by Phyllis Irene Radford
Something we take for granted:
35. Let there be one measure of wine throughout our whole realm; and one measure of ale; and one measure of corn, to wit, “the London quarter;” and one width of cloth (whether dyed, or russet, or “halberget” [cloth made of mixed color, worn chiefly by monks.]), to wit, two ells within the selvages; of weights also let it be as of measures.
Until the Magna Carta, each district defined their own measurements. In London, a foot was the length of the king’s foot; an inch the length from the king’s fingertip to the first knuckle. But King Richard I was said to stand well over six feet tall. King John is reputed to measure barely five feet seven. And if a child became king then grew…
Or suppose a lady needed 10 ells of cloth for a new gown. An ell being the measurement from the tip of the fingers to the elbow. In London she’d get adequate cloth as the merchants tended to use the king’s arm as the standard measurement. In York she’d come up short on her new gown as the cloth was measured against someone else’s arm. And if she ordered from Paris, she’d get an entirely different length.
The same with weights of food and containers of wine or oil.
The trigger for this clause comes from outfitting an army. War was a primary occupation of kings and nobles. Outfitting an army was expensive even if one relying upon feudal oaths in lieu of salaries. The king or his nobles, whoever was in charge, needed to know how much grain and ale he could buy with his silver penny and therefore how many pennies to keep on hand. If he got short measures because that was the standard in the district he might not have enough money to keep his army in the field. He needed to get the same amount in Devonshire, Yorkshire, Shropshire, or London.
With this clause, we have a standardization for the first time in England. We’re still using the same measures in the US as defined in 1215. Much of the rest of the world has converted to the metric system. We’re still working toward a worldwide uniform agreement.
Now this is a procedure that might clear our clogged judicial system: Disputants often had to pay a fee for the right to take their case to court.
36. Nothing in future shall be given or taken for a writ of inquisition of life or limbs, but freely it shall be granted, and never denied.
That life and limb phrase bothers me. I don’t think a man had to amputate his arm in order to get his case heard by a justicar. More likely this refers to major crimes involving loss of life or limb. If plaintiffs had to pay a fee to sue in court, would we see so many marginal cases for monetary compensation for say… recovery of the value of the litter when a pregnant pig was sold?
We hear about people who literally make their living by causing auto accidents and then suing the person who rear ends them, claiming exaggerated injuries. What if they had to pay the court to file suit? Certainly they have to pay the lawyer, but that person often takes a percentage of the pay out. If the court wanted their share up front before any proceedings could begin, how many people would pursue a frivolous claim?
37. If anyone holds of us by fee-farm, by socage (feudal tenure of land involving payment of rent or other non-military service to a superior), or by burgage (tenure of land in a town on a yearly rent), and holds also land of another lord by knight’s service, we will not (by reason of that fee-farm, socage, or burgage) have the wardship of the heir, or of such land of his as is of the fief of that other; nor shall we have wardship of that fee-farm, socage, or burgage, unless such fee-farm owes knight’s services. We will not by reason of any small serjeanty which any one may hold of us by the service of rendering to us knives, arrows, or the like, have wardship of his heir or of the land which he holds of another lord by knight’s service.
Another issue that attempts to untangle the complex relationships in a feudal society. In our world this would apply if a man owned property in several different states. Say he has a farm in upstate New York and a vineyard in California. He doesn’t have to pay property tax for the vineyard to New York, or for the farm to California. In 1215 he owes his landlord only for the property held for that landlord, the king or another baron can’t step in and say he owes him for all property he holds regardless of the landlord. The same for inheritance and wardship. To each his own and nothing more.
This is a concept we now take for granted.
For the entire Magna Carta, 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
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 bookshelf: https://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/bvc-author/phyllis-irene-radford/
The first book in the series, “Guardian of the Balance” can be found here: