Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER TWO. - Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction
Return to Title Page for Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER TWO. - Misc (Magna Carta), Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction 
Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction, by William Sharp McKechnie (Glasgow: Maclehose, 1914).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
Si quis comitum vel baronum nostrorum, sive aliorum tenencium de nobis in capite per servicium militare, mortuus fuerit, et cum decesserit heres suus plene etatis fuerit et relevium debeat, habeat hereditatem suam per antiquum relevium; scilicet heres vel heredes comitis de baronia comitis integra per centum libras; heres vel heredes baronis de baronia integra per centum libras; heres vel heredes militis de feodo militis integro per centum solidos ad plus; et qui minus debuerit minus det secundum antiquam consuetudinem feodorum.
If any of our earls or barons, or others holding of us in chief by military service shall have died, and at the time of his death his heir shall be full of age and owe “relief” he shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient relief, namely the heir or heirs of an earl, £100 for a whole earl’s barony; the heir or heirs of a baron, £100 for a whole barony; the heir or heirs of a knight, 100s. at most for a whole knight’s fee; and whoever owes less let him give less, according to the ancient custom of fiefs.
Preliminaries concluded, the Charter attacked what was, in the barons’ eyes, the chief of John’s abuses, his arbitrary increase of feudal obligations. The Articles of the Barons, indeed, had plunged at once into this most crucial question without a word by way of pious phrases or legal formulas.
Assessment of Reliefs.
Each “incident” had its own possibilities of abuse, and the Great Charter deals with these in turn. The present chapter defines the reliefs to be henceforth paid to John.1 Vagueness as to the amount due was a natural corollary of doubts as to whether the hereditary principle was binding: the lord took as much as he could grind from the inexperience or timidity of the youthful vassal.
A process of definition, however, was early at work: some conception of a “reasonable relief” was evolved. Yet the criterion varied.2 Henry I., when bidding against duke Robert for the throne, was willing, in words if not in practice, to accept the limits set by contemporary opinion. His Charter of Liberties promised that reliefs should be “just and lawful”—an elastic phrase, liberally interpreted by exchequer officials in their royal master’s favour. When Glanvill wrote the sums to be taken by mesne lords had been fixed; but the Crown remained free to exact higher rates. Baroniae capitales were charged relief at sums which varied juxta voluntatem et misericordiam domini regis.1
Every year, however, made for definition; custom pointed towards 100s. for a knight’s fee, and £100 for a barony. Two entries on the Pipe Roll of 10 Richard I. amusingly illustrate the unsettled practice: £100 is described as a “reasonable relief” for a barony, and yet a second entry records an additional payment by way of “fine” to induce the King to accept the sum his own roll had just declared “reasonable.”1 John was more openly regardless of reason. The Pipe Roll of 1202 shows how an unfortunate heir failed to get his heritage until he paid 300 marks, with the promise of an annual “acceptable present” to the King.2
If John could ask so much, what prevented him asking more? He might name a prohibitive price, and so defeat the hereditability of fiefs altogether. Such arbitrary exactions must end, so the barons were determined in 1215: custom must be defined, so as to prevail henceforth against royal discretion. The first demand of the Articles of the Barons is, “that heirs of full age shall have their heritage by the ancient relief to be set forth in the Charter,” as though the final bargain had not yet been made. Here it is, then, duly set forth and defined as £100 for an “earl’s barony,” £100 for “a baron’s barony,” 100s. for a knight’s fee, and a proportional part of 100s. for every fraction of a knight’s fee. This clause produced the desired effect. These rates were strictly observed by the exchequer of Henry III., as we know from the Pipe Rolls of his reign. Thus, when a certain William Pantoll was charged with £100 for his relief on the mistaken supposition that he had a “barony,” he protested that he held only five knights’ fees, and got off with the payment of £25.3 The relief of a barony was subsequently reduced from £100 to 100 marks. The date of this change, if we may rely on Madox,4 lies between the twenty–first and thirty–fifth years of Edward I.5
Apparently all who paid reliefs to the King were mulcted in a further payment (calculated at 9 per cent. of the relief) in name of “Queen’s Gold,” to the private purse of the Queen Consort, collected by an official representing her at the exchequer.6
The charter here says nothing of socage or serjeanty.7 (a) Socage. The barons were not vitally interested in socage, that being, in the normal case, the tenure of humbler men.1 In later reigns the King, like an ordinary mesne lord, contented himself with one year’s rent of socage lands in name of relief. (b) Serjeanty. The barons cannot have been indifferent to the fate of serjeanties, since many of them held great estates by such tenures. Possibly they assumed that the rules applied to knights’ fees and baronies would apply to serjeanties as well. The Crown acted on quite a different view; large sums were frequently extorted by Henry III. By the reign of Edward I., however, the exchequer limited itself to one year’s rent2 for petty serjeanties, which thus fell into line with socage.3
Units of Assessment.
