Nullus distringatur ad faciendum majus servitium de feodo militis, nec de alio libero tenemento, quam inde debetur.
No person is to be distrained to do more service for a knight’s fee, or for another free tenement, than is owed for it.
Clause 16 of Magna Carta comes at the end of a short sequence primarily concerned with the financial implications of the king’s relations with his tenants-in-chief. Its equivalent among the Articles of the Barons, no. 7, was placed in a broadly similar context, but may have lost strength through other material (Articles 32, 34-5) covering related ground having been situated much later in the sequence. The final ordering of clauses 12 to 16 of the Charter was logical in itself, and also arranged in such a way as to impose a cumulative restraint on some of King John’s money-raising techniques. The Clause and the Article were by no means identical, however. The latter’s simple prohibition on doing more service than was owed was rephrased and extended. The Article could have been taken to imply, however improbably, that some idealists were voluntarily doing an excess of service and needed to be prevented from breaking ranks with their harder-headed associates. Clause 16 made it clear that the forcible measures inherent in distraint had been applied to compel more service being done than was owed, and forbade this for the future. And whereas the Article spoke only of the service owed for a knight’s fee, Clause 16 applied the prohibition to all free tenements, thereby implicitly excluding the unfree from its protection, against the demands of their lords or anyone else.
More positively, the extension of Clause 16 to cover all free tenements gave protection to those who held their lands in return for non-military services , and was indeed capable of being interpreted as also defending the free sub-tenants of tenants-in-chief against unwarranted demands by their lords. How far this last possibility was intended is unclear. Clause 15 had clearly been drafted with this purpose in mind, since it made exact provision for the circumstances in which a lord could take an aid from `his free men’, and envisaged this happening only with royal licence. But Clause 16 was far more general in its application, as, indeed, were the clauses which followed it, and made no provision for its own enforcement (also unlike Clauses 12 and 14, which together established the administrative machinery for the imposition and assessment of scutage). It was, moreover, to all outward appearances unnecessary for the protection of sub-tenants, who already possessed a means of self-defence against over-exigent lords, in the writ ne vexes, which in the words of the writ itself gave protection to a tenant against a lord `demanding, or allowing to be demanded, customs and services which he is not bound to do ...’. The tenant-in-chief, by contrast, had no such recourse against the crown (this is discussed further below). The original formulation of Article 7, speaking only of the service due from a knight’s fee, placed it in a sphere regulated by the relations between kings and tenants-in-chief, in which the military service owed by the latter to the former played a preeminent role. Its extension in Clause 7 to cover all free tenements brought it into contact with a different world, where on the evidence of deeds and charters links between lords and men were usually defined in terms of landed units, of manors, tenements and rents, and services were far more often expressed in fiscal than military terms. This widening of the clause’s scope certainly had the potential to benefit the sub-tenants who stood behind the barons and prelates who negotiated Magna Carta, but the latter were thinking primarily of their own interests when they drafted it.
Behind Clause 16 of Magna Carta there lay two principal issues, both of them essentially military: the king’s ability to require service overseas, and his right to commute services, wherever they were demanded, above all for financial payments in the form of scutage. The former did most to arouse overt opposition, and arguably did so at higher levels in society, but the latter is likely to have had the more widespread impact, and must, indeed, have done much to engender resentment against King John’s regime among knights, gentry and other lesser freeholders. The inter-relationship of these two bones of contention is shown by their being dealt with in consecutive clauses (7 and 8) of the `Unknown Charter’, seemingly a product of discussions and negotiations in the early months of 1215. In clause 7 King John was envisioned as conceding that `Moreover I grant to my men that they shall not go in an army outside England except to Normandy and Brittany, and this only as is appropriate (decenter), so that if anyone owes me the service of ten knights this will be scaled down by the counsel of my barons’. And in the next clause that `If scutage occurs in my land, one silver mark is to be taken from a knight’s fee, and if a military emergency (gravamen exercitus) arises, more might be taken by the counsel of the barons of the kingdom’.1
The precision of these demands, and in the case of clause 8 the completely unrealistic limitation on the rate at which scutage might be levied, when taken together with the attempts they embodied to impose controls on rights which John and all previous kings had been accustomed to exercise without dispute, was such as to make them unacceptable to the king, at any rate in that form. There are certainly no exact parallels to them either among the Articles of the Barons or in Magna Carta, but the latter ultimately contained three clauses covering the relevant ground. Clauses 12 and 14 named scutage as a levy which was only to be imposed with `the common counsel of the kingdom’, while Clause 16 was presumably intended in the first instance to be directed at overseas service (servicium was, after all, its focal point), though its relevance to scutage as well probably made it no less acceptable, as underlining the resistance provoked by this contentious issue. (It may also have been appreciated in some circles that the sleight of hand which linked scutages with aids in Clauses 12 and 14 might prove hard to sustain, and that these clauses would eventually have to be abandoned, as indeed they were.) The rather indefinite language of Clause 16, when compared with the exactness of the `Unknown Charter’, has been perceived as a `something of a royal victory’.2 It is probably truer to say that it reflected the sheer difficulty of restricting royal rights over the raising and deployment of armies which were both wide-ranging and long-established. The barons focused their attention on John’s exploitation of his position as feudal overlord. But that position was too closely bound up with the sovereignty which made him ultimately responsible for the defence of the kingdom to be readily separated from it – it was hardly possible to restrict the one without damaging the other. Clause 16 registered a protest, legitimized objection and even resistance, and, thanks to its very lack of specificity, raised the possibility of future extension.
Successive kings needed military services from their subjects, and could receive them directly – those who owed knight service to the king as the basic condition on which they held their lands could turn out for campaigns to which the king summoned them – or indirectly, through the commutation of service for cash, or, occasionally, for other forms of service, as in 1165, when the tenants-in-chief were persuaded to finance troops of serjeants, well-armed infantry, for an expedition to Wales.3 Scutage, the name given to financial commutation, was so called from scutum, a shield, and was assessed on the number of knights whose service a tenant-in-chief owed. It was as much an obligation as military service, and the decision as to the form in which service was performed, military or financial, rested entirely with the king, who could demand a baron’s physical presence on a campaign, or indicate that he would rather have the money which would enable him to hire mercenaries instead.
