Blogging the Magna Carta #18

by Phyllis Irene Radford

We’re back to inheritance laws.  Escheat is the reversion of land to an overlord or the state from whom it has been held in Tenure by a Tenant dying without heirs.  Does that make sense?  Baron A holds his lands and title through feudal oaths and dues to Earl B.  Baron A dies without heirs.  Earl B continues as temporary guardian of the lands until a new baron can be granted the honours.  He holds them in escheat.  Even though Earl B is the overlord, he cannot absorb the barony into his own honours.  If Earl B dies before the new Baron A can be found, the earl’s heirs do not automatically continue as custodians of the escheat lands.

43. If any one holding of some escheat (such as the honour of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other escheats which are in our hands and are baronies) shall die, his heir shall give no other relief, and perform no other service to us than he would have done to the baron, if that barony had been in the baron’s hand; and we shall hold it in the same manner in which the baron held it.

In many ways this gives the king more control over inheritance of baronies, making sure they are held by people he trusted and not increasing the wealth and power of lords who could rival him.  Lesser properties are not mentioned.

44. Men who dwell without the forest need not henceforth come before our justiciars of the forest upon a general summons, except those who are impleaded (parties in a plea), or who have become sureties for any person or persons attached for forest offenses.

Forestry gets more and more complex.  I can see Robin Hood having a hand in this clause.  We have a justicar of the forest summoning many people before him for forest offences.  In this clause, people living outside the forest who have committed no wrong don’t have to respond to this summons.  Was there a time when everyone in the vicinity was presumed guilty even if they hadn’t been arrested and held to await trial by the circuit judge?  The exception to this is for those who stand surety for those who have been arrested.  If your brother-in-law is arrested for poaching and you guarantee that he’ll show up for trial and he skips town, you have to face the justicar in his stead.

45. We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs only such as know the law of the realm and mean to observe it well.

We take this for granted.  Lawyers, judges, and police officers have to know the law in modern times.  They have to go to school, take tests, and keep up with additional classes.  Prior to the Magna Carta any man could assume these roles, or buy them from the overlord.  Many times a ne’er do well brother-in-law or other relative was granted one of these lucrative positions just to keep peace in the family, regardless of qualification other than wealth, or kinship to a wealthy man.

This shouldn’t happen today.  A wealthy man may buy his son’s entrance into university and law school, but he still has to pass the bar in order to work in the legal system.

For the entire Magna Carta 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.  The first book in the series, “Guardian of the Balance” can be found here:

You can read more about the author on her her bookshelf:



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 #18 — 3 Comments

  1. If what I read is true, that in the USA many police only get 6 weeks of training (possibly depending on the state or department that’s hiring them), I wonder how much law they can learn in that short time, with all the other stuff they have to learn too?
    Over here it takes 4 years of police academy, not just to learn everything but also to give the instructors time to find out if a candidate is temperamentally really unsuitable to becoming a police officer (sadistic bullies aren’t acceptable, nor are ties to criminals).

    • Duration and extent of Police Academy depends upon the state or jurisdiction. Most large cities require 2 or more years. Sheriff is an elected office and largely administrative rather than boots on the ground so sometimes this office is more political.

      I have not heard of a 6 week only training, but it would certainly explain some of the goings on of late in this country.

  2. Isn’t this more about the royal power to hold escheats, and the frequent abuse of that power? No more service may be demanded, and the king shall not require more than the baron did.

    As I recall, kings took into their own hands all escheated property, and often held it well beyond the date it should have been handed over to the heirs, and exploited it ruthlessly. One famous case is the heiress who followed Henry II around demanding his permission to marry (when her land would pass from the crown to her husband). He finally told her in exasperation to “marry and be damned”.