The Magna Carta Project

Original Latin


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.

Commentary for general audience

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.

Commentary for secondary school students

For the tenants of any barony which came into the king’s hands for any length of time, either because their lord had forfeited his lands (rebellion was the likeliest cause of this) or because he had died without heirs, there was always the danger that they would be exposed to greater demands for money and services, as a result of their having now become tenants-in-chief, holding their lands directly from the crown. The four honours named in Clause 43 (Wallingford, Boulogne, Nottingham and Lancaster) were all important lordships, extending into several counties, and the same was often true both of other secular lordships which escheated to the king, and also of the ecclesiastical baronies which came under royal control, often for months and sometimes for years, when a bishop or abbot either died or was translated to another office. Henry II and Richard I were usually willing to treat escheats as their previous lords had done. They might use them as sources of ready cash, so that their revenues were paid directly to themselves rather than going into the exchequer, but the amounts raised stayed largely the same; indeed, some of the proceeds might be invested in the lordships involved, so as to make them more profitable.

In the early years of his reign King John continued to treat escheated baronies much as his father and brother had done, but he stepped up his demands as his financial needs grew. In part this was achieved through a greater attention to detail – a number of inquests were held to establish what the king’s rights and revenues should be, so that these could be fully exploited. Some escheats, too, were placed in the hands of specially-appointed officials, rather than being left under the control of sheriffs who had many other responsibilities. John’s excommunication in 1209 was followed by the intensive exploitation of bishoprics left vacant by prelates who would no longer serve him, and other ecclesiastical lordships, and also secular baronies, were increasingly treated in the same way. In a few cases an escheat was allowed to pay to be treated as it had been by its former lord, but most remained exposed to royal pressure. The honour of Lancaster seems to have been particularly hard hit by the king’s demands – all its knights, around eighty men, were recorded as having taken part in John’s Scottish campaign of 1209, at a time when the overall trend was for baronies to provide much less military service than was nominally due from them. Little of the money raised within escheats was now spent on them, it all went into the exchequer, or, in increasing amounts, into the king’s chamber. In 1213 John levied a scutage at the unprecedented rate of £2 per knight’s fee, but the men of two baronies and several of the bishoprics which were then in his hands were required to pay ten marks (£6. 13s. 4d.) per fee, more than three times as much. It is hardly surprising that several of the knights of Wallingford, for instance, should have joined the rebellion against King John, or that the men of escheated lordships should have demanded the protection against royal exploitation which Clause 43 provided.

Commentary for academic researchers

Defining the issue: the status of escheats

The aim of Clause 43 was to prevent the king from taking advantage of the circumstances which brought important lordships – the terms `honour’ and `barony’ were used1 – into his hands, either permanently or temporarily, by changing the position of their tenants, so that they were treated as tenants-in-chief, holding their lands directly from the crown, rather than as the sub-tenants they had previously been. Such a change could have wide-ranging effects, but was potentially especially harmful where reliefs, the sums paid for the right to succeed to a property, were concerned, a fact given prominence in the wording of the Clause. There is no obvious reason for the position in the relevant documents of either Clause 43 or the corresponding Article 36 among the Articles of the Barons, in both it is simply one clause among others, with essentially the same content (though in 1217 a sentence dealing with wardships and escheats was added to it), and with the same remedy for the abuse complained of – the terms on which lands were held were to remain unchanged if an honour escheated to the king, who was therefore to do no more than step into the shoes of its previous lord, and in wearing them, to stand in the same relationship to the tenants as the baron had done before his death.