An English king usually wanted to have at least some of his leading subjects with him when he went on campaign abroad. Their presence had a moral as well as a military value, in showing that his subjects regarded his cause as just, and were prepared to join him in fighting for it.4 But since custom usually limited feudal service to forty days (the adjective `feudal’ is controversial, but no concise substitute has been found which adequately conveys the conditional tenures and mutual obligations implicit in it), rulers with extensive overseas commitments, and a constant need to defend them, often preferred to have the money. They did so the more readily because English knights seem to have been regarded as of inferior quality, partly, at least, because Henry II forbade them to improve their skills by taking part in tournaments. When that king organised a major expedition to the south of France in 1159, he preferred to hire soldiers, and took a scutage throughout his lands to pay for them, rather than to call upon the services of `country knights and a multitude of burgesses and rustics ...’ (though he did also require his leading barons to accompany him, perhaps in order to show that he had their backing).5 The immediate purpose of the inquests into knight service in 1166 which produced the Cartae Baronum, lists submitted by tenants-in-chief naming all their sub-tenants who held their lands (fiefs, or fees) by military service, along with the knights of their households (super dominium), was most likely the levying of an aid to finance the marriage two years later of Henry II’s daughter Matilda to the duke of Saxony, which was assessed on the number of knights’ fees held from the crown.6 But it also provided the king with information which could be used to extend the imposition of scutage levies, by making it possible to take scutage not just for every knight whose service a tenant-in-chief owed, but also for every knight to whom the latter had granted lands or had at his command.
Efforts were certainly made to exploit the Cartae in this way, with a measure of success – it has been estimated that the number of fees which paid scutage rose by just over 1200, and could have been higher had the king insisted on it.7 But they also encountered resistance – when Henry II took a scutage in 1172 for his expedition to Ireland, for instance, both the bishop of Worcester and the abbot of Peterborough distinguished between the scutage of knights which they acknowledged owing the king, and which they paid, and smaller sums which they did not admit to owing, and which they did not pay.8 Where a higher rate was successfully demanded, it was often from the tenants of vacant bishoprics and escheated honours, which the king could now exploit in the same way that otherwise only their lords, when they had them, were able to do - this is discussed further below. Thus in 1187 scutages based upon both the old and the new enfeoffment (the distinction, made in 1166, was between fees in existence in 1135 and those created afterwards) were imposed on the knights of William de Vesci, who was lord of Alnwick, and of the earl of Chester, with a note in each case: `because the honour is in the king’s hand’.9 A number of other demands for additional payments, derived from the Cartae, remained on the pipe rolls for years, until they were finally abandoned as hopeless. But the fact that more could in theory be demanded for scutage than was usually paid was not forgotten, and might be acted upon.
Henry II levied only seven scutages in the course of his reign, and usually preferred to raise the money he needed in other ways. Sometimes, indeed, he chose to call out the entire feudal host – in the crisis of the very end of Henry’s reign the justiciar, acting in the king’s name, summoned all the knights of England for service overseas, `even though feeble and poor’10 – but this was the unusual response to an exceptional emergency. Where men were summoned, it was commonly just a proportion of them, as in 1157, when only a third of the available manpower was called upon to fight in Wales, and this trend continued under Richard I, who also called out just a third of the feudal host in 1194, and when he issued a general summons in 1196 instructed the barons (among whom those with Norman interests were expected to be prominent) to bring only small contingents of knights with them, though he expected to require their services for a long period.11 Quality, not quantity, of service, and the provision of troops able to take part in extended campaigns, were what was needed, as Richard made clear in 1197, when he tried to raise the money needed to enable him to keep a force of 300 knights in the field for a whole year – the abbot of Bury St Edmunds paid £100 to cover the cost of the four knights he was required contribute during that time. He actually owed forty knights, but the king had limited his demand to the service of one knight in ten.12
The abbot was not required to fight in person, but in common with all other tenants-in-chief, he still had either to find the men, or if scutage was demanded, pay the money that was required. If the latter, the tenant-in-chief could secure a writ de scutagio habendo which entitled him to recover his outlay, if need be with the assistance of the sheriff, from his tenants - he did not have to bear the cost from his own resources.13 Indeed, he could even make a profit, if he had enfeoffed more than the service officially required of him, by taking the scutage from all his knights, and not just the number required to meet the king’s demand. Bury St Edmunds owed forty knights, but the abbey lands supported fifty-two, and in around 1194 Abbot Samson enforced his right to take scutage from all of them, so that if £40 had been demanded, he would actually have received £52, leaving him £12 better off.14
The way that scutage came to be pushed down the social ladder can be seen in a number of lawsuits, several of them related to fines recording agreements for its payment. In some cases these were made between tenants-in-chief and their sub-tenants. Richard de Sifrewast, for instance, was holding the Buckinghamshire manor of Chesham Bury directly from the crown when in 1207 he sued Robert de Pinkenni for the scutage he said was due to him from £4 of land there (Robert was his brother-in-law, and the action probably originated in a dispute over dower).15 But William de Paris was the sub-tenant of the barony of Cogges, held by the Arsic family, and thus a rung lower on the feudal ladder, when he prosecuted his tenant, Adam the butler, for arrears of scutage totalling 7s. 8d. in 1206.16 In neither case did the plaintiff specify the proportion of the demand thus passed on, but other actions show that it could be calculated with precision. Thus a fine made in 1201 between William de Hauville and Ralph of Grantham over land at Helhoughton, Norfolk, settled that Ralph would hold the estate from William for 40s. per annum and 2s. towards every scutage of 20s.17 At about the same time the earl of Norfolk made provision for fluctuating rates of scutage when he granted six acres of land at Heveningham, Suffolk, to Hervey the baker, on conditions which included the contribution of 1d. towards the king’s scutage when it was levied at 20s., `and more, at a higher rate, and less, at a lower one’.18
In a world dominated by earls Hervey was probably a very humble figure, but he must at least have been personally free. That those who were not might still feel the impact of a royal demand for scutage is shown by a record from 1196, in which the villeins of `Wicke’, Northamptonshire, having complained (presumably in vain) to Archbishop Hubert Walter, acknowledged obligations to their lords which included scutage, `payable this time at 20s. and on other occasions as they can settle (finire)’.19 The burden of taxation could not have been forced down any further. His ability to pass that burden down does not, however, mean that the tenant-in-chief could therefore hope to escape scot-free. Money which disappeared into the exchequer or the king’s chamber had ceased to be available to the baron who wished to take an aid or otherwise exploit his authority over his vassals, and in any case lords were probably expected to protect their sub-tenants against government exactions, and risked losing social esteem, and perhaps also tenants, if they failed to do so. Both tenants-in-chief and their sub-tenants had an interest in bringing the imposition of scutage under control.
