In 1666 King Charles II issued the Fisheries Privilege Charter granting 50 fishermen from the city of Bruges ‘eternal access’ to British waters, and the EU are now trying to 'grandfather' this treaty. Is this treaty valid under all possible circumstances, or is it possible to claim that this is no longer appropriate to present day circumstances? And moreover, is it possible for the entire EU to inherit the treaty in the first place without any questions being asked, given that the EU is not the 'Enlarged Country of Belgium (or any other member state)'.

This is a somewhat analagous situation to a new-build Housing Estate in a rural area. While planning permission may have been granted for the houses, the land itself is subject to an ancient historical 'Covenant' which was drawn up hundreds of years before work started on the Housing site. Theoretically speaking the Covenant applies for all time, but it is possible to make an application to 'discharge' the Covenant on the grounds that it is no longer appropriate to the present day use of the land, even if it can be very expensive to do so in practise.

Is it possible to pursue an analagous process for the seas?

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    Do you have the actual wording of the Charter? One may argue that access was given to just those 50 guys, not to anyone else let alone the whole nation. The guys are long dead, therefore so are the rights granted.
    – Greendrake
    Oct 13, 2020 at 10:59
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    A source that the EU is using this 1666 royal gran/charter as an argument in the negotiations would also be welcomed. Oct 13, 2020 at 11:13
  • @MarkJohnson Seems unlikely to be true that it is the EU, rather than the Belgians noting the charter. twnews.co.uk/uk-news/…
    – richardb
    Oct 13, 2020 at 11:57
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    Wikipedia article might be a good starting point: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisheries_Privilege_(1666)
    – richardb
    Oct 13, 2020 at 12:28
  • @richardb Both of these sources say nothing about the OP's claim: the EU are now trying to 'grandfather' this treaty.. Oct 13, 2020 at 13:10

2 Answers 2


It is unlikly that a treaty (grant/charter) that was never in force would be used as a claim in a negotiation.

A treaty, just as a contract, cannot be simply be changed by one party.
So an 'expansion' from '50 boats from Bruges' to 'all the boats of Belgium (or the EU)' would not be done by an experienced negotiation team.

Based on the little that is known of this matter:

  • both parties probably didn't know of its existence until the October 2020 reports

Sources: (links from richardb)

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    It seems that this charter was never invoked, but that does not mean that it was never in force. I agree that it's unlikely that the charter's scope could be expanded to apply to boats that are not from Brugge, nor to more than 50 of these, without the consent of the UK, which is of course unlikely to be forthcoming.
    – phoog
    Oct 13, 2020 at 17:06
  • This answer doesn't address the actual question, however, which is whether it is possible to pursue a process analogous to the "discharge" of a property covenant in the case of this charter.
    – phoog
    Oct 13, 2020 at 17:35

It turns out that Denmark also have a similar medieval fishing charter to Belgium. So that raises the question as to whether it is Belgium's Charter or Denmark's Charter that would apply to the EU as a whole. Or both Charters could only apply to the member states individually; the EU cannot 'grandfather' these charters seperately.

The only way that the entire EU could possibly inherit those rights is i) The EU is a federal sovereign country, which it currently is not (this is a comparable situation to the now unified Germany inheriting a resource of the then-East Germany), AND ii) If every EU member that was party to UK fishing waters all had their own historical fishing charters regarding UK seas, had formally pooled those charters into a unified whole. But those entire EU rights to access UK waters can collapase if just one of those member states party to UK seas do not have a historical charter, as in this case we are back to individual charters.

  • Was the Danish charter ever in force before 1973? Link to a source about this charter? It is doubtful that 'International' law forsee's any automatic combining of the individual charters into one without the consent of the second party (United Kingdom). Oct 29, 2020 at 18:39

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