Blogging the Magna Carta #12

by Phyllis Irene Radford


Much of the Magna Carta has been called an economic peace treaty between King John and his barons.  The following clauses address some of these issues.

For the entire document of the Magna Carta, you may go here:

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


26. If anyone holding of us a lay fief shall die, and our sheriff or bailiff shall exhibit our letters patent of summons for a debt which the deceased owed to us, it shall be lawful for our sheriff or bailiff to attach and catalogue chattels of the deceased, found upon the lay fief, to the value of that debt, at the sight of law-worthy men, provided always that nothing whatever be thence removed until the debt which is evident shall be fully paid to us; and the residue shall be left to the executors to fulfill the will of the deceased; and if there be nothing due from him to us, all the chattels shall go to the deceased, saving to his wife and children their reasonable shares.

Here’s King John dotting Is and crossing Ts.  Again we have this inventory taking place under the supervision of worthy-men.  Plural.  One person can be bribed by the offer to take something for himself.  Two or three not so much.  Nothing can be removed before or after the inventory until the debt is settled.  This is like the IRS sealing your safety deposit box upon death until the estate is probated and debts settled.  And the executor of the estates can have a share after the widow and children get theirs.  This still applies.  Then as now there were probably ways of cheating so that the executor’s share is overbalanced in his favor.

Those catalogs of chattels tell historians a lot about how people lived during the period and what they considered valuable, due to purchase price or import costs, or how labor intense to make.  Historians love these.


27. If any freeman shall die intestate, his chattels shall be distributed by the hands of his nearest kinsfolk and friends, under supervision of the church, saving to everyone the debts which the deceased owed to him.

It is still time consuming and painful for the heirs if someone dies without a will.  This is the equivalent of probate today.  Please note that the Church supervises the payment of debt and oversees the distribution.  Presuming the Church will provide an honest and literate person for the job who will keep accurate records. There is a good chance that no one else within a reasonable distance was literate.


28. No constable or other bailiff of ours shall take corn or other provisions from any one without immediately tendering money therefore, unless he can have postponement thereof by permission of the seller.

Previous kings had been in the habit of collecting taxes and tithes in food and goods rather than coin. But as coins became more available and the economy shifted people had to make certain they were not double taxed in coin and goods. There was also the ongoing problem of feeding troops during war, foreign and civil. Who paid for it?  In this clause no officer of the king could confiscate harvest and livestock for the army without paying for it.  Unless he got written permission from the owner, most of whom couldn’t read or write and probably did not understand what was happening.

NPR recently had an article about how food, and the distribution of food drove the creation of the Magna Carta.  In my oppinion it was one force among many.  Clause #28 speaks to this issue.

With the droughts, floods, tonadoes, and other wicked weather the US has endured these last two years, the production and distribution of food, farm subsidies and climate shift may once again become a driving force for change.


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 #12 — 3 Comments

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  2. I’ve read different books that have explored what happens if Richard had lived. They seemed to see England as being better off. But without the Magna Carta, its monarchy may have gone the way France’s did.