Viae Regiae

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Definitions of The King’s Highways

Edward Coke, Institutes of the lawes of England (1628), 56.

According to the leading lawyer, Edward Coke, writing in 1628 but quoting from a much earlier source:[1]

There be three kinde of wayes, whereof you shall reade in our ancient bookes. First a foote way, which is called Iter, quod est jus eundi vel ambulandi hominis [right of way or footpath], and this was the first way.

The second is a foote way and horse way, which is called actus, ab agendo; and this vulgarly is called packe and prime way, because it is both a foot way, which was the first or prime way, and a packe or drift way also.

The third is via or aditus which conteyne the other two, and also a cart way, &c, for this is jus eundi, vehendi, & vehiculum & iumentum ducendi [right of way for carrying, vehicles, and leading animals]; and this is twofold, viz. Regia via the Kings high way for all men, & communis strata belonging to a Citie or Towne, or between neighbours and neighbours.[2]

Henry Schultes, Aquatic Rights (1839), 50.

Every navigable river, as high as the sea flows and reflows, is called a royal stream, and the king has an interest in it; because such river participates of the nature of the sea, and is considered as a branch of the sea as high as the tide flows. And it is usually called a royal stream, not in reference to the property of the river, but to the public use of it; for these kinds of rivers are regarded as public highways by water, and all things of public safety and convenience being in a special manner under the king's care and protection, and every public river or stream is alta regia via, the king's highway.[3]

The channel of a public navigable river is a King’s highway.[4]


  1. Jakob Spiegel, Lexicon Iuris Civilis, Jakob Spiegel, 1554.
  2. Edward Coke, Institutes of the lawes of England (1628), 56.
  3. Henry Schultes, Aquatic Rights (1839), 50.
  4. Williams v Wilcox (1838) 8 Ad & E 314.