Blogging the Magna Carta #21
As part of his reconciliation with the Pope, King John promised to lead a crusade once peace returned to England. A crusade was a sacred vow. All members of Christendom were expected, on pain of excommunication, to respect those vows. So buried in the convoluted sentences of the next clause is the promise to take care of land titles and repossession when John returned from crusade. But he couldn’t go on crusade until he made peace with his barons. But his barons didn’t want peace unless they regained lands stolen from them by the crown…
These dispossessions seem to have been an ongoing problem dating back to King John’s older brother Richard I and his father Henry II. Before Henry II there was another civil war between his mother—Empress Mathilde, the daughter of Henry I and widow of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V and Stephen, nephew of Henry I–who knows how many lands changed hands legally and illegally during that bloody period. John promises to address the more modern problems. But after several generations titles and inheritances are bound to get lost in the paperwork.
52. If any one has been dispossessed or removed by us, without the legal judgment of his peers, from his lands, castles, franchises, or from his right, we will immediately restore them to him; and if a dispute arise over this, then let it be decided by the five-and-twenty barons of whom mention is made below in the clause for securing the peace. Moreover, for all those possessions, from which any one has, without the lawful judgment of his peers, been disseised or removed, by our father, King Henry, or by our brother, King Richard, and which we retain in our hand (or which are possessed by others, to whom we are bound to warrant them) we shall have respite until the usual term of crusaders; excepting those things about which a plea has been raised, or an inquest made by our order, before our taking of the cross; but as soon as we return from our expedition (or if perchance we desist from the expedition) we will immediately grant full justice therein.
Taking the Cross—or making vows to go on crusade—was a big deal in the 12th and 13th Century. Having a king excommunicated from Holy Mother Church was an even bigger deal. When the Barons did not rise up and de-throne John at the start of his conflict with the Church, the Pope but the entire country under interdict. Which went on for ten long years. Separation from the Church took its toll on the people and eventually disrupted foreign alliances and trade relations. If waiting for justice regarding land titles meant waiting for the duration of John’s Crusade most of the barons considered the trade-off fair.
53. We shall have, moreover, the same respite and in the same manner in rendering justice concerning the disafforestation or retention of those forests which Henry our father and Richard our brother afforested, and concerning wardship of lands which are of the fief of another (namely, such wardships as we have hitherto had by reason of a fief which any one held of us by knight’s service), and concerning abbeys founded on other fiefs than our own, in which the lord of the fief claims to have right; and when we have returned, or if we desist from our expedition, we will immediately grant full justice to all who complain of such things.
More delaying tactics. This gives me the impression that there were going to be a lot of claims. Some could be backed up with documentation. Some could not. Straightening out the mess was going to take time and John had other matters on his mind.
54. No one shall be arrested or imprisoned upon the appeal of a woman, for the death of any other than her husband.
Now this one comes out of nowhere. If a woman witnesses a murder of anyone but her husband, her accusation is invalid. This is one clause I am happy to see has not carried over into modern times.
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/