The number of potential beneficiaries of Clause 43 was considerable. Barons who were themselves the tenants of other barons, important mesne tenants who might likewise hold their estates from several lords, and lesser knights and landowners who had hitherto had but one lord, all risked finding themselves suddenly exposed to unprecedented demands from the king whose tenants-in-chief they had become. The danger was all the greater if the honour concerned was a substantial one with lands in many counties. Clause 43 named four major honours as providing examples of the abuse it aimed to remedy. Three of them – Wallingford, Nottingham and Lancaster – had come under royal control in the 1150s and 1160s, Wallingford and Lancaster by escheat, that is, through the failure of heirs, the lands of William Peverel of Nottingham through confiscation resulting from forfeiture for treason, and had remained in the king’s hands thereafter, except for a few years after 1189, when all three formed part of the appanage created by Richard I for his brother, the future King John.2 The lands constituting the honours of Lancaster and Nottingham, in particular, extended far and wide. (The honour of Boulogne was unlike the others, in that by 1215 it constituted a very different lordship from the one recorded under the Norman kings, but was an artificial creation, made up of four valuable but widely-separated manors, which passed in and out of the king’s hands according to his own diplomatic policy and the political stance of whoever was count of Boulogne. In 1212 John granted it to his ally Renaud de Dammartin, who was captured at Bouvines two years later and remained a French prisoner thereafter; its inclusion in Clause 43 may indicate that the claims of Renaud’s wife, Countess Ida, had been ignored and that John was now repossessed of it.)3

There were always more escheated baronies in the king’s hand than the four named in Clause 43. Some of them were long-term escheats, like Eye and Tickhill, others merely temporary ones, held by the crown for a few years before being granted out again. (The nature of John’s rule was such, however, that it can never have been certain that such lordships would be re-granted, rather than remaining indefinitely under direct royal control; Clause 43 must also have reflected the anxieties created for its tenants when a lordship passed, or simply looked like passing, into the king’s hands). Monasteries and bishoprics following the deaths of abbots and bishops, though not mentioned by name in the Clause, can plausibly be included in this second category; in the nature of things they could not descend hereditarily, but they could nonetheless remain vacant for several years while the king enjoyed their revenues. Richard FitzNigel gave a vacant bishopric as an example of a barony falling into the king’s hands, in a discussion of reliefs which set out the differences between those which could be demanded from tenants-in-chief and those payable by men `holding a knight’s fee from the king, not part of the crown lands, but rather part of some barony that has fallen into the king’s hands for some reason ...’.4 For a tenant-in-chief his relief was a matter for the king’s pleasure, and might be settled only after negotiations in which the king had an overwhelming advantage. But the tenant of an escheated barony should only pay at what was already the conventional rate of £5 per fee, `according to the number of knights he owed his lord before the inheritance reverted to the treasury.’


Practice under Henry II and Richard I

The situation described by FitzNigel both foreshadowed the one demanded by Clause 43 and reflected the conditions prevailing under Henry II. Whatever his nominal rights may have been, Henry did not usually place additional burdens by demanding inflated reliefs from the tenants of escheats.5 Even when a higher rate was imposed, as when Godfrey de Cauz, a Sussex landowner, was obliged to proffer a relief of twenty-five marks (£16. 13s. 4d.) in 1180 for the three fees he held of the earl of Arundel,6 the excess was not great, and a rate of £5 per fee remained usual. Thus in 1176, for instance, Ralph son of William FitzRobert, a tenant of the honour of Nottingham, paid £25 as the relief for his five fees.7 In 1181, when Glastonbury Abbey was in the king’s hand after the death of Abbot Robert, Geoffrey Foliot paid £5 `for the relief of one knight’s fee which he holds of the abbey’.8 A year later, following the death of Earl Hugh of Chester, William FitzRichard gave £10 as his relief for two knight’s fees.9

Henry’s restraint in these and other instances is all the more striking because he and his advisers clearly made serious efforts to capitalise on the revenues provided by long-term escheats, and the windfalls represented by new ones, especially in the last years of the reign. Until the mid-1180s each escheat was accounted for separately, usually under the county in which its principal estates lay, but in 1185 the smaller ones began to be grouped together on the pipe rolls,10 presumably to make it easier for the exchequer to monitor their issues, while in 1187 a `roll of honours’, written on both sides of a full rotulet, covered Wallingford, Lancaster and Tickhill as well.11 The honour of Peverel, which from the time of its forfeiture was more often than not administered by the sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, was excluded from this arrangement, however, as were the lands of such bishoprics as were then in the king’s hands.  Some were used to provide the king with supplies of cash, bypassing the exchequer. Thus in 1168 Ralph Brito did not render account for the lands either of Henry of Essex, forfeited in 1163, or of Count Eustace (King Stephen’s eldest son, who died in 1152, and who as count of Boulogne had held the original honour of that name), nor did he answer for the contribution of their knights to the aid to the marriage of the king’s daughter; instead he answered directly to the king for the money, of which he was cleared by a royal writ.12 Not until 1182 did the issues of these lands become the responsibility of the exchequer. Wilton Abbey was treated similarly. In 1180 order was given that its keeper should not be required to answer for any of its issues, as he had paid them all into the king’s chamber.13

