Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER FIFTY–FIVE. - Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction
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CHAPTER FIFTY–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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Omnes fines qui injuste et contra legem terre facti sunt nobiscum, et omnia amerciamenta facta injuste et contra legem terre, omnino condonentur, vel fiat inde per judicium viginti quinque baronum de quibus fit mencio inferius in securitate pacis, vel per judicium majoris partis eorundem, una cum predicto Stephano Cantuariensi archiepiscopo, si interesse poterit, et aliis quos secum ad hoc vocare voluerit: et si interesse non poterit, nichilominus procedat negocium sine eo, ita quod, si aliquis vel aliqui de predictis viginti quinque baronibus fuerint in simili querela, amoveantur quantum ad hoc judicium, et alii loco eorum per residuos de eisdem viginti quinque, tantum ad hoc faciendum electi et jurati substituantur.
All fines made with us unjustly and against the law of the land, and all amercements imposed unjustly and against the law of the land, shall be entirely remitted, or else it shall be done concerning them according to the decision of the five–and–twenty barons of whom mention is made below in the clause for securing the peace, or according to the judgment of the majority of the same, along with the aforesaid Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, if he can be present, and such others as he may wish to bring with him for this purpose, and if he cannot be present the business shall nevertheless proceed without him, provided always that if any one or more of the aforesaid five–and–twenty barons are in a similar suit, they shall be removed as far as concerns this particular judgment, others being substituted in their places after having been selected by the rest of the same five–and–twenty for this purpose only, and after having been sworn.
The thirty–seventh of the Articles, forming the draft of this chapter, refers specially to fines exacted by John from widows for the peaceful enjoyment of their own and their husband’s estates (“pro dotibus, maritagiis, et hereditatibus”): it forms thus a natural supplement to chapter 7. The earlier chapter had confirmed widows in their rights for the future; this one remits fines unjustly taken in the past. It is probable that the Articles of the Barons did not intend to limit their own operation to this one group of unjust fines; and they mention amercements without qualification. In any view, the terms of Magna Carta were broadened out to embrace illegal fines and amercements of every sort.1
The distinction between fines and amercements has been explained in a former chapter.2 The system of arbitrary fines culminated in the reign of John, whose talents were well suited to the development of its ingenious and mean details. Dr. Stubbs describes the product of John’s labours as “the system of fines which was elaborated into that minute and grotesque instrument of torture which all the historians of the reign have dwelt on in great detail,”3 and Hallam has a passage which has become classical:—“The Bishop of Winchester paid a tun of good wine for not reminding the King (John) to give a girdle to the countess of Albemarle; and Robert de Vaux five best palfreys, that the same King might hold his peace about Henry Pinel’s wife. Another paid four marks for leave to eat (pro licentia comedendi).”4
Unique procedure was provided by the present chapter for deciding disputes as to the legality of fines and amercements. Authority to decide was vested in a board of arbitrators to consist of thirteen or more of the twenty–five executors, together with Stephen Langton and such others as he chose to summon. No mention is made of the maximum number whom the primate might nominate, and there is no attempt to define their powers relative to the other members, a somewhat unbusinesslike omission, but one which testifies to the confidence placed in Langton by those who approved its terms. Care is taken to prevent members of the twenty–five from sitting in judgment on suits arising from circumstances resembling their own.
This chapter, like others addressed to special needs of John’s reign, found no echo in future charters.
[1 ]In its expanded form the clause becomes a supplement also to cc. 20, 21, and 22 (which defined procedure at amercements), and to cc. 36 and 40 (which condemned John’s practice of refusing writs and justice until heavy fines were offered).
[2 ]See supra, c. 20.
[3 ]See Preface to W. Coventry, II. lxix.
[4 ]Middle Ages, II. 438. Hallam’s examples are all drawn from Madox, I. 507–9. O her illustrations of fines and amercements may be found under several of the foregoing chapters. Every man who began a plea and lost it, or abandoned it, was amerced.