This was no less true of another device whereby the king exploited his right to military service. Perhaps because it was understood that scutage represented a way for lords to tap the resources of their tenants, thereby making it clear that there were reservoirs of wealth which the king was failing to exploit, there developed the practice of taking fines for remission of service, instead of, or as well as, scutage, and often at high rates. Such fines appear to have been taken on two principal grounds.20 They could represent lords’ personal scutages, within which were understood the right to scutages from the knights of their households (the equivalent of the demesne knights of the 1166 inquests, which here too were presumably still being used for purposes of assessment). And they could also be more straightforwardly understood as the payments made by lords for release from military service for themselves and their sub-tenants, together with the right to collect scutage from the latter; hence, for instance, the proffer of forty marks and a palfrey (in effect another five marks) which William of Mountchesney made for licence to remain at home in 1201, and which was recorded alongside instructions to the sheriffs of three counties to cause him to have the scutage of his knights.21 But whatever the grounds on which such fines were demanded and paid, of their impact there can be no doubt. They probably began to be taken under Richard I, but became much more frequent and heavier under King John, and together with scutages constituted a heavy and growing burden.
Four scutages were taken during Richard’s reign, but eleven during that of John, starting in its very first year. They became increasingly oppressive, for their regularity, because they were charged at higher rates than before (a reflection of the increasing cost of warfare, in an age of monetary inflation), and because they were demanded of people who had not previously been regarded as liable to pay. This can be seen in 1201, when the ostensible rate was two marks (26s. 8d.) per fee, but many payments were considerably higher. Thus in Lincolnshire Simon de Canci paid twenty marks (£13. 6s. 8d.) for the fees of five knights, and in Somerset his holding a single fee of the honour of Dunster cost Walter Dunheued five marks (£3. 6s. 8d.), while in Yorkshire Sibyl de Fiesnes had to pay twenty marks for just two knights’ fees.22 In all these cases the scutage, however extortionately, was charged upon lands held in return for military service. But a large number of payments were also exacted from men and women whose lands were held on different terms, and who might therefore have expected to remain exempt. In the north of England a number of men held by cornage, an ancient due which required military service only on the borders in the event of war with Scotland, and otherwise required no more than the payment of modest sums of money, probably in commutation of a render which had formerly been paid in cows. And throughout England men and women held their lands by serjeanty, in return for a wide variety of services which in a few cases were essentially military, but much more often entailed the performance of duties about the royal court and tasks necessary for the management of the king’s forests.
Fines made in 1201 for not being obliged to serve overseas included examples of both kinds of tenure, and show that for the cornage tenants the sums involved could be substantial. Simon de Tilliol and Adam son of Adam, both of whom held estates in Cumberland by cornage, and Alan son of Benedict, who did the same in Westmorland, paid £5 apiece to be permitted to stay at home.23 Nicholas de Stuteville, a great landowner in Yorkshire and Cumberland, held the lordship of Liddel Strength in the latter county by cornage; he, too, gave £5 instead of serving overseas, but still sent his son to do knight service.24 Serjeanty tenants paid less, perhaps in acknowledgement that their tenures lacked the social cachet associated with knighthood. Perhaps some of them could reasonably have been summoned to serve in the king’s army, men like Samson of Molesey from Surrey, who was expected to attend that army with a crossbow, or Geoffrey of Poorton from Hamsphire, who was required to provide a serjeant with a hauberk for forty days.25 But it is hard to see what useful service could have been required of Adam the Saucerer, who held Little Salkeld in Cumberland by the service of acting as the queen’s cook, from Geoffrey de Luveretz and Walter Esturmy, who held hunting serjeanties in Wiltshire, or from Simon Ponzard, who held property in Berkshire by the service of turning a spit in the king’s kitchen.26 In fact it is most unlikely that John wanted the physical presence of such men in his army, but he needed their money, and to obtain it he probably let it be known that offers of appropriate payments would ensure that they were not summoned to cross the Channel to Normandy - sums ranging from 6s. 8d. to 20s. were found acceptable.
Raising money in this way, in defiance of all precedent, because scutage had hitherto been narrowly restricted to those who held by military service, was never likely to be popular, and may in fact have prompted dissent, which may indeed have focused on both the main grounds around which opposition to John’s demands for service crystalised later in his reign. Roger of Howden, in writing about the events of 1201, recorded that immediately after Easter [25 March] John ordered the earls and barons to assemble at Portsmouth at Pentecost [13 May] for an expedition to Normandy, but that the barons had first gathered at Leicester, and after some discussion had told the king that they would not accompany him `unless he restored their rights to them (nisi ille reddiderit eis jura sua)’.27 The chronicler did not record what those `rights’ were, but that they were significant ones is suggested by the forcefulness of John’s response - he demanded that the barons surrender their castles to him, and since the troops he was gathering gave him the advantage of military superiority, they complied. The baronial dissent may well have included reservations about service overseas, which were not in fact new. In 1197 such service had been refused by the bishops of Lincoln and Salisbury, who claimed that they did not owe it,28 and the knights of St Edmunds made the same objection, though they admitted to having sometimes paid scutage instead.29 And the barons may also have been objecting to John’s perceived misuse of the feudal summons as a means of collecting money, especially in the case of northerners like Nicholas de Stuteville, who held lands by both military and cornage tenure.
