Blogging the Magna Carta #11

by Phyllis Irene Radford

This episode deals with loose threads and nit picking.  But they are issues that crop up frequently today.

Now we come to what we would call infrastructure, roads and bridges and such.  These vital improvements keep a kingdom united and accessible.  The Romans built marvelous roads and bridges.  Parts of them are still in existence 2000 years later.  But towns and villages grew up away from the infrastructure.  Carts got wider and longer and didn’t fit on narrow foot bridges.  People stole the dressed stones to build cottages, byres, and even castles.

Roads and bridges are expensive and require a bit of engineering talent and education.  Who pays for this?

For the entire Magna Carta, you may go here:

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


23. No village or individual shall be compelled to make bridges at river-banks, except those who, of old, were legally bound to do so.

So the king or a baron cannot waltz into a village and demand the freemen and merchants pay for the improvements that grant access to his new castle.  He might be bound by feudal oath to protect them from marauders and invaders, and they also are bound to pay him feudal dues.  But if their oath to the baron includes maintaining bridges and roads and does not include building bridges and roads, he cannot compel them.  He either has to pay for it himself, or petition the king for relief of the cost.

Your tax pennies at work.

Today we have a similar issue between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.  The bridge crossing the Columbia River and joining the two cities and states is hopelessly outdated.  The new bridge, designed to accommodate growth and not just ease the traffic burden today is huge.  And hugely expensive.  Everyone wants the bridge.  No one wants to pay for it.

Edited to add: in 2020 the new bridge is still not built and only the Shelter in Place rulings have relieved any of the clogged traffic. Last November when going to Orycon in a hotel beside the interstate bridge we needed 33 minutes to drive 1/2 mile.


24. No sheriff, constable, coroners, or others of our bailiffs, shall hold (try) pleas of our Crown.

This is sort of the difference between state and federal courts in modern day.  A crime against the crown, like a merchant cheating on his taxes goes to the king or his justicar.  The local sheriff—who might be more forgiving than the king on this issue—cannot bring this miscreant to trial.  Keeping the litter of piglets from the pregnant pig you bought from another freeman probably would go to the local official.  Likewise, stealing from the baron to whom you have made feudal oaths would stay in the court appointed by that baron.  No prejudicial jurors here, no sir.  Not going to happen.


25. All counties, hundreds, (the amount of land needed to support 100 freemen and their families)  wapentakes, (sub-division of land in areas formerly under Norse control equivalent to Anglo Saxon Hundred) and trithings (one of three ancient divisions of a county in England; now called riding) {except our demesne manors} shall remain at old rents, and without any additional payment.

Let’s hear it for rent control!  However, due to inflation there have been times the crown nearly went bankrupt because of this.  The king can only raise taxes on his own manors and estates.

Edited to add: modern tax structure is now under the jurisdiction of Parliament and can be changed as needed, if the majority party can get the votes.

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


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 #11 — 1 Comment

  1. Phyl, Thanks for more fascinating glimpses into the roots of our laws. As for Roman cobblestone roads, I’ve seen remnants of them popping up in most unlikely places in Italy and Greece. On Crete, while hiking through rugged mountain terrain on the south coast, where goat tracks through prickly bushes were the main routes, I came upon a beautiful stretch of old Roman road, seemingly coming and going to nowhere in particular. And also a “bridge to nowhere” stranded without entrance or exit on a riverbank near the coast. History enriches us, even when we don’t know the full stories.