All this was not necessarily rank exploitation on the king’s part, for on the evidence of the pipe rolls, the yields from escheats often reflected earlier investments in them. That the issues of the honour of Arundel amounted to £381. 18s. 5d. in 1181, for instance, may well have owed much to the restocking of the manors carried out by royal agents in the previous year.14 Even so, by that time there was one respect in which the demands made on escheats differed from those on other lordships. The inquests which produced the Cartae Baronum of 1166 had distinguished – as they were required to do – between the fees held of tenants-in-chief before 1135 and those created after that year. When Henry II imposed scutages and aids on tenants-in-chief from 1168 onwards, he attempted to exact payment from all the fees each held, regardless of when they had come into being. His demands were to outward appearances perfectly reasonable – the barons themselves would surely have expected to be able to levy scutages from all their tenants – but they were successfully resisted, by lay and ecclesiastical barons alike, for on the evidence of the pipe rolls only the `old’ enfeoffments became liable to pay, except when an honour had escheated to the king. As early as 1173 the lands of the see of Chichester were paying scutage for Henry II’s Irish expedition both for the fees from which the late Bishop Hilary had acknowledged that payment was due and for those which he had not so acknowledged, `because the bishopric is in the king’s hand’, and the `old’ and `new’ enfeoffments on the lands of Earl Walter Giffard, who had died without an heir in 1164, were treated similarly.15 In 1187, a year after Henry II’s expedition to south-west Scotland, the keeper of the lands of the Northumbrian baron William de Vescy likewise accounted for scutage from both old and new fees, `because the honour is in the king’s hand’.16 When in 1194 the earl of Devon contributed to Richard I’s ransom by paying scutage alike for the fees `which he acknowledges’ and the ones which he did not, he did so explicitly as a favour – ex dono suo.17

The terms in which the earl’s payment was recorded shows that Richard I had continued to treat escheats much as his father had done. They continued to be grouped together on the first two pipe rolls of his reign,18 and though this practice was abandoned in 1191, it was revived in 1194, when a `roll of wards and escheats’ formed part of the pipe roll (as it did for the rest of Richard’s reign) – an innovation to be associated with Hubert Walter’s measures of that year, which included an order for the investigation of wardships and escheats by royal justices, prior to their being brought under the control of exchequer officials.19 Like many of Hubert’s measures, this was intended to maximise revenues in order to finance the king’s wars in Normandy. In 1194 the escheats affected included Lancaster, Nottingham and Wallingford, all forfeited by Count John because of his rebellion. But if they gave him any significant support, they rarely seem to have been punished collectively for it. In 1194 the knights of the honour of Lancaster paid the scutage levied to raise King Richard’s ransom at the usual 20s. rate,20 and in 1196 the honour of Wallingford, which answered for almost exactly 100 fees, accounted for £100. 5s. towards a scutage which was likewise assessed at 20s. per fee.21 Only the honour of Eye, whose knights in the latter year promised a fine of 26s. 8d. per fee `that they may not cross the sea in the third army of Normandy, and for having their scutages ...’,22 may have received a slap on the wrist in the form of a higher rate. Having been in the king’s hands since 1159, Eye had also formed part of Count John’s appanage, and was restored to him in 1195.


