Blogging the Magna Carta #14

by Phyllis Irene Radford

The middle of the great Charter deals with laws and economics in practical ways.  For the first time these minutiae of legal disputes are written down and agreed to by the king and his barons.  They become the basis for a government founded on law rather than the king’s whim.  France did not have legal codification until Napoleon.

Stop and think a moment.  What would have happened to England if the Charter never came about and the civil war between John and his barons continued, making England vulnerable to French invasion?  This was a real possibility.  Would we all be speaking French now, or would the English spirit of independence have asserted itself a little later?

32. We will not retain beyond one year and one day, the lands of those who have been convicted of felony, and the lands shall thereafter be handed over to the lords of the fiefs.

King John confiscated the estates of William de Briouze who seems to have committed no crime other than to invoke the king’s extreme displeasure.  De Briouze died in exile.  It looks to me as if John had done this after the Magna Carta, de Briouze would need to be convicted of a felony, by a jury of his peers, before John could confiscate the land.  Then the king could only keep it for one year and a day while he stripped it of value, before turning it over to heirs, or lacking those to the overlord of the lands.  De Briouze’s wife and children “disappeared,” probably into an oubliette—a black hole in a prison where they were literally forgotten (oublier in French) until they starved to death.  Though this kind of behavior continued, a king or baron who did this sort of thing became accountable to the law.

Today in the US, if landlords, absentee or not, allow their rental property to be used for drug manufacture or trafficking, the house can be confiscated and sold by the city/state/county to help pay for the prosecution of those crimes.  Some shout unfair, this is the problem of the renters, not the owner.  Others hold that the owner is responsible for oversight of his/her property.  At least this forfeiture or confiscation goes through the court system and is not done at the whim of a greedy politician.


33. All kiddles (a barrier in a river with an opening fitted with nets etc. to catch fish.) for the future shall be removed altogether from Thames and Medway, and throughout all England, except upon the seashore.

Rivers have remained a primary source of transportation up into modern times.  Roads in medieval Europe, or pioneer America, were expensive to maintain and difficult to keep clear for cart traffic.  Carts got bogged in the mud, robbed while passing through remote regions, and broke axels when jouncing over and around obstacles.  Rivers provided easier and more reliable routes.  Blocking those rivers with fishnets became a problem in moving food and armies, and food for those armies.  Many villages and noble houses alike ate the fish caught in those nets, providing much needed protein in their diets when they couldn’t poach the king’s deer or found it imprudent to butcher scrawny livestock after a long hard winter.  Transportion of goods, and armies was more important to the politically powerful who contributed to and signed the Magna Carta.


34. The writ which is called praecipe (the order of forfeiture when title to land is in dispute) shall not for the future be issued to anyone, regarding any tenement whereby a freeman may be deprived of the right of trial in his own lord’s court.

Land holders in 13th C England had more rights than lesser folk.  Owning land moved a person up the social and legal scale so that their minor crimes, debts, or disputes could be settled by their own lord rather than a sheriff or village mob.  If legal authorities confiscated the land at the first petition of dispute, then both parties were landless and the trial could easily fall away from the jurisdiction of the immediate overlord who was likely more knowledgeable about the claims than an itinerant justicar.

On another level: this was a time when the Crusades claimed the lives of many heirs and younger sons.  Travel was difficult and dangerous.  Men and their retinues were often absent for years, possibly a decade or more.  What happened when they were presumed dead and their family lands passed to a distant cousin, or the king gave them (and the title) to another loyal and deserving man, but the blood heir returned and expected to take possession?

Again, the local overlord was in a position to root out identity theft (yes it happened then, though not as often as now) and weigh the balance of inheritance rights and who would be the best tenant much better than an itinerant justicar.

This also avoids the problem of armed conflict between the claimants.

For the entire document, you may go here:

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


Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of the Book View Café.  She first became interested in the Magna Carta while researching her master work series “Merlin’s Descendants.”  Book View Café is proud to reissue these five volumes in a variety of DRM free e-book formats.  You can read more about the author on her her bookshelf:

The first book in the series, “Guardian of the Balance” can be found here:

and the final volume “Guardian of the Freedom” is new to the bookstore:


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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.

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