Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER THIRTY–FIVE. - Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction
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CHAPTER THIRTY–FIVE. - 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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Una mensura vini sit per totum regnum nostrum, et una mensura cervisie, et una mensura bladi, scilicet quarterium Londonie, et una latitudo pannorum tinctorum et russetorum et halbergectorum, scilicet due ulne infra listas; de ponderibus autem sit ut de mensuris.
Let there be one measure of wine throughout our whole realm; and one measure of ale; and one measure of corn, to wit, “the London quarter”; and one width of cloth (whether dyed, or russet, or “halberget”),1 to wit, two ells within the selvedges; of weights also let it be as of measures.
This chapter confirmed the provisions of various ordinances that sought to regulate the sale of commodities. Assizes of bread and beer were issued from time to time, and also assizes of weights and measures, and of wines. Richard’s Assize of Cloth, for example, of 20th November, 1197, was, according to modern conceptions of the proper sphere of government, partly commendable and partly ill–advised. It strove, on the one hand, to overcome the inconvenience experienced by traders, who met with varying standards as they moved their wares from place to place. What was of more importance, the Assize sought to obviate frauds perpetrated upon buyers under shelter of ambiguous weights and measures. The London quarter must, therefore, be used everywhere for corn; and one measure for wine or beer: so far, good. On the other hand, the ordinances of Richard went further than modern ideas of laissez faire would tolerate. In particular, freedom of trade was interfered with by the regulations reported by Roger of Hoveden.2 No cloth, he tells us, was to be woven except of a uniform width, namely, “two ells within the lists.”3
Dyed cloths, it was provided, should be of equal quality through and through, as well in the middle as at the outside. Merchants were prohibited from darkening their windows by hanging up, to quote the quaint language of the ordinance, “cloth whether red or black, or shields (scuta) so as to deceive the sight of buyers seeking to choose good cloth.” Coloured cloth was only to be sold in cities or important boroughs. Here we have a sumptuary law meant to ensure that the lower classes went in modest grey attire. Six lawful men were to be assigned to keep the Assize in each county and important borough. These custodians of measures must see that no goods were bought or sold except according to the standards; imprison those found guilty of using other measures; and seize the chattels of defaulters, for the King’s behoof. If the custodes performed their duties negligently they were to suffer amercement of their chattels.1 Richard’s Assize of Measures was supplemented in 1199 by John’s Assize of Wine, which tried to regulate the price of wines of various qualities,2 an attempt not repeated in Magna Carta.
The author who gives us the text of the ordinance of 1197, tells us that its terms were too stringent, and had to be relaxed in practice.3 This was done in 1201: the King’s justices seized cloth that was less than the legal width. They compromised, however, by accepting money “to the use of the King and to the damage of many”; thus Hoveden denounces what he regards as an unlawful bargain between justices and traders for evading the strict letter of the ordinance.
The justices, indeed, were often more intent on collecting fines for its breach than on enforcing the Assize. In 1203, two merchants of Worksop were amerced each in half a mark for selling wine contrary to the Assize, while the custodians of measures of the borough were mulcted in one mark for performing their duty negligently—an exact illustration of the words of the ordinance.1 In the same year, a fine of one mark was imposed on certain merchants “for stretching cloth,” in order, presumably, to bring it to the legal width.2 Merchants frequently paid heavy fines to escape the ordinance altogether.3
When the barons in 1215 insisted upon John enforcing his brother’s ordinance, they took a step in their own interests as buyers, and against the interests of the trade guilds as sellers. Although this provision was repeated in subsequent charters, evasion continued. One example may suffice: in the second year of Henry III.4 the citizens of London paid 40 marks that they might not be questioned for selling cloth less than two yards in width. Here is an illustration of the practice of the judges to which Hoveden had objected, and which Magna Carta had apparently failed to put down. Sometimes, however, Richard’s Assize of Measures5 and John’s Assize of Wine were enforced. In 1219, a Lincolnshire parson, with a liberal conception of his parochial duties, had to pay 40s. for wine sold extra Assisam.6 Parsons, apparently, might engage in trade, but only if they conformed to the usual regulations.
[1 ]This word, unknown to Ducange, seems to be connected with the “hauberk” or coat–of–mail. It may mean thick cloth worn under a coat–of–mail.
[2 ]R. Hoveden, IV. 33–4.
[3 ]At a later date cloth of an alternative standard width was also legalized, viz., of one yard between the “lists.” Hence arose the distinction between “broadcloth” (that is, cloth of two yards) and “streits” (that is, narrow cloth of one yard) (see Statute 1 Richard III. c. 8). The word “broadcloth” has, long since, changed its meaning, and now denotes material of superior quality, quite irrespective of width. See Oxford English Dictionary, under “Broadcloth.”
[1 ]Cf. supra, c. 20, for “amercements,” and supra, c. 24, for “custodes” of pleas (or coroners).
[2 ]See R. Hoveden, IV. 100.
[3 ]See Hoveden, IV. 172, and Stubbs, Const. Hist., I. 616.
[1 ]See Pipe Roll, 4 John, cited Madox, I. 566.
[2 ]See ibid.
[3 ]In 1203 the men of Worcester paid 100s. “ut possint emere et vendere pannos tinctos sicut solebant tempore Regis Henrici”; and the men of Bedford, Beverley, Norwich and other towns made similar payments. See Pipe Roll, 4 John, cited Madox, I. 468–9.
[4 ]See Pipe Roll, cited Madox, I. 509.
[5 ]Gloucester Pleas, No. 501.
[6 ]Pipe Roll, 3 Henry III., cited Madox, I. 567.