In 1201 John was still able to enforce his demands, and for the time being fines and scutage continued to be taken, with intermittent attempts to extend the impact of the latter by the reactivation of the higher assessments made possible by the inquiries of 1166. In 1201 the earl of Devon paid on forty-five fees which he did not acknowledge, as well as on fifteen which he did,30 and two years later William de Longchamp, the lord of Freiston, Lincolnshire, accounted for £30 `of the old enfeoffment’ and £6 `of the new enfeoffment’, having seemingly accepted his liability for a full £36.31 The following year’s scutage was charged at the hitherto unprecedented rate of two and a half marks (33s. 8d.) per fee, but was often taken at one which was even higher. Walter de Bolebec, who held the Northumberland barony of Styford by the service of five knights, had to pay no less than £40, or £8 per fee, and Nicholas of Morwick, a landowner in the same county, paid £10 for a single fee.32 The abbot of Crowland, Lincolnshire, was charged with £20, even though he owed no knight service at all, and the abbot of Ramsey, Huntingdonshire, with £100 for four knights’ fees, while Richard son of Warner, a very small landowner in Huntingdonshire, who had only a quarter of one fee, still had to pay £2 for it, 6s. 8d. more than the nominal rate for a whole fee.33 John had showed himself determined to end the traditional independence of the great northern lords. The fines he raised in 1204 provoked resistance, and by the end of the year had helped to bring the north of England to the verge of open revolt, though this was averted by timely concessions to the region’s leaders, especially the earl of Chester.34 It was usually the lesser tenant-in-chief who were hardest hit by demands for scutage, and this probably remained the case throughout John’s reign.35
In 1204 John could have claimed to have legitimized his demands by securing the consent to them of a council held at Oxford at the beginning of the year.36 Similarly in March 1205 he seems to have held two councils in rapid succession, the first at London and the second at Oxford,37 which resulted in letters being sent to all the sheriffs on 3 April, notifying them that it had been provided, with the assent of archbishops and bishops, earls and barons, that throughout England every nine knights were to fund and equip a tenth, thereby creating a force which was to assemble at London on 1 May, `prepared to go in our service where we shall order, and to be in our service for the defence of our kingdom in so far as the need arises.’38 Furthermore, `It has also been provided that if foreigners invade our land, all men are unanimously to gather in force and arms, without reservation and delay, once they have heard news of their approach’ – presumably a reference to the supplementary orders, recorded by Gervase of Canterbury, for the creation of a nationwide hierarchy of constables, who were to be ready to muster the nation’s adult manpower in the event of an invasion. So great was the danger that in the mandate of 3 April John felt able to threaten those who ignored this second summons with lasting social degradation – knights and others landowners would forfeit their estates in perpetuity, while free men who did not possess lands, whether they were knights, serjeants or anyone else, would be reduced to the status of serfs. Failure to pay scutage, or to obey a summons to the feudal host, might result in disseisin, but lands so taken could be recovered, at a price; the penalty for resisting the king’s command in 1205 thus threatened to be far more severe and to have lasting effects.
The order for the levying of a force of knights was ambiguous about its purpose, presumably deliberately – where it was to go, and how it was to defend king and kingdom, were both left unclear, This worked to John’s advantage, as he doubtless intended, but it also suggests that it might be difficult to define, and thus to limit, the amount of service which the king could demand from his subjects. That he had the right, indeed the duty, to protect the well-being of his realm was beyond dispute, and there is no evidence for protests against the national levy ordered in 1205. But raising an army for service abroad was increasingly seen in a different and more suspicious light, and yet precedent was on John’s side, supported, perhaps, by the expectation that he would preserve his rights and his inheritance – undertaking to do so had probably formed part of his coronation oath. Despite the protests of 1197, and perhaps 1201, it had seemingly come to be generally accepted that the king of the Anglo-Norman regnum created by the events of 1066 had the right to demand military service in Normandy itself and in the regions adjacent to the duchy, and as late as the early part of 1215 the barons themselves, or some of them, were prepared to acknowledge that this was so, when in the `Unknown Charter’ they attempted to confine overseas service to Normandy and Brittany. Their objection, in fact, was primarily to being called upon to fight in and for the lands on and south of the Loire which had come to Henry II by inheritance from his father and by marriage.
In 1159 Henry had been able to raise men and money in England, apparently without meeting resistance, for an expedition to Toulouse. By the early thirteenth century, however, feelings were changing. In fact there was no overt opposition to the summons of 1205, but the measures of that year seem to have been agreed upon in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust. According to Gervase, the magnates forced the king (compulsus est) to swear that he would preserve uninjured `the rights of the kingdom of England’, while the earls and barons took an oath to perform due service to John, and oaths of fealty were sworn to him throughout the realm. In the end it became apparent, though apparently only at yet another council, at Northampton in late May, that the army assembled at the beginning of the month was intended for a campaign in Poitou. In fact nothing came of all these preparations. There was no French invasion, but John was persuaded, very much against his will, not to risk leaving the country while it was under threat, whereupon he disbanded his troops and took `an infinite amount of money’ from his subjects, churchmen as well as lay barons and knights, on the grounds that they had been unwilling to accompany him in his expedition overseas to recover his lost inheritance.39 Presumably the money was that raised by a scutage of two marks per fee, which was also imposed during this year, and which together with fines could have raised over £10,000.40 King and barons alike probably ended the year with a strong sense of grievance.
