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.
Clause 32 was directed against an abuse of the king’s authority at the expense of lords of freely-held land, when the latter’s tenants had committed one of the serious crimes known as felonies. By the late twelfth century, probably after much debate, it had become normal practice for a convicted felon’s chattels to be forfeited to the king, but for any free lands he or she had held to revert to their lord, but only after they had been retained by the king for a year and a day, and after everything on them, including the houses and trees, had been removed by his agents. Unsurprisingly, the temptation for the king to hold onto such lands beyond the prescribed period was strong. Henry II appears to have done so, in a case recorded from the late 1180s, and King John several times either acted thus, or threatened to do so. On a few occasions he contrived to manipulate forfeitures, so that even when they were returned to their lords, the latter were pressurised into granting them to agents of his own. But more often he simply exacted payments for the return of forfeited lands, sometimes after having inquests held which ensured that his own rights – not those of the lords – had been safeguarded. The sums involved varied, no doubt according to the extent of the property and the means of its lord. The earl of Devon was among those who paid, but many of those affected were seemingly insignificant landowners. The amount given could be as much as forty-five marks (£30), or as little as one mark (13s. 4d.), but in all cases the payment was being made for the reversion of property which its owners had every right to maintain should be theirs for nothing. As was often the case, John’s pursuit of money through such means was felt at every level of landowning society, and had the capacity to spread resentment widely. It also generated fear, since any lord might have a tenant who fell into evil courses for which he was hanged or outlawed, and his lands taken into the king’s hands. Clause 32 was the response to an abuse which many people had an immediate interest in preventing.
Please note: commentaries are presently available only for clauses marked with *; more commentary to be added in due course.