Si quis tenuerit de aliqua escaeta, sicut de honore Walingeford, Notingeham, Bononiae, Lainkastriae, vel de aliis eskaetis, quae sunt in manu nostra, et sunt baroniae, et obierit, haeres non det aliud relevium, nec faciat nobis aliud servitium quam faceret baroni si baronia illa esset in manu baronis; et nos eodem modo eam tenebimus quo baro eam tenuit.
If anyone dies who held of any escheat, like the honour(s) of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other escheats which are in our hand and are baronies, his heir is not to give any other relief, or to do us any other service, than he would have done to the baron if the barony was in the baron’s hand; and we will hold it in the same manner that the baron held it.
Escheats were baronies which had come into the king’s hands through the forfeiture of their previous lords, most often for treason, or as a result of a failure of heirs. The tenants of such lordships which were not granted away again, but remained in the king’s hands – like the four identified by name in Clause 43 – risked being treated differently from before. Now holding their lands directly from the king, they could be regarded as tenants-in-chief, and as such might be exposed to more direct pressure and heavier demands, especially for `reliefs’, the sums due on succession to free property. On the whole this did not happen under Henry II and Richard I, or in the early years of the reign of King John, but as time passed the latter began to step up his demands on escheats, and also on their ecclesiastical equivalents, bishoprics and abbeys which the death or translation of their holders brought into his hands, where they might stay for months or even years. The king’s excommunication in 1209 led to a number of these coming under royal control, and to their intensive exploitation, and secular escheats were increasingly treated in the same way, with the honour of Lancaster being especially hard hit. Their resources were carefully investigated in order to maximise returns, which were often paid directly to the king rather than to the exchequer. In a few instances tenants were able to pay to avoid having additional burdens placed upon them, but most efforts failed to avoid demands which became ever heavier – in 1213 the tenants of some escheats, both secular and ecclesiastical, were required to pay scutage at the rate of ten marks (£6. 13s. 4d.) per knight’s fee, compared with three marks (£2) demanded elsewhere. It is not surprising either that the tenants of escheats should often have been prominent in the rebellion against King John at the end of his reign, or that their interests should have been represented by a clause in Magna Carta forbidding the king to treat escheats in ways different from those used by their previous lords.
From the Tower, John sends a coded message to his queen (The Itinerary of King John)
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