Misleading stability: John’s early reign

King John, like King Richard, appears to have usually followed in the footsteps of his father where escheats were concerned, at least at the beginning of his reign. Reliefs could be higher than had become customary – in 1201 Ralph d’Anvers proffered £20 `for having his land which is in the honour of Wallingford’, where he held two fees23 – but more often they were levied at the same rates as elsewhere, as were scutages, with the smaller fees of Mortain paying less than others as they had done before. The fines which tenants-in-chief paid to avoid service overseas could be much higher – in 1202, for instance, when scutage was charged at a rate of two marks per fee, the payments made by the knights of Wallingford (and in the present context it is significant that they were being treated as tenants-in-chief) included thirty marks for three fees from Robert de Mara, twenty-five marks from six fees from Thurstan Basset, and ten marks for two fees from Robert Foliot,24 while the Lancaster fines included one of ten marks for just a quarter of a fee from Robert of Stockport25 – but such fines were often high, whoever was obliged to make them. Although there are signs that landowners were aware that defining their positions as tenants was potentially important, and that it could matter to them whether they held their land directly of the king or of an escheat which was in the king’s hand, in the years immediately after John’s accession they appear to have expected him to observe the conventional distinctions between the two forms of tenure.

This is suggested above all by a lawsuit between two Lincolnshire landowners recorded in 1201. Probably early in that year, Simon of Kyme and Robert the chamberlain jointly proffered sixty marks (£40) and a palfrey, with Simon undertaking to pay twenty marks and Robert the rest, `for having the grand assize concerning three quarters of a knight’s fee in Marston, as to whether Robert, who is the tenant, has the greater right to hold that fee in demesne of the king in chief, or Simon [to hold it] in demesne of the honour of Gloucester’.26 Whoever won the action would be a tenant of the king’s, for the honour of Gloucester had come into King John’s hands through his marriage in 1189 to Isabella, its acknowledged heir, and had remained in them after their marriage was annulled ten years later, but the terms on which the disputed property was held, and the services rendered for it, would be different. To settle this, Robert and Simon were prepared to pay a sizeable fine, and the evidence which they produced in support of their claims was no less substantial. When the case came into the bench in Michaelmas term 1201, Robert displayed charters of Henry I, of the Empress Matilda, and of Henry II, the last’s having been made both before and after he became king, together with writs issued by all three, and he also appealed to the authority of Domesday Book, while Simon proffered a charter of Earl William of Gloucester (d. 1183) and its confirmation by Henry II. In accordance with normal practice, the justices remanded the lawsuit, with its battery of conflicting claims, for the king’s decision.27 John’s judgment is lost, but its gist is clear enough, for in 1212 Robert was recorded as holding six carucates of land in Marston in chief of the king by the service of one knight,28 and eventually paid his share of the original fine (he joined the rebels at the end of the reign, and did not start to pay his fine until 1219, completing payment only in 1224), while Simon was pardoned his contribution.29 It is probably unsurprising that John found in favour of the would-be tenant-in-chief, but it seems equally noteworthy that at this point in the reign Simon sought the presumed advantages of holding land from a de facto escheat.


Growing pressure

Simon of Kyme’s apparent optimism may have been misjudged, even at the time. This is suggested by the king’s treatment of Lancaster, which acute observers could have seen as a portent. Its exact status appears to have been unclear – although it was commonly recorded on the pipe rolls as an honour, it was several times also referred to as a county, and the royal officer in charge of it was always the sheriff. John’s tour of the north of England in 1200, bringing him as it did numerous and lucrative payments for charters of confirmation, may well have suggested to him that Lancaster held financial possibilities which neither he nor his predecessors had fully exploited. In the same year additional payments – de cremento – were levied on five townships,30 a number which by 1202 had risen to around twenty.31 In 1201 the county farm, which had been fixed at £200 since 1166, was increased by 100 marks (£66. 13s. 4d.), and some of the previous year’s fines had surcharges tacked onto them – Robert Bussel, for instance, had to find another twenty marks `as increment to the fine of 100 marks which he had made previously, and that an inquest may be held according to the first fine.’32 Fines and scutages for military service could be large – in 1201 Gilbert FitzReinfred was charged with £20 for three fees – and were both exactly calculated and widely imposed, on freeholders (serjeants and thanes) who did not hold by knight service, as well as on all those who did. In 1202 scutage was recorded as paid by 74¾ fees, together with a sixth and three and a half tenths.33 Such fractions were attended to. A year later Adam of Middleton paid 6s. 8d. for one fourteenth of a fee, Robert le Vavasur ten marks (£6. 13s. 4d.) for a half and a sixth of a fee.34 An order issued on 21 October 1205 for a wide-ranging inquest into alienations of lands and services from the honour of Lancaster since 1154, one which was to extend into every county in which its estates lay, will have warned its tenants that no letting-up of financial pressure could be expected in the future.35

