Nec nos nec ballivi nostri seisiemus terram aliquam nec redditum pro debito aliquo, quamdiu catalla debitoris sufficiunt ad debitum reddendum; nec pleggii ipsius debitoris distringantur quamdiu ipse capitalis debitor sufficit ad solutionem debiti; et si capitalis debitor defecerit in solutione debiti, non habens unde solvat, pleggii respondeant de debito; et, si voluerint, habeant terras et redditus debitoris donec sit eis satisfactum de debito quod ante pro eo solverint, nisi capitalis debitor monstraverit se esse quietum inde versus eosdem pleggios.
Neither we nor our bailiffs are to seize any land or rent for any debt, as long as the debtor’s chattels suffice to pay the debt. Nor are the debtor’s pledges to be distrained as long as the principal debtor has enough to pay the debt. And if the principal debtor defaults on the payment of the debt, not having the means to pay it, the pledges are to answer for it, and if they wish they are to have the debtor’s lands and rents until they have been satisfied for the debt which they previously paid for him, unless the principal debtor shows that he is quit with regard to the pledges.
Under King John, royal policy towards landowners owing money to the crown became unprecedentedly severe, with the exchequer increasingly prepared to seize the lands not only of men who owed the king money, but also of those who had guaranteed its payment. In a society which was founded upon land tenure, such measures constituted a threat to status, as well as to livelihood, and aroused widespread resentment, which inevitably increased as more and more people were caught up in the processes of the exchequer, either as principals or as the latter’s pledges. Clause 9 did not forbid the practices complained of, but it placed firm constraints upon their use against principal debtors, in particular by providing that chattels were to be seized before land was confiscated. And it also gave protection to sureties by ordering that nothing was to be taken from them until the resources of principal debtors were exhausted, and by ordering that when they were obliged to pay the debts they had underwritten – as it is clear that they sometimes were – then they were to be able to secure repayment from the men whose obligations they had shouldered, if necessary by being put in possession of his lands and rents. More generally, the clause attempted to bring order to the processes whereby debts were recovered, which in John’s hands, in particular, were inconsistently applied in accordance with the king’s immediate interests or personal whim.
Clause 49 (The 1215 Magna Carta)
Clause 55 (The 1215 Magna Carta)
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