Meanwhile fines and scutages had continued to be paid by men who did not owe knight’s service. The counties of Cumberland, where cornage tenure prevailed, and Wiltshire, which supported a large number of serjeanty tenures, illustrate the point. In 1203 just three Cumberland landowners paid fines for military service, but the sheriff accounted for sums ranging from 6s. 8d. to twenty marks for cornage tenants, and a year later for two tenants by cornage, two by drengage and three by serjeanty.41 And in Wiltshire the former year saw men like Matthew Turpin, responsible for providing the king with claret, and William Esturmi, the keeper of Savernake forest, being similarly charged, as they were again in 1204, along with William de Anesi, the keeper of the royal larder, Ralph de Hairez, who looked after the king’s hunting dogs, and several others.42 Few such demands were made in either county in 1205, but in 1206 Richard de Lucy, the lord of Egremont in Cumberland, was assessed at forty marks `for one knight’s fee and for his serjeanty and for the land he holds by cornage’, and the seventh scutage of the reign also included charges upon four serjeanty tenants in Wiltshire.43 The same number, and two of the same men, were similarly assessed for the scutage of 1210, but at much higher rates - Matthew Turpin, who paid one mark in 1206, now had to find twenty marks.44 The cornage tenants of Cumberland were treated similarly; Adam of Kirklinton, who had been charged with ten marks in 1204, now had to give 100, of which he paid eighty within a year, and Adam son of Odard, whose father had paid five marks in 1203, had to find £40 and two good palfreys, the equivalent of an additional twenty marks, while Adam the Sauserer was charged with £10 for his serjeanty, compared with two marks in 1204.45
With increased pressure on non-military tenants went equally heavy demands on the sub-tenants of church lands, as from 1208 onwards these came increasingly under the king’s control.46 All but one of the bishops, and many heads of religious houses, had what were in effect secular baronies, owing the services of specified numbers of knights. Particularly after 1209, when John’s excommunication caused nearly all the bishops to leave his court, scutages were no longer charged according to the number of knights nominally due from episcopal baronies, but on the actual numbers of enfeoffed knights. When Abbot Samson was in dispute with the knights of Bury in 1198, it was said that the extra twelve knights used to `support’ the forty he owed, presumably by contributing to the latter’s scutage, which was thereby somewhat reduced in terms of individual payments. Samson was able to demand scutage from all his knights, and the king now did the same. Thus in 1211 scutage on the see of Lincoln was demanded from about 104 fees, instead of the sixty previously owed, while the archbishoprics of Canterbury, which owed sixty knights, and York, owing twenty, were now required to pay scutage for nearly eighty-five and around forty-three respectively.47
When fines were made for exemption from service, they could be no less heavy, and were probably assessed in the same way. The knights of the bishopric of Chichester had to find £34 6s. 8d. for the Irish expedition of 1210. Their scutage for the Poitou campaign four years later, which amounted to £19. 5s., was assessed on four fees, which the bishop acknowledged, and a fraction over five and a half, which he did not.48 The disparity in figures suggests that in 1210 all the knights, whether of the old or new enfeoffment, were required to pay, at a rate of about £3. 10s. apiece, considerably more than the £2 demanded by way of scutage in 1214, even though that year’s rate was the highest of the reign. In 1166 the abbot of Ramsey Abbey had reported that a total of twenty-two men held land from his house, and acted in common to perform the service of four knights.49 In 1210, when the monastery was in the king’s hand, the fines of `the knights and free men’ amounted to no less than £172. 6s. 8d.,50 suggesting strongly that the assessment was based on the number of tenants contributing to the abbey’s military service, rather than on the actual service owed. If there were still twenty-two tenants involved, then they would have paid about £8 each, but probably there were more by this time, lowering the individual rate. But in all likelihood the fine reflected the resources of the monastery, and of its free tenantry, rather than the exact numbers of the latter, and the same seems likely to be true of the diocese of Durham, where the knights and free tenants fined for their non-attendance in Ireland by an astonishing £1519. 10s.51 In 1166 the bishop had acknowledged ten knights as enfeoffed before 1135, and about sixty more since then.52 Had seventy men been assessed for scutage in 1210, the yield would have been just £93. 6s. 8d., less than a fifteenth of what was demanded, while raising over £1500 would have required the knights to pay nearly £22 each; the figure is improbably high, and it seems certain that many others were called upon to contribute, as, indeed, the reference to free tenants implies was the case. When assessed in terms of their commuted value, the king’s demands not only repeatedly amounted to far more service than he was owed, but also affected far more people than ever before.
