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: 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
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 http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Phyllis-Irene-Radford/
Or her personal web page ireneradford.net
You can also find her on Facebook as Phyllis Irene Radford, or The Cranky Old Crone.