Nos non tenebimus terras illorum qui convicti fuerint de felonia, nisi per unum annum et unum diem, et tunc reddantur terrae dominis feodorum.
We will hold the lands of those convicted of felony for only a year and a day, and then the lands are to be surrendered to the lords of the fees.
Please note: commentaries are presently available only for clauses marked with *; more commentary to be added in due course.
Clause 32 was concerned with the disposal of the lands of free men who had been convicted, either in court or (through the process of outlawry) in their absence, of the serious crimes known as felonies. By the early thirteenth century it had become established, probably after much debate, that such lands should be held by the king for a year and a day, and then be restored to the lord or lords from whom the felon had held them, though only after royal officials had first removed everything on them, down to the houses and trees. But there was always the danger that the king, who had usually occupied such lands from the time the felon first came under suspicion, would also hold onto them after his or her conviction. There are signs of Henry II acting thus, and clearer evidence for its happening under King John. Not only did he occasionally arrange for lands which had reverted to their lords to be granted out again by them to servants of his own, but on a number of occasions he took money from lords for returning to them lands forfeited by their tenants, sometimes explicitly after the estates in question had been in the king’s hand for more than the prescribed period. In several cases the process of recovery was delayed while an inquest was held, to ensure that the king had received his due from the lands, not to safeguard the interests of their lords. The sums involved were often modest (though £30 was paid on one occasion), but none should have been given at all. Those affected could be magnates – the earl of Devon in one case – but many were relatively humble landowners, again showing how far down free society John’s fiscal measures could have an effect, and be resented accordingly.