Yet paradoxically, at the same time as the rate of commutation was being relentlessly pushed up, baronial resistance and the particularities of royal needs were combining to cause the king’s demands for actual military service to fall sharply. For the 1210 Irish campaign the justiciar, Geoffrey FitzPeter, provided only ten knights, rather than the 98⅓ due from him, and the earl of Warenne’s contingent numbered just eight, instead of sixty. The midlands baron Robert Marmion, who may not have been present himself, was allowed to send three knights, instead of twenty-five. This was not favouritism. Marmion was on bad terms with the king, as was the Lincolnshire baron Gilbert de Gant, whose contingent numbered six rather than 68⅓, and both men rebelled at the end of the reign.53 Rather it was increasingly accepted that barons should only be required to participate in campaigns by providing forces in keeping with their eminence, thereby demonstrating their loyalty, and perhaps also providing leadership.54 The Irish expedition lasted for about eighty days, twice as long as the conventional period of feudal service. To maintain an extended campaign John, like his brother before him, required the money which would enable him to hire professional soldiers and retain their services for as long as he needed them. As a result, even when less service was demanded than was owed, the price of the commutation of the rest could be very high. In 1166 the abbot of Evesham reported a total of five knights’ fees, his near-neighbour the abbot of Pershore only two.55 In 1210 both abbots were allowed to fine instead of sending knights, one from Pershore and two from Evesham, but the sums involved were large – 100 marks and two palfreys from Pershore, double that amount from Evesham.56 Such was the king’s need for cash, that when Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk, proffered 2000 marks in 1211 for having the amount of service he owed - his servicium debitum - cut during his lifetime from 120 to sixty knights, along with a suspension of demands for arrears of scutage, the king was probably only too happy to accept, the more so because most of the money was soon paid.57
Although there were occasions when John did require military service (in 1209, for instance, the knights of Canterbury Cathedral paid no scutage because they took part in that year’s Scottish campaign),58 it is probably true to say that on most occasions he saw it primarily in terms of its financial value, and that in doing so he pressed the demands he made on his subjects far beyond what either convention or agreed terms of service allowed. When opportunity arose, he certainly made far more out of failure to do service than commutation would have done. Scutage for the 1209 Scottish expedition was fixed at 20s. per fee. The abbot of Muchelney in Somerset owed one knight’s service and was summoned to provide it, but the two tenants who held their land from the abbot on condition that when called upon they would produce the knight, together with his arms and everything he needed for his maintenance, failed to do so, with the result that the abbot, because he had neither come himself nor supplied the service due from him, was amerced of no less than 100 marks, more than sixty times a single fee’s scutage. The abbot then sued the principal culprit, Christian of Wick, in the court coram rege. She admitted being at fault and put herself in the mercy both of the abbot and the king, which ultimately enriched the latter by another 6s. 8d., but brought no benefit to the former, who by Michaelmas 1210 had paid his debt in full.59
The abbot’s punishment certainly seems out of all proportion to the dereliction of duty which gave rise to it. Yet it is impossible to be dogmatic on the point, since the king was indisputably entitled to insist upon his rights. At every point ambiguities and uncertainties persisted. The precise purpose of the searching inquests which John launched in June 1212 into tenures by knight service and serjeanty, and into the alienations and grants which had reduced the capacity of their holders to perform the services they owed, is unclear – the survey was never completed, and no action followed it.60 There can be no doubt that one of its principal aims was the recovery of lost revenues, probably to be followed by demands for lost arrears, and then by future levies imposed at higher rates. Yet the king could reasonably have claimed that he was only ensuring that he received the service due to him, and that there was no good reason why he should have been expected to tolerate encroachments on his demesne, or to see revenues from an estate disappear from sight when its holder became a monk, or to accept that because nobody knew what services were due from a fief therefore none were. Many of the properties of which details were recorded by the 1212 survey were small, but not all were. A whole fee in the Worcestershire manor of Clifton-on-Teme, which had been a distant outlier of the honour of Wallingford until the 1170s, had somehow slipped out of the control of the latter’s keepers, and thus become of no value to the king.61 After the forfeiture of William de Briouze in 1208 John himself had entrusted half the barony of Barnstaple, with no fewer than fifteen fees, to Peter FitzHerbert, `but it is not known by what service’.62 Perhaps the need to catch up with the consequences of his own intermittent generosity, as well as with alienations, usurpations and oversights, was one of the motives for the 1212 survey.
In attending to such details, John was arguably doing no more than his duty as king, and the same was true in March 1213 when he again arranged for a mass call-to-arms in the face of a threatened French invasion. This had much in common with the summons of 1205, in that the sheriffs were commanded to summon all the king’s free subjects, of all ranks, to be at Dover on 21 April, `well prepared with horses and weapons’, ready to defend `our head, and their own heads, and the land of England’. Once more those who failed to attend were threatened with social degradation – they would be called `churl’ thereafter, and condemned to perpetual servitude.63 There was no mention of the unfree, but it would appear that some, at least, attended, perhaps mobilised by their constables, for after large forces had been assembled at strategic points on and near the coast, victuals began to run short, whereupon the army chiefs sent home what was described as `a great crowd of unarmed commoners (ex inermi vulgo)’, retaining only knights, serjeants and free men, along with crossbowmen and archers. Wendover’s estimate that 60,000 men remained at their posts was certainly an exaggeration, but the force must have been a sizeable one.
The destruction of the French fleet on 30 May ended the invasion threat. The king’s summons to the defence of the kingdom would appear to have been very widely obeyed, however, showing that in 1213, as eight years earlier, this was a form of service which John could command without resistance. Campaigns overseas remained another matter, but here John showed his ingenuity, both in devising ways of exploiting his resources and also, perhaps, in side-stepping his opponents, by extracting agreements from a number of crown debtors to provide military service, either explicitly in France or wherever he should choose to direct it, in exchange for remission of debts. The beauty of this practice, from the king’s point of view, was that although it might enable him to receive more in service than he was owed in cash, the necessary arrangements were not made on the basis of military obligation. Rather they had the appearance, like all fines, of resulting from freely-conducted negotiations, to which, of course, there could be no objection even though the terms under which these agreements were made could certainly be onerous. In June 1213 Robert of Berkeley undertook to provide ten knights, `well equipped with horses and arms’, who were to go overseas with the king and serve there for a whole year, at Robert’s expense, in order to gain quittance of 500 marks (£333. 6s. 8d.). This sum was in fact only part of what he owed; the original debt had been 2000 marks (£1333. 6s. 8d.), which pardons and payments had by Michaelmas 1212 reduced to £900. Assuming that Robert paid his knights 2s. each a day, and thus £36. 10s. per annum, their wages would have amounted to £365, a sum larger than the portion of the debt which this outlay was intended to clear, by an amount that was almost a knight’s yearly wage. And when he returned to England he might still have had to pay anything up to £566. 13s. 4d. more, at terms which the king would determine.64
Perhaps Robert of Berkeley protested, or perhaps John had second thoughts, for at the end of December, following the cancellation of a planned expedition, John toned down his demands to the extent of licensing Robert to provide five knights in each of two successive years, starting on 13 January 1214.65 A number of other debtors were granted a similar alleviation. Robert de Curtenay, who owed the king 1100 marks (£733. 6s. 8d.), and had agreed to cross to France himself as one of twenty knights he was to provide, and to serve there with them for a year, was likewise allowed to send ten knights one year and another ten the next.66 His knights, if his own service is included, would have cost £730, almost exactly the amount of his debt. If the exactness of the calculation, reinforced by the amendment of terms, was intended to secure Courtenay’s loyalty, or at any rate to avoid giving him grounds for disloyalty, then it probably succeeded.
