Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER TWENTY–EIGHT. - Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction
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CHAPTER TWENTY–EIGHT. - 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).
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Nullus constabularius, vel alius ballivus noster, capiat blada vel alia catalla alicujus, nisi statim inde reddat denarios, aut respectum inde habere possit de voluntate venditoris.
No constable or other bailiff of ours shall take corn or other provisions from any one without immediately tendering money therefor, unless he can have postponement thereof by permission of the seller.
This chapter is the first of several that redressed abuses springing from the exercise of the royal right of purveyance.
Purveyance in General.
The Norman and Angevin Kings of England were compelled by their administrative duties and induced by the pleasures of the chase to move constantly from district to district. The difficulties must have been great of finding sufficient food for the retinues surrounding the King in peace or war. It was to the interests of the community that the work of government should not be brought to a stand–still for want of supplies. No opposition was made when the King arrogated to himself the privilege of appropriating, under fair conditions, the necessaries his household might require. Such a right, not unlike that enjoyed in modern times by the commander of an army encamped in an enemy’s country, was allowed to the Kings of England in their own land in time of peace. This was known as purveyance.1 Unfortunately, the conditions under which supplies might be requisitioned were left vague: the privilege was subject to abuse. In theory it was a right of pre–emption; the provisions seized were to be paid for at the market rate: but practice tended to differ lamentably from theory. In the absence of a neutral arbitrator to fix the value of the goods, the unfortunate seller was thankful to accept any pittance offered by royal officials, who might subsequently, indeed, charge a higher rate against the Crown. Payment was often indefinitely delayed or made not in coin but in exchequer tallies, “a vexatious anticipation of taxation,” since these could only be used in payment of Crown dues.
Magna Carta did not abolish purveyance, and placed no restrictions upon its use for the legitimate purpose of supplying the King’s household. Some slight attempt to control its exercise was made sixty years later in the Statute of Westminster I.; but without producing much effect.2 The Articles of 13093 complained that the King’s purveyors took great quantities of corn, malt, and meat without paying even by exchequer tallies. The grievances connected with purveyance continued, throughout four centuries, as a fertile source of vexation to the people and of friction between parliament and the King. An attempt, made by the House of Commons to induce James I. to surrender this prerogative for a money grant, ended in failure, with the abandonment of the abortive treaty known as “the Great Contract.” In the general re–settlement of the revenue, however, at the Restoration, purveyance and pre–emption, which had fallen into disuse during the Commonwealth, were abolished.1 Yet in the following year a new statute2 virtually revived one branch of the right under essential modifications: when royal progresses were necessary in the future, warrants might be issued from the Board of Green Cloth, authorizing the King to use such carts and carriages as he might require, at a fair rate of hire specified in the Act of Parliament.
Branches of Purveyance restricted by Magna Carta.
A practice tolerated because of its absolute necessity, when confined to providing for the needs of the King’s household, became intolerable when claimed by every castle–warden, sheriff, and local bailiff, for his own personal or official needs. Discretionary authority was vested by John in a class of officials least qualified to use it, unscrupulous foreign adventurers hired to intimidate the native population, responsible to no one save the King, and careful never to issue from their strongholds except at the head of their reckless soldiery. The Great Charter contained a few moderate provisions for checking the abuses of purveyance.
Provisioning of castles.
Commanders of fortresses were left free by Magna Carta to help themselves to such corn and other supplies as they deemed necessary for their garrisons. Immediate payment, however, must be made in current coin (not in exchequer tallies) for everything they requisitioned, unless the owner consented to postpone the date of payment. The Charter of 1216 made a slight modification in favour of castellans. Payment for goods taken from the town where the castle was situated might be legally delayed for three weeks, a term extended in 1217 to forty days. Such relaxation was perhaps necessary to meet the case of a warden with an empty purse called on to provide against an unexpected siege or other emergency; but the peaceful townsmen, over whose dwellings the dark walls of a feudal stronghold loomed, would not dare to press unduly for payment. Under Henry’s Charters, as under that of John, immediate payment had to be tendered to owners who lived elsewhere than in this neighbouring town.1
Requisitioning horses and carts.
The provisions of chapter 30, modified in subsequent reissues, sought to prohibit sheriffs from commandeering wagons that were the property of freemen.
Appropriation of timber.
The succeeding chapter confined the King and his officers to the use of such wood as they could obtain from the royal demesnes.2
Branches of Purveyance not mentioned in Magna Carta.
A wide field was left alike for the use and the abuse of this prerogative, after due effect had been given to these moderate provisions. Two minor aspects of purveyance came into prominence in later history.
Requisition of forced labour.
Hallam explains how the King’s rights of pre–emption were extended, by analogy, to his subjects’ labour. “Thus Edward III. announces to all sheriffs that William of Walsingham had a commission to collect as many painters as might suffice for ‘our works in St. Stephen’s chapel, Westminster, to be at our wages as long as shall be necessary’; and to arrest and keep in prison all who should refuse or be refractory; and enjoins them to lend assistance. Windsor Castle owes its massive magnificence to labourers impressed from every part of the kingdom. There is even a commission from Edward IV. to take as many workmen in gold as were wanted, and employ them at the King’s cost upon the trappings of himself and his household.”3 Perhaps, however, such demands did not form a legal branch of purveyance, but were merely instances of illegal royal encroachments.
Billeting of soldiers in private houses.
This practice, which may be considered a branch of purveyance, has always been peculiarly abhorrent to public opinion in England. It is as old as the reign of John; for, when that King visited York in 1201, he complained bitterly that the citizens neither came out to meet him nor provided for the wants of his crossbow–men. His threats and demands for hostages were with difficulty turned aside by a money payment of £100.1 Charles I. made an oppressive use of this prerogative, punishing householders who refused to pay illegal taxes by quartering his dissolute soldiery upon them, a practice branded as illegal by the Petition of Right in 1628.2
[1 ]See Blackstone, Commentaries, I. 287, for an often–quoted definition.
[2 ]3 Edward I. c. 32.
[3 ]Stubbs, Const. Hist., II. 339.
[1 ]12 Charles II. c. 24, ss. 11–12.
[2 ]13 Charles II. c. 8.
[1 ]The Statute of Westminster I. (3 Edward I. c. 7) enacted “that no constable or castellan from henceforth take any prise or like thing of any other than of such as be of their own town or castle, and that it be paid or else agreement made within forty days, if it be not ancient prise due to the king, or the castle, or the lord of the castle,” and further (c. 32) that purveyors taking goods for the King’s use, or for a garrison, and appropriating the price received therefor from the exchequer, should be liable in double payment and to imprisonment during the King’s pleasure.
[2 ]For details, see under cc. 30 and 31.
[3 ]Hallam, Middle Ages, III. 221.
[1 ]See Rotuli de oblatis et finibus, 119.
[2 ]See 3 Charles I. c. 1.