Such an order raises the possibility that King John was planning a campaign of investigation into his rights concerning escheats at this time. Be that as it may, there were already developing signs elsewhere of the determination of the king and his agents to extract all that could be regarded as due to them from this source. In 1201 the knights of the honour of Berkhampstead had to pay a 6½ mark (£4. 6s. 8d.) supplement on top of the £40 they had already given towards that year’s scutage. The defiant note struck by the record that `They hold the fees of twenty-two and a third knights and no more, as they say’36 suggests that the tenants felt ill-used and had protested, even though Berkhampstead’s fees were the smaller ones of Mortain, and paid at a lower rate (in 1204 they paid scutage at the rate of 20s. 5d. instead of the 33s. 4d. demanded for fees of conventional size).37 The records of the scutage of 1205 show the king’s officers answering in considerable detail for the issues of escheated honours, and attending to every fraction of a fee, as they were already doing in Lancaster. Gilbert of Stanford, for example, accounted for scutage from the honours of Henry of Essex (46 and a sixth fees) and Hagnet (53½ and an eighth and a quarter), and for the knights of the count of Perche at Newbury, Chelsfield, Aldburn and Wanborough (10½), and ended up paying £147. 8s. 7d. into the king’s chamber from a total of 110 knights’ fees, along with a quarter, an eighth and a sixth.38

Gilbert’s account was entered on the pipe roll under Essex and Hertfordshire, but he was not the sheriff of those counties. Practice varied in this respect. As far as accounting to the exchequer was concerned, the honour of Wallingford effectively ceased to exist as an fiscal entity after 1201, it being noted on the following year’s pipe roll that all the lands of the honour had been given away,39 so that thereafter it rarely answered except as an agglomeration of fees when scutages were levied. The accountant on these occasions was usually the sheriff of Berkshire, but occasionally a keeper acted in his place. The knights and free tenants of the honour of Peverel clearly resented the loss of identity entailed in coming under a sheriff’s control, for in 1203 they proffered forty marks (£26. 13s. 4d.) `that the sheriff in whose bailiwicks that honour was should in no way concern himself with it ...’.40 The money was paid, but the sheriff continued to account until 1208, when the honour was placed in the hands first of Robert de Vieuxpont and then of Brian de Lisle – hardly the sort of administrators the tenants can have hoped for when they made their bid to exclude the sheriff. The men of Lancashire (under that name) made a similar bid for independence, though in a different form, when in 1206 they proffered 100 marks to have Richard de Vernun as their sheriff.41 After four years in office Vernon had recently been replaced by Gilbert FitzReinfred, and the change was clearly little to the county’s liking (Vernun’s removal is doubtless to be associated with his fine of the previous year of forty marks and a palfrey `for contempt of the king’s orders directed to him’42 – perhaps he had ignored instructions for the more methodical exploitation of his charge). John accepted the money but did not restore Vernun to office, for Gilbert remained sheriff until at least 1215. Probably John valued his financial efficiency, for after 1205 the issues of the honour of Lancaster were more directly exploited, with the sheriff now acting as a custodian rather than as a farmer and answering for all the revenues.43 The 100-mark increment disappeared, but since the profits for which the sheriff now answered usually exceeded it – they amounted to £73 in 1206, for instance, and £79. 5s. in 121144 – the tenants were no better off.