In the case of Richard Gernon, lord of half the Cumberland barony of Burgh-by-Sands, the terms were so favourable as to look like a bribe (an unsuccessful one, since he rebelled in 1215) – he owed the king 250 marks (£166. 13s. 4d.), but was required to supply only one knight for a year.67 But others were treated with some rigour. Hugh de Balliol had to find two knights to fight overseas for a year, which could have cost him £73, in order to be cleared of a debt of eighty marks (£53. 6s. 8d.).68 William de St John undertook to supply ten knights for service overseas, the equivalent of £365, on top of his proffer of 500 marks for his father’s lands – the money was to be paid on his return from France.69 Hugh de Neville, who had been out of favour a year earlier, was in 1213 obliged to find twenty knights for a year’s service, in order to secure quittance of a fine of 1000 marks – such a settlement would have left him £63. 6s. 8d. out of pocket.70 He and several others were being required to pay more, and thus to provide more service, than was needed to cover their debts.
It has been estimated that all the agreements of this kind made in 1213 would have raised enough money to provide John with the services of 150 knights and twenty serjeants for a full year.71 And because these bargains were made individually they represented a form of commutation which was settled independently of scutage, which in 1214 those involved were required to pay as well, at the unprecedentedly heavy rate of three marks per fee. That rate was of course far lower than the one used in most of the settlements of debts devised by the king - the single knight’s service provided by Richard Gernun, at £36. 10s., was much more expensive than a parallel scutage in 1214 would have been, at £2 per fee, had he in fact owed it (he held his lands by cornage). But for most of those affected by demands for scutage alone, the pressure which the king now exerted on his subjects, in his last and greatest effort to recover his continental lands, became increasingly hard to bear, the more so because John’s money-raising devices seem to have had the effect of removing a great deal of coin from circulation – it became literally difficult to find the cash which the king so persistently demanded.72
At first John was still able to enforce payment of scutage, but his defeat at Bouvines encouraged widespread resistance, and though receipts should have totalled £6353. 16s., only just over £1400 had been collected by Michaelmas.73 And actual service was refused by a number of the northern magnates and knights, standing by an assertion of the previous year that they were not obliged to serve outside England.74 In strict law the claim was of doubtful validity, but it voiced a widespread reservation, found in many parts of western Europe, against performing military service outside the country, and indeed away from homes that might need to be defended.75 The objections voiced against overseas service in the late 1190s had more localised counterparts in the assertion made by the knights of the honour of Hastings in 1211 or 1212 that they owed no service outside the rape unless their lord carried the cost, and in the Magna Carta of Cheshire, issued in the late summer of 1215, which conceded that the earl of Chester’s knights owed him no service `beyond Lyme ... except with their consent and at my expense ...’.76
Alexander of Swerford, a clerk who was employed in the exchequer during John’s reign, and who later compiled its `Red Book’ as a work of record and reference, believed that the 1214 scutage was the principal cause of rebellion against the king.77 That may have been an exaggeration, but it seems clear that in 1214 resistance to demands for service and scutage combined to form an important strand of opposition. The changing nature of warfare meant that impositions of scutage affected depths in landowning society which summonses to perform military service seldom reached, with the result that behind the magnates, lay and ecclesiastical, stood large numbers of disaffected sub-tenants, free landowners of every rank, united in their hostility to the king’s continuous demands. But the resentment of lesser men would in itself have been insufficient to secure a clause in Magna Carta, had not the tenants-in-chief not only given a lead, whether in response to their own grievances or to those of their tenants, but also had a particular need for the redress that Clause 16 promised them. The issue of service was one concerning which the tenant-in-chief had very limited options when it came to obtaining relief. The sub-tenant whose lord was trying to exact more services than were owed could obtain a writ of ne vexes instructing the lord to desist from his demands, and by extension threatening him with action by the sheriff if he did not comply.78 The issue of right could then be determined by the grand assize, by a jury of twelve knights. Such, for instance, was the recourse of Bernard FitzWilliam, in an action against `Countess Eve’(i.e. Aífe, the widow of Richard FitzGilbert de Clare, `Strongbow’), who he claimed was demanding excessive service and customs (superdemanda servicii et consuetudinum) from a virgate of land which he held of her in Weston, Hertfordshire.79 It is possible that the countess was trying to pass on a royal demand for scutage, on terms which Bernard found unacceptable, and that this was his preferred option for obtaining justice. But no such remedy was available to Eve herself, if she believed that the king was requiring more from her in the way of services than she owed.80
The tenant-in-chief who was confronted by an over-exigent king, and who did not choose to resist or rebel, could attempt to buy relief, or he could appeal to the king as the fount of justice, though in the latter case he must have known that access to the royal conscience was usually gained only by way of the royal purse. Clause 16 in effect registered an appreciation that by 1215 such recourses had become no more than a matter of robbing Peter in order to pay Paul. Expressed in broad and general terms because the king’s rights where military service was concerned were themselves broad and general, it articulated a widespread opinion that John’s exploitation of those rights had become intolerable. The only plausible cure for the practices involved was therefore their prevention, even though it proved impossible to define with precision what was being prohibited.
J.C. Holt, Magna Carta (2nd edn., Cambridge, 1992), 427-8, discussed at 315-16.
M. Powicke, Military obligation in medieval England (Oxford, 1962), 61.
M. Prestwich, Armies and warfare in the middle ages: the English experience (Yale, 1996), 120.
K. Leyser, `Warfare in the western European middle ages: the moral debate’, id., Communications and power in medieval Europe ii: The Gregorian revolution and beyond, ed. T. Reuter (1994), 189-203, at 193-4.
