Nec villa nec homo distringatur facere pontes ad riparias, nisi qui ab antiquo et de jure facere debent.
Neither township nor man is to be distrained to make bridges over rivers, except those who should of old and rightfully do so.
Clause 23 was concerned with an abuse of royal rights, whereby communities near rivers might be compelled to provide makeshift bridges when the king went out hawking. The birds pursued by his falcons were most likely to be found on or near rivers, and his enjoyment of his sport might depend on his being able to cross quickly from one bank to another. Although some communities lay under a long-standing obligation to provide such bridges, it appears to have been widely extended during the twelfth century. All the Angevin kings were keen falconers, John as much as any, and unlike Henry II and Richard I he spent years at a time in England, travelling widely and taking his birds with him – he sometimes went hawking on saints’ days, and then felt obliged to give food to poor people as penance for having done so. He appointed officials to look after rivers where he went hawking, and later evidence shows that these were found in many parts of England. By John’s reign it would appear that the penalty for failing to provide a bridge had become fixed at five marks (£3. 6s. 8d.), and that it was imposed on the spot. Both the practice, and the large and arbitrary penalties resulting from it, were clearly greatly resented, as injurious not only to villagers but also to their lords, who risked being punished if their tenants did not supply the bridges demanded from them. Clause 23 did not deny that the king could legitimately require bridges to be built at certain places, but aimed to curtail what seems to have become a limitless extension of this right.
The copies of Magna Carta 1216 (Features of the Month)
King John’s Lost Language of Cranes (Features of the Month)
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