Tightening the screw

John continued to exploit the opportunities which escheats provided when the opportunity presented itself – in 1208, for instance, he was able to extract forty marks from Luke Sorel as his relief for a single knight’s fee held from the honour of Leicester45 – but in the application of pressure in a more methodical way the decisive year was probably 1209, when the excommunication of the king, and the subsequent retreat into exile of nearly all the English bishops, put the latter’s estates at the former’s disposal. The opportunity was exploited to the full, and probably encouraged John to exploit lay escheats with the same thoroughness. The financial year 1208/9 produced inquests into tenures in the counties of Northamptonshire and of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire which specifically investigated escheats, while around the same time there were also surveys of the knights’fees and sergeanties of the honour of Tickhill, and of the bishoprics of Durham, Worcester, Lincoln and Exeter, along with Hyde Abbey, Winchester (which was not in fact in the king’s hand at the time).46 It is probably not coincidence that it was in 1209 that the knights and free tenants of the honour of Bramber, Sussex, which was now in the king’s hand following John’s falling-out with its lord, William de Briouze, paid £100 and a good palfrey `for having their liberties which they had in the time of their lords according to their ancient custom ...’,47 and that the knights of the honour of Hervey Bagot, the lord in Staffordshire of fifty fees of Mortain, proffered twenty marks `so that they can now and in future pay their scutages as they should and have been accustomed to do ...’.48 The activities and inquiries of the king’s agents must have made such precautions against new and higher exactions seem very necessary, though they do not always appear to have been successful. In 1210 Hugh de Cumbes, a tenant of the honour of Bramber, had to pay a relief of £40 for four fees in Applesham and Hawkesborne, double the accustomed amount.49

Some of the other reliefs recorded at this time were similarly disproportionate, and were not only exacted from important landowners. Again in 1210, for instance, the heir of Matthew of Marton in Lancashire (he was probably named Adam) gave twenty marks to succeed to just three carucates there,50 and John of Mansbridge paid £5 as his relief for a mill in that Hampshire village, which he had formerly held of Hugh de Culunces but was now in the king’s hands after Hugh’s forfeiture as a Norman.51 The scutages imposed on escheats continued to be charged on old and new fiefs alike – in 1211 both the honour of Gloucester and the diocese of Exeter were treated in this way.52 But the evidence for the actual numbers of fees which had either to perform military service or to pay in commutation is not always clear. Although there was no formal enactment or pronouncement on the subject, by the end of the twelfth century the overall trend was undoubtedly towards a lowering of quotas, and may well have long been so. A magnate like Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk, whose relations with King John were uneasy, might have to pay for a remission – in 1211 he agreed to give 2000 marks (£1333. 6s. 8d.) for concessions which included the reduction by half of the service of 120 knights which he had previously owed53 – but in other cases the downward adjustment was made silently, and can only be deduced from its results. Thus when John mustered the host in Kent in 1213, recorded payments to tenants-in-chief and their followers show that Gilbert de Gant, the lord of nearly seventy fees, had attended with just nine knights, as did Robert Mortimer, a Herefordshire baron who owed the service of twenty-three, while the earl of Devon, who held over ninety fees, sent only twenty knights.54 The earl of Clare came with four knights to represent his fees in Kent, and also provided a contingent from Essex. The latter’s number is unrecorded, but can in any case have represented only a fraction of the total number of knights, between 130 and 140, which Earl Gilbert was nominally required to provide.55

The king’s demands on such ecclesiastical and lay escheats as the archbishopric of Canterbury and the lands of the earldom of Leicester look relatively substantial as recorded, furnishing long lists of names, but in fact they, too, were considerably lower than they might have been.56 The two halves of the honour of Leicester contained just over 200 fees, but sent only twenty knights to the 1214 muster,57 and although the archbishopric provided more – thirty-nine in all – this still represented a substantial reduction in the service which was potentially owing – sixty knights were due, while successive archbishops had created fees for at least twenty-five more, all of whom could have been summoned by the king when the see was vacant.58 On the other hand, the king’s exploitation of the resources of Ramsey Abbey, which was vacant between 1206 and 1214, included the raising of fines from knights and free men towards his 1210 Irish expedition which totalled £172. 6s. 4d.,59 although the abbey owned the service of only four knights, and had enfeoffed between thirteen and nineteen. That year’s scutage was levied at the rate of two marks per fee, so John was by any criterion taking far more than his entitlement from the abbey’s men. He weighed no less heavily on the honour of Lancaster, where in 1209, at least, he exacted all the service due to him, that of nearly eighty knights – the sheriff made no return concerning scutage for that year’s Scottish campaign, `because all the knights were in the army’.60 Although no numbers are given, it seems likely that many of the Lancaster knights were called out again in 1213, since Gilbert FitzReinfred received 100 marks for their payment, as much as was given to William Marshal for his force.61

