by Phyllis Irene Radford
The Roman Catholic Church owned almost as much land in England as the king. And men of wealth and power kept giving them more! Part of this was a hope that by founding an abbey they’d have bargaining chips against their sins when they got to heaven. Abbeys were also convenient places to stash illegitimate children, bothersome relatives, and widowed mothers-in-law who could be a drain on the household finances.
Founding an abbey did require a charter from the king. He then had the ability to banish troublesome people to a life of contemplation and vows of silence on certain indiscretions or even full silence for a lifetime.
Some smaller institutions fell vacant or never attracted enough faithful inhabitants to survive even before the 16th Century Reformation when abbeys and convents were declared illegal, the property reverted to the king, and the inhabitants turned out into the cold,. What happens to the property when the Church doesn’t want it anymore?
46. All barons who have founded abbeys, concerning which they hold charters from the kings of England, or of which they have long-continued possession, shall have the wardship of them, when vacant, as they ought to have.
Presumably abbeys founded by various monastic orders under charter from the Pope were exempt from this.
In this next clause we see more of the complexity of forestry laws. Forests were more than just stands of trees. They were valuable lands that hosted game. Hunting was a necessary way of putting meat on the table for households large and small. Lenten fasts in the early spring also helped consesrve the game while new babies were vulnerable.
If King John got greedy and declared new forests in the name of the crown—which could include meadows, pasture lands, and rivers or lakes for fishing—making them off limits to people who had traditionally harvested them, then someone went hungry. And not necessarily just the peasantry.
47. All forests that have been made such in our time shall forthwith be disafforested; and a similar course shall be followed with regard to river-banks that have been placed “in defense” by us in our time.
The next clause seems to be a continuation of the above. “Evil customs” is not defined here, but we can assume it included bribes, severe punishments for infractions of law made up on the spot, and such activities known to greedy men.
We also see in this clause the precedent for trial by jury: twelve good men, honest and true. (In the back of my head I can hear Sean Connery declaring this in the movie “Murder on the Orient Express.”) This is also an echo of the Robin Hood legend: why he was outlawed and what he fought for.
48. All evil customs connected with forests and warrens, foresters and warreners, sheriffs and their officers, river-banks and their wardens, shall immediately be inquired into in each county by twelve sworn knights of the same county chosen by the honest men of the same county, and shall, within forty days of the said inquest, be utterly abolished, so as never to be restored, provided always that we previously have intimation thereof, or our justiciar, if we should not be in England.
But the victims can’t form a lynch mob. They have to follow legal procedure and notify the king or his justicar of the indictment.
For the entire Magna Carta document, you may go here: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/magnacarta.asp
For a more scholarly analysis of the Charter and its relevance to modern life: http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/magna-carta.htm
Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of the Book View Café. She first became interested in the Magna Carta while researching her master work series “Merlin’s Descendants.” Book View Café is proud to reissue these five volumes in a variety of DRM free e-book formats. The first book in the series, “Guardian of the Balance” can be found here:
You can read more about the author on her her bookshelf: http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/bvc-author/phyllis-irene-radford/