Blogging the Magna Carta #3

By Phyllis Irene Radford

Continuing with the Magna Carta:  Clauses 2,3,&4 dealt with inheritance taxes and the protecting minor heirs.  A lot of the provisions were rather vague, giving unscrupulous and greedy men, including the king, a lot of leeway.  Finally in Clauses 5 & 6 we see a glimmer of fairness and justice becoming part of the law.

For the entire document, you may go here:

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

Who said “We can’t legislate morality”?  We can try.  Or at least make legal guardians work harder at stealing money legally.

5. The guardian, moreover, so long as he has the wardship of the land, shall keep up the houses, parks, fishponds, stanks (fish reserves), mills, and other things pertaining to the land, out of the issues of the same land; and he shall restore to the heir, when he has come to full age, all his land, stocked with ploughs and “wainage,” (carts and wagons) according as the season of husbandry shall require, and the issues of the land can reasonably bear.

There’s that pesky vague phrase “Can reasonably bear.”  Who decides that?  In the case of a friend, (I have to keep the names out of this) her ex left an estate of $13 million for their daughter.  His business manager was listed as executor of the estate.  Mr. Executor spent $5.5 million administering the estate, including the cash purchase of a brownstone in New York for his offices.  Half that building was then rented out and the rents went, wait for it, you’re sure to guess it, to the executor.  And he got away with it, even after my friend managed to get a court ordered audit of the estate accounts five years into the pillage.

6. Heirs shall be married without disparagement, yet so that before the marriage takes place the nearest in blood to that heir shall have notice.

Modern sensibilities may look at this and say, okay, an heir can get married as long as they notify the relatives.

The right to marry when and whom we choose is again a very modern concept.  In 1215 and for many centuries afterward, marriages were formal alliances, treaties, and mergers with dowries and marriage portions exchanged.  Common people who had no land or wealth could do as they pleased, even live in sin and no one but the local priest cared, and he might be itinerant, visiting a village only once a year to legalize by Church law an established situation.

Marriage was then and is now a way for government to control inheritances.

The head of the clan, or highest ranking noble in the extended family, took responsibility for all of the arrangements and signed legal documents guaranteeing the participation of the bride and groom or forfeiture.  Women had no choice about who their guardian chose as their husband.  Even widows had an appointed guardian and moved from husband to husband as ordered.  Her inheritance was governed by her husband or guardian.  If she survived childbirth, and that’s a BIG if, she might marry three or four times before dying or reaching menopause and therefore having no more value on the marriage market.  Men were usually out making war on each other and dying in battle.  Young men who survived battle, disease, and the medical care that treated their war wounds, were subject to the same marriage go round.

The government trying to control marriages?  In my youth it was illegal in most states to marry inter-racially. Forget about same sex marriages.  Have you heard of any recent attempts to control who we marry?

Edited update: since this blog was first published we enjoyed a period of increased racial tolerance. Since 2017, however, many more conservative states have tried to re-impose restrictions on inter-racial and same sex marriages.

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

Or her personal web page

You can also find her on Facebook as Phyllis Irene Radford, or The Cranky Old Crone.


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 #3 — 5 Comments

  1. Special thanks for your guardianship posts, which just saved me from an egregious oversight in my mediaeval fantasy-in-revision. The legal background is not quite English, but I had a most implausible unexamined assumption lurking behind two major features of the set-up.

    Fixed now, I think.

  2. I live in a state (Virginia) where my marriage was illegal for most of its history. Only within my lifetime has inter-racial marriage not been a crime.

  3. Gary,

    Glad I could help.


    Prejudice sucks. When I lived in Virginia a Muslim could bring his 4 wives and legally set up housekeeping by the law of Fair Faith and Credence. But Caucasian could not marry and Asian, Negro, or Native American.

    The sons of Peter Skene Ogden dealt with this issue at the Supreme Court level in the 1860s. It was accepted for a Hudson’s Bay employee to record a marriage to a tribal woman in the company books like any other business transactions and their children were legitimate until US territorial status came around. The boys invoked the FF&C law in order to keep their inheritance from defaulting to greedy relatives because they were illegitimate.

    Seems like a legal marriage performed in another state should automatically be legal in ANY other state.

    But prejudice blinds legislators now as much as in 1215.

  4. Marriage started off by being a way to do an equivalent of treaties between powerful families and states. It was a kind of property then too, with hostages. As property (children and inheritances) became more important with the middle and lower class, codifying who got what ownership and responsibilities became more important, to the people and to the state.