By this time the number of escheats, and their ecclesiastical equivalents, which were in the king’s hands was considerable. The 1211 pipe roll (the last of the reign to be anything like complete) records the king as receiving the issues of the honours of Gloucester, Marlborough, Knaresborough, Peverel, Boulogne, Lancaster, Leicester (in two parts), Wallingford and Tickhill, and the lands of William de Beauchamp and the countess of Perche, along with those of the sees of Durham, Canterbury, Salisbury and Exeter, the abbeys of St Benet of Holme, Abbotsbury, Kenilworth (and its daughter-house of Stone), Ramsey, Peterborough and Battle, and Canterbury Cathedral priory. All the signs are that whereas under Henry II escheats had been regarded as benefits to be enjoyed, by this stage in John’s reign they were coming to be treated as assets to be stripped. As John’s financial needs grew in proportion to his military and diplomatic purposes, the amounts spent on restocking and maintaining escheats declined, while larger sums were paid either into the exchequer or to the king in his chamber – for John, as for his father, escheats could be a valuable source of ready cash. In 1209 the lands of only part of the earldom of Leicester yielded payments totalling £822. 0s. 8d. directly to the king, on the authority of no fewer than eleven royal writs, and those of Roger de Tony’s barony of Flamstead £269. 5s.,62 while in the following year the estates of the countess of Perche brought nearly £900 into the chamber.63 In 1210 the revenues from Kenilworth Priory amounted to nearly £400, of which the exchequer had just under £250 and the king £140. 12s., while of the farm of the honour of Tickhill, set at £85, all but £3 was paid to the exchequer.64 A year later the issues of the barony of William de Beauchamp, amounting to just over £900 over two years, went entirely into the exchequer and chamber (almost exactly two thirds of them into the latter).65


Uninhibited exploitation

Two years later the flight and forfeiture of the recent conspirators against his life gave John the opportunity to demonstrate in spectacular fashion just what his control of escheated honours might lead to. The Dunstable annalist recorded how, almost certainly in early 1213, `the king sent 100 knights with esquires to Poitou from the fee[s] of Eustace [de Vescy] and Robert FitzWalter and of the bishops then in exile ...’, and for good measure took a scutage from those of their knights who remained at home, at the eye-watering rate of ten marks (£6. 13s. 4d.) per fee,66 more than three times the rate exacted across the whole country in 1214, which at three marks (£2) per fee was itself unprecedented. In 1215 FitzWalter and Vescy between them were reckoned to be able to bring eighty knights to the baronial muster,67 and this was probably a significant underestimate, since FitzWalter held two baronies which were recorded as owing the service of almost exactly 100 knights, while Vescy’s lordships consisted of some thirty-six fees.68 If the estates of the two secular barons are regarded as having provided the knights, and the bishoprics the scutage, then allowances have to be made for the fact that six sees were vacant and two did not owe knight service to the king, while Norwich and Winchester were in the hands of men loyal to King John. But the baronies of the archbishop of Canterbury and his five diocesans who are known to have left England rather than serve an excommunicate king (the position of Herbert Poor of Salisbury is unclear) altogether owed the service of 215 `old’ fees and 103¾ `new’ ones,69 and since both kinds of fee would have been required to pay scutage while the relevant dioceses were in the king’s hand, the levy’s yield from them, at ten marks per fee, could have amounted to £2465. 16s. 8d. (£2705. 16s. 8d. if an additional thirty-six baronial fees are included) – a very welcome addition to John’s war-chest at that critical time.

The disappearance of the 1213 pipe roll means that these calculations must remain speculative. But it seems undubitable that King John did turn the screw on the escheats, lay and ecclesiastical, old and new, whenever the opportunity arose, and that he amplified those opportunities by ignoring the differences between escheats. The abuse which Clause 43 was intended to remedy had potentially widespread repercussions, ones which John’s actions after 1212 show could impact upon men in the highest reaches of society., and do so, moreover, to lasting effect, for an attempt on the king’s life constituted treason, and thus, as Glanvill noted, entailed the perpetual disinheritance of the convicted traitor’s heirs