R. Howlett (ed.), Chronicles of the reigns of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I: iv, The chronicle of Robert of Torigni (Rolls Series, 1889), 202.
T.K. Keefe, feudal assessments and the political community under Henry II and his sons (Berkeley, 1983), 12-15.
PR 18 Henry II (1172), 22, 37.
PR 33 Henry II (1187), 13-14, 28.
Powicke, Military obligation, 56 (citing Gervase of Canterbury)
I.J. Sanders, Feudal military service in England (Oxford, 1956), 50.
Jocelin of Brakelond, Chronicle of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds, ed. and trans. D. Greenway and J. Sayers (Oxford, 1989), 76-7.
F.M. Stenton, The first century of English feudalism, 1066-1166 (2nd edn., Oxford, 1961), 185-6; S.K. Mitchell, Studies in taxation under John and Henry III (New Haven, 1914), 24-5.
Jocelin of Brakelond, 58-60.
Curia Regis Rolls v, 1207-1209 (1931), 5; VCH Buckinghamshire iii (1925), 209-10.
Curi Regis Rolls iv, 1205-1206 (1929), 146; VCH Oxfordshire xi (1983), 147.
Curia Regis Rolls i, temp. Richard I-1201 (1922), 406.
L.C. Loyd and D.M. Stenton (eds.), Sir Christopher Hatton’s book of seals, Northamptonshire Record Society 15 (1950), no. 337 (pp. 232-3).
Curia Regis Rolls i, 16.
Mitchell, Studies in taxation, 26-7.
T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli de oblatis et finibus ... tempore regis Johannis (Record Commission, 1835), 128.
PR 3 John (1201), 21-2, 34, 171-2.
Rotuli de oblatis et finibus, 145, 146, 161.
Ibid., 162, 163.
Ibid., 158, 164-6.
W. Stubbs (ed.), Chronicon Rogeri de Houeden, 4 vols. (Rolls Series, 1868-71), iv, 160-1.
D.H. Farmer and D.L. Douie (ed. and trans.), Magna Vita Sancti Hugonis, 2 vols. (1961-2), ii, 98-100.
Jocelin of Brakelond, 76-7.
PR 3 John (1201), 224.
PR 5 John (1203), 100.
PR 6 John (1204), 45.
Ibid., 50, 118.
J.C. Holt, The northerners: a study in the reign of King John (Oxford, 1961), 205-6.
Mitchell, Studies in taxation, 57, 65-6, 79.
Rogeri de Wendover liber qui vocatur flores historiarum, ed. H.G. Hewlett, 3 vols. (Rolls Series, 1886-9), i. 320.
W. Stubbs (ed.), The historical works of Gervase of Canterbury, 2 vols. (Rolls Series, 1879-80), ii, 96-8.
T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli litterarum patentium, 1201-1216 (Record Commission, 1835), 55.
Radulphi de Coggeshal chronicon Anglicanum, ed. J. Stevenson (Rolls Series, 1875), 152-4.l
Mitchell, Studies in taxation, 69-71.
PR 5 John (1203), 256; PR 6 John (1204), 144.
PR 5 John, 20; PR 6 John, 254-5.
PR 8 John (1206), 45 (Cumberland), 189-90 (Wiltshire).
PR 12 John (1210), 81.
H.M. Chew, The English ecclesiastical tenants-in-chief and knight service (Oxford, 1932), especially 23-4, 51-2.
Mitchell, Studies in taxation, 104.
PR 12 John (1210), 4; PR 16 John (1214), 166.
H. Hall (ed.), The red book of the exchequer, 3 vols. (Rolls Series, 1896), i, 370-1.
PR 12 John (1210), 215.
PR 13 John (1211), 37
Red book of the exchequer, i, 415-18.
Details from Mitchell, Studies in taxation, 97
Prestwich, Armies and warfare, 68.
Red book of the exchequer, i, 301-2.
PR 12 John (1210), 171.
PR 13 John (1211), 2.
Details from Curia Regis Rolls vi, 1210-1212 (1932), 79; PR 11 John (1209), 107; PR 12 John (1210), 59, 73; The book of fees commonly called Testa de Nevill, 2 vols. in 3 (1920-31), i, 86.
Discussed by S. Painter, The reign of King John (Baltimore, 1949), 208-11.
Book of fees, i, 118.
Ibid., i, 97.
Roger of Wendover, ii, 66-7; W. Stubbs (ed.), Memoriale Walteri de Coventria, 2 vols. (Rolls Series, 1872-3), ii, 209.
PR 14 John (1212), 144-5; Rotuli de oblatis et finibus, 468.
Rotuli de oblatis et finibus, 515.
Ibid., 469, 515.
Ibid., 469. For Neville’s relations with the king see Holt, The northerners, 227.
Holt, Magna Carta, 192-3.
As argued by J. Bolton, `The English economy in the early thirteenth century’, S.D. Church (ed.), King John: new interpretations (Woodbridge, 1999), 27-40.
Mitchell, Studies in taxation, 112 and note 80.
Holt, The northerners, 88-9, 94-5, 100.
Holt, Magna Carta, 77-8.
Sanders, Feudal military service, 55; G. Barraclough (ed.), The charters of the Anglo-Norman earls of Chester, c. 1071-1237, Lancashire and Cheshire Record Society 126 (1988), no. 394 (p. 390, clause 10).
H. Hall (ed.), The Red Book of the Exchequer, 3 vols. (Rolls Series, 1896), i, 12.
G.D.G. Hall (ed. and trans.), The treatise on the laws and customs of the realm of England commonly called Glanvill (2nd edn., Oxford, 1993), 141; J. Hudson, The Oxford history of the laws of England ii: 871-1216 (Oxford, 2012), 641.
Curia Regis Rolls i, temp. Rich. I- 1201 (1922, 4.
For discussion of other difficulties of this kind confronting tenants-in-chief in their dealings with the king, see Holt, Magna Carta, 126-8.
Please note: commentaries are presently available only for clauses marked with *; more commentary to be added in due course.