Some explanation is required of the three groups into which Crown estates were thus divided—knights’ fees, barons’ baronies, and earls’ baronies.
Feodum militis integrum.
There is little doubt, in light of evidence accumulated by Mr. Round in his Feudal England, that William I. stipulated verbally for the service of a definite number of knights from every fief bestowed by him on his Norman followers. A knight’s fee (or scutum) became the measure of feudal assessment: servitium unius militis was a well–known legal unit. But difficult problems emerge when it is asked what equation, if any, existed between land and service. Unsuccessful attempts have been made to identify the knights’ fee with a fixed area of five hides on the one hand, or with a fixed annual value of £20 upon the other. Prof. Vinogradoff4 has shown conclusively that no fixed ratio exists. Fees have been found as small as one hide and as large as 48; and they vary in value from place to place, as well as from reign to reign. William I. allowed himself a wide discretion in saddling estates with service: favoured foundations like Gloucester and Battle Abbey enjoyed complete exemption. Yet he did not distribute burdens in pure wantonness; and the majority of holdings approximated to a normal standard of extent and value. Under Henry II. two types appear, the larger of 16 marks and the smaller of 10. Under Edward I. a general appreciation of values seems to have raised the former standard to £20.1
The Crown tenant’s holding consisted of a fixed number of knights’ fees—usually a multiple of five (a troop of ten mounted soldiers forming the military unit of the Norman Kings); and each fee, whatever might be its acreage or rental, owed the service of one knight. Each fee, under the Great Charter, paid relief at 100s., unless the estate, of which it formed part, was reckoned as a barony.
The word “barony” has undergone many changes.2 A “barony” at the Norman Conquest differed in almost every respect from a “barony” at the present day. The word baro was originally synonymous with homo, meaning, in feudal usage, a vassal of any lord. It soon became usual, however, to confine the word to king’s men; “barones” were identical with “crown tenants”—a considerable body at first; but a new distinction arose (possibly as a consequence of the procedure for summoning them to a Great Council as stipulated for in chapter 14 of Magna Carta) between the great men and the smaller men (barones majores and minores). The latter were called knights (milites), while “baron” was reserved for the greater tenants.3 For determining what constituted a “barony,” however, it was impossible to lay down any absolute criterion. Mere size was not sufficient. Under Henry II. baronies still paid relief at the King’s good pleasure.1 Richard and John were more rapacious than their father. John, indeed, forced William de Braose, who was heir to the barony of Limerick, to promise a relief of 5000 marks—a sum he was quite unable to pay.2 Magna Carta, here not merely declaratory, but making an addition to existing custom, fixed £100 as the relief for a full barony (a sum afterwards reduced to 100 marks) irrespective of size or value.3
Baronia comitis integra.
Where a modern eye expects to find “earldom,” the text reads “earl’s barony.”4 But “earldom” originally meant an office, the chief magistracy of a county, not a title of dignity nor the ownership of land: whereas “relief” was due for the land, not the office. Therein lies also the explanation why the earl originally paid no more for his barony than the baron paid for his.
