Blogging the Magna Carta #5

by Phyllis Irene Radford

Presuming you’ve all had a chance to check out Guardian of the Trust Merlin’s Descendants #2 on sale at Book View Cafe and have seen how I tried to incorporate the Magna Carta into the plot, let’s move on to the next clauses.

In clause #9 of the Magna Carta we deal with debts.  How much can a bailiff seize when a debtor defaults?  When in need of cash, a man of property could get a wealthier person to co-sign the loan.  That should satisfy the lender and the bailiff.  But the debt continues to the co-signer if the debtor defaults.

For the entire Magna Carta you may go here:

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

Recognizing that in the medieval economy land is the source of all wealth, taking possession of the land and manor is the ultimate goal of the lender, the bailiff, and the cosigner.  Keeping possession of the land is the debtor’s prime goal, even if the debtor has to offer a substitute payment.

At this time, Christians were not allowed by the Church to charge interest on loans (usury).  So the lender had to become creative to profit from the loan.

9. Neither we nor our bailiffs shall seize any land or rent for any debt, so long as the chattels (personal possessions) of the debtor are sufficient to repay the debt; nor shall the sureties of the debtor be distrained so long as the principal debtor is able to satisfy the debt; and if the principal debtor shall fail to pay the debt, having nothing where with to pay it, then the sureties (co-signer) shall answer for the debt; and let them have the lands and rents of the debtor, if they desire them, until they are indemnified for the debt which they have paid for him, unless the principal debtor can show proof that he is discharged thereof as against the said sureties.  (Ah, the paper work, even in a mostly illiterate society.)

Many greedy bailiffs would rather seize the land and its continuing opportunity to supply wealth than just enough of the furniture, plate, and jewels to pay off the debt.

Anyone who has watched the news or listened to the woes of foreclosure victims can see similar tactics used by big banks.  They say they will accept a short sale that pays off most of the mortgage in lieu of foreclosure, but then when an offer is made for the house, the bank rejects the offer because the foreclosure insurance will repay the entire loan and the homeowner has the big fat black mark on their credit record of a foreclosure.  We also see instances of requests to restructure the loans being met with selling the house out from under the homeowner.  Both instances are perfectly legal.


Edited to add: We are entering a recession again. The first thing to go will be the second home purchased and mortgaged to the hilt so people can deduct the interest on the loan from their income taxes. Any bets as to how many will be foreclosed upon before they sell? In 2009 in my neighborhood, a resort town close to skiing, almost 40% of newer housing was for sale for a year or more.

Our economy is built on credit and loans.  Is it any more secure now than in 1215?

10. If one who has borrowed from the Jews any sum, great or small, die before that loan can be repaid, the debt shall not bear interest while the heir is under age, of whomsoever he may hold; and if the debt fall into our hands, we will not take anything except the principal sum contained in the bond.

Because of the Church’s prohibition against usury, only the Jews could charge interest.  Indeed, usury was often the only profession interacting with Christians, allowed them.  If a borrower should die while his heir was still a minor, the loan remained, but the interest is waived.  Even if the king co-signed the loan, he can’t bilk the estate of more than the loan principle.

Makes us wonder how much the king stole before the he signed the Charter.  Here we see the beginnings of making the king, monarch by the grace of God, subject to his own laws.

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 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 #5 — 3 Comments

  1. Just a few months ago we had that massive movement to get out from under mega corps banks in favor of LOCAL credit unions and small banks. This brings banking back down to a more personal level, negotiations or possible, small banks have a stake in the community and not just the anonymous shareholders or corporate big wigs.

    I believe that is the closest thing to security we can get today in a credit/debit run economy.

    But if King John finally became accountable to the law in 1215, why aren’t major corporations today?

    So much for going back to the MC as a basis for law in today’s world.