Nullus vicecomes, vel ballivus noster, vel aliquis alius capiat equos vel caretas alicujus liberi hominis pro cariagio faciendo, nisi de voluntate ipsius liberi hominis.
No sheriff, or bailiff of ours, or anyone else is to take any free man’s horses or carts for transporting things, except with the free man’s consent.
Clause 30 was essentially an attempt to place restrictions on one aspect of a traditional right of the crown known as purveyance, which enabled the king to take what he needed for his and his household’s maintenance and pay for it later. The scope of purveyance was greatly extended under Henry II and his sons, and Clause 30, along with Clauses 28 and 31, constituted an effort to bring it under control. Where Clause 30 was concerned, the commodity taken was transport, in the form of horses and carts, which the Angevin kings in general, and King John in particular, commandeered on a considerable scale. In fact the clause did not mention the king directly, only his officers. It is possible, depending on the interpretation of the phrase `anyone else’, that it also covered the officers of bishops and barons, but its primary target must have been the activities of King John and his agents, specifically as they affected the upper orders of society – the benefits of the clause were reserved for free men.
Horses largely replaced oxen as the principal means of haulage in England during the twelfth century. They were more expensive, but they made it possible for goods and people to move further and faster than previously. Under John, who spent far more time in England than either his father or elder brother, seizures of horses and carts facilitated the movements of troops, of money (in sacks containing £100 each – 24,000 silver pennies) and of the various departments of the royal court, and also of the king, as he rode tirelessly about the country, imposing himself on his subjects. Detail is scarce, but enough to show that was taken by way of transport (sometimes in the form of a doubtless compulsory `loan’) was by no means always paid for, either adequately or, in some cases, at all. When John quarrelled with the Cistercian abbots in 1212, one of his punishments for them was the requirement that they should provide him with `long’ carts and `very good’ horses. One abbot whose two carts were judged inadequate had them sent back to him, with a demand that he now provide the king with three.
In the years immediately before Magna Carta a substantial programme of restocking royal castles with food, drink and military equipment underlined the way in which John exploited other people’s horses and carts to maintain his rule, something which the civil war at the end of his reign, which was very largely one of sieges, only confirmed. Restricting the power of the king and his officials to take horses and carts thus constituted a way of reducing their power as well as of preventing an abuse. But Clause 30 did not go so far as to prohibit the seizure of horses and carts altogether, and though further restrictions were imposed in the re-issues of Magna Carta in 1216 and 1217, the basic practice continued.
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