The position of an earl under the Norman Kings had been something far different from a modern “earldom”: it did not pass, as matter of course, from father to son without the King’s confirmation; it did not carry with it any right to demand entry to the King’s Council; it was not one of several “steps in the peerage,” a conception that did not then exist.5
The policy of the Conqueror had been to bring each county as far as possible under his own direct authority; many districts had no earls, while in others the connection of an earl with his titular shire was reduced to a shadow, the only points of connection being the right to enjoy “the third penny” (that is, the third part pro indiviso of the profits of the county court) and the right to bear its name. It is true that, in addition, the earl usually held valuable estates in the shire, but he did this only as any other land–owner might. For purposes of taxation the whole of his lands were reckoned as one unit, here described as baronia comitis integra, the relief on which was taxed at £100.
Very gradually, in after ages, the conception of an earldom suffered change. The official character made way for the idea of tenure, and later on for the modern conception of a hereditary dignity conferring rank and privileges. The period of transition, when the tenurial idea prevailed, is illustrated by the successful attempt of Ranulf, earl of Chester and Lincoln, in the reign of Henry III. to dispose of one of his two earldoms—described by him as the comitatus of Lincoln.1 Earls are now, like barons, created by letters patent, and need not be land–owners. Thus the words “barony” and “earldom,” so diverse in their origin and early development, became closely united in their later history.
Liability of Church Property to “Relief.”
The Charter of John, unlike that of Henry I., makes no mention of the lands of vacant sees in this connection, probably because the main question had long been settled in favour of the church. The position of a bishopric was, however, a peculiar one: each prelate was a Crown tenant, and his fief was reckoned a “barony,” entitling its owner to all the privileges, and saddling him with all the feudal obligations of a baron.2
It was not unnatural that, when a prelate died, the Crown should demand “relief” from his successor. Thus, in 1092, Herbert Losinga paid £1000 of relief for the see of Thetford, an act of simony for which his conscience pricked him. Such demands met with bitter opposition. The Crown, unwilling to forego its feudal dues, endeavoured to shift their incidence from the revenues of the see to the shoulders of the feudal under–tenants. After bishop Wulfstan’s death on 18th January, 1095, a writ was issued in William’s name to the freeholders of the see of Worcester, calling on each of them to pay, as a relief due on their bishop’s death, a specified sum, assessed by the barons of exchequer.1
In revenge for such extortions, the historians of the day, recruited from the clerical class, have heartily commended Rufus and Flambard to the opprobrium of posterity. Henry I., in his coronation Charter, promised to exact nothing during vacancies from the demesne of the church or from its tenants.2 No corresponding promise was demanded from John, a proof that such exactions had ceased. The Crown no longer extorted relief from church lands, although wardship was, without protest, enforced during vacancies.
[1 ]Cf. supra, p. 59.
[2 ]At an early date, in the midland counties, the thegn with more than six “manors” paid £8 of relief to the King; the thegn with six or fewer paid three marks to the sheriff. See Domesday Book, I. 280, b (Derby and Notts). Contrast Ibid., I. 56, where, however, relief seems to be confused with heriot.
[1 ]Glanvill’s words (IX. c. 4) are ambiguous. He distinguishes three cases: (a) the normal knight’s fee, from which 100s. was due as relief (whether this extends to fees of Crown–tenants does not appear); (b) socage lands, from which one year’s rent might be taken; and (c) “capitales baroniae” were left subject to the King’s discretion. Now “barony” was a loose word: baronies, like barons, might be small or great (cf. infra, c. 14); all Crown fiefs being “baronies” in one sense, but only certain larger “honours” being so reckoned in another. Glanvill leaves this vital point undetermined, but Dialogus de Scaccario (II. x. E. p. 135 and II. xxiv. p. 155) supports the distinction between Crown–tenants and tenants of mesne lords: only the latter had their reliefs fixed. Madox (I. 315–6) cites from Pipe Rolls large sums exacted by the Crown: in one case £300 was paid for six fees—or ten times what a mesne lord could have exacted. (Pipe Roll, 24 Henry II.) There is further evidence to the same effect: where a barony had escheated to the Crown, reliefs of the former under–tenants would in future be payable directly to the Crown; but it was the practice of Henry II. (confirmed by c. 43 of Magna Carta, q.v.) to charge, in such cases, only the lower rates exigible prior to the escheat. A similar rule applied to under–tenants of baronies in wardship; see the case of the knights of the see of Lincoln in the hands of a royal warden in Pipe Roll, 14 Henry II. cited by Madox, ibid.). It would thus appear that all holders of Crown fiefs (not merely barones majores) were in Glanvill’s day still liable to arbitrary extortions in name of reliefs. The editors of the Dialogus (p. 223) are of this opinion. Pollock and Maitland (I. 289) maintain the opposite—that the limitation to 100s. was binding on the Crown as well as on mesne lords.
