one-half while without issue.

"Such lands do not escheat except for treason or want of heirs.

"The heir of such lands may sell at fifteen years old but must himself give livery."

Regarding the gavelkind rights of the widow, Radin specified that the entitlement was "a life interest in half unless she remarried".


  • Coke, Edward, The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England or, a Commentary upon Littleton. Not the name of the Author Only, But Of the Law Itself, 17th Edition (London: W. Clarke & Sons, 1817), Volume 1, 140(a)
  • Radin, Max, Radin Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed. (Dobbs Ferry, New York: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1970), page 140.

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