Blogging the Magna Carta #2

By Phyllis Irene Radford

Continuing with the Magna Carta: Clause #1 dealt with the freedom of the Church to elect their own leaders without interference from the crown.

For the entire document, you may go here:

For a more scholarly analysis of the Charter and its relevance to modern life:

Clause #2 and #3 address the problem of inheritance tax in a time when the silver penny was the standard coinage.  Thus a pound of silver became the Pound Sterling standard in later centuries.  Coinage in general was a small part of the wealth of the kingdom and rare.  Paper money nearly unheard of.  (The Knights Templar invented letters of credit with gold or jewels deposited with one branch of the Order and redeemable at the end of a journey so one did not have to carry gold while traveling.)  Most wealth was in the land and in trade.  A barter economy.

So how did the crown collect taxes?

King John, his predecessors, and his descendants up into the times of the Tudors two hundred years later, collected taxes “in kind.”  The king, his household, courtiers, hangers on, and petitioners, and all their servants, horses, cart oxen, etc. etc. traveled around the country housing with one baron after the other, consuming taxes on the hoof.  Feeding and housing this great troupe cost a bundle, sometimes 20% or even 50% of the annual product of the fief.

Having the king in residence to preside as judge in disputes, or criminal complaints, could be a blessing.  Thus the origin of the term Court for anything involving the king’s presence.  The king literally held courts of justice at each stop.  John was good at it and made certain his decisions were recorded as legal precedent.  But the cost of this blessing?

Military service was another duty, separate from the housing responsibilities.

In the English feudal system, the king owned everything down to the last bale of hay.  The hierarchy of nobility, knights, farmers, tenants on down to the lowest serf owed the next person higher on the ladder service and products of their labor in return for protection.  For men-at-arms, knights, and so forth part of that feudal duty was military service.

Allowing a male heir to inherit titles and lands (honors) was the privilege of the king.  And it cost whatever the king considered the honors were worth.  Granting the lucrative guardianship of a minor heir was also a gift of the king that cost.  The cost was often determined by the king’s needs rather than the value of the honors.  And he wanted cash.

Of course, if the baron couldn’t pay, he was in debt to the king, who could demand “favors” and service in lieu of adding interest.

Setting standards for the inheritance tax became necessary to avoid bankruptcy. Thus the problem is addressed early in the Magna Carta.

2. If any of our earls or barons, or others holding of us in chief by military service shall have died, and at the time of his death his heir shall be of full age and owe “relief” he shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient relief, namely the heir or heirs of an earl, 100 pounds for a whole earl’s barony; the heir or heirs of a baron, 100 pounds for a whole barony; the heir or heirs of a knight, 100 shillings at most for a whole knight’s fee; and whoever owes less let him give less, according to the ancient custom of fiefs.

But who defines ancient custom?  A flat tax for the wealthy and a whatever-we-can-get-away-with tax on everyone else.  Where have we seen this in modern times?

3. If, however, the heir of any of the aforesaid has been under age and in wardship, let him have his inheritance without relief and without fine when he comes of age.

Clause #3 is a bit obvious.  The heir has been under guardianship for years, possibly most of his life.  His guardian, who might have been the king’s best friend, or the king himself, has bilked the estate for every last grain of oats.  There’s nothing left for the king, or the heir.  These days we call them executors.

4. The guardian of the land of an heir who is thus under age, shall take from the land of the heir nothing but reasonable produce, reasonable customs, and reasonable services, and that without destruction or waste of men or goods; and if we have committed the wardship of the lands of any such minor to the sheriff, or to any other who is responsible to us for its issues, and he has made destruction or waste of what he holds in wardship, we will take of him amends, and the land shall be committed to two lawful and discrete men of that fee, who shall be responsible for the issues to us or to him to whom we shall assign them; and if we have given or sold the wardship of any such land to anyone and he has therein made destruction or waste, he shall lose that wardship, and it shall be transferred to two lawful and discreet men of that fief, who shall be responsible to us in like manner as aforesaid.

The king takes the amends from a greedy guardian.  No mention of returning the fines and fees to the minor ward.

Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of the Book View Café.  Though raised in the seaports of America she was born in Portland, Oregon and has lived in and around the city since her junior year in high school.  She thrives in the damp and loves the tall trees.

For more about her and her fiction please visit her bookshelf here on BVC

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About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


Blogging the Magna Carta #2 — 4 Comments

  1. Not to pick a nit, but was the use of ‘discrete’ in the first half of paragraph #4 and the use of ‘discreet’ at the end deliberate? They do not mean the same thing and I am curious which is correct in this context.

  2. This was cut and pasted from one of the translations on line. Also spelling was not codified until well into Tudor times. Depending upon when the translation was done either term could be correct. (one of them might have been corrected by a copy editor at some point.)

  3. Even your own name could be spelled differently. The variants in Shakespeare’s own signature are instructive. Between the various dialects of English, and the lack of dictionaries, Google, and, it was every speller for himself.