[1 ]Madox, I. 316.
[2 ]Ibid., I. 317.
[3 ]Ibid., I. 318.
[4 ]Ibid., I. 321.
[5 ]Apparently its first appearance is in the Inspeximus of 10th October, 1297. See Madox, 318; Pollock and Maitland, I. 289; Bémont, Chartes, p. 47.
[6 ]See note by editors of Dialogus, p. 238; Poole, Exchequer, 16, 170. The barons in 1258 (Sel. Charters, 382) protested against this, and the practice was discontinued.
[7 ]Cf. supra, pp. 54–6.
[1 ]It is possible to argue that the custom as to socage was already too well settled to require confirmation: Glanvill (IX. c. 4) stated the relief for socage at one year’s value. It is not clear, however, whether this restriction applied to the Crown. Further, no custom, however well established, was safe against John’s greed.
[2 ]See Littleton, Tenures, II. viii. s. 154, and Madox, I. 321, who cites the case of a certain Henry, son of William le Moigne, who was fined in £18 for the relief of lands worth £18 a year held “by the serjeanty of the King’s Lardinary.”
[3 ]Cf. supra, p. 57. See Round, King’s Serjeanties, p. 33.
[4 ]Engl. Soc. in Eleventh Century, pp. 42–48.
[1 ]Engl. Soc. in Eleventh Century, pp. 49–50.
[2 ]See Pollock and Maitland, I. 262, and authorities there cited. “An honour or barony is thus regarded as a mass of lands which from of old have been held by a single title.” See also Pike, House of Lords, pp. 88–9.
[3 ]This change was not complete in 1215, but Magna Carta, when it uses “barones” alone, seems to refer to “barones majores” (see cc. 2, 21, 61). Cf. infra under c. 14.
[1 ]Dialogus, II. xxiv.
[2 ]New Rymer, I. 107.
[3 ]Madox, I. 216 ff. As the Exchequer, from the time of Edward I., exacted 100 marks from a barony and 100s. from a knight’s fee, the false equation of extent “1 barony = 13⅓ knights’ fees” was deduced. Coke (On Littleton, IV. s. 112, and Second Inst., 7) is sometimes credited with originating this error, but it appears in Modus tenendi Parliamentum (Sel. Chart., 503). To suit the proportion given in John’s Charter the equation would need to be “1 barony = 20 fees.” There is, of course, no fixed equation; baronies might be of any size; we read of land held “in baronagio per servitium feodi unius militis” (Northumberland Eyre Roll, 7 Ed. I.; Surtees Soc., 88, p. 327).
[4 ]In the Inspeximus of Edward I., however, comitatus (earldom) displaces the baronia comitis of the text. See Statutes of Realm, I. 114.
[5 ]See Pike, House of Lords, 57.
[1 ]See Pike, House of Lords, 63. This term comitatus was a word of many meanings. Originally designating the “county” or “the county court,” it came to mean also the office of the earl who ruled the county, and later on it might indicate either his titular connection with the shire, his estates, his share of the profits of justice, or his rank in the peerage.
[2 ]This was affirmed in 1164 by Article 11 of the Constitutions of Clarendon, which stipulated that each prelate should hold his lands sicut baroniam.
[1 ]Sicut per barones meos disposui. The writ is given in Heming’s Cartulary, I. 79–80, and reprinted by Round, Feudal England, 309.
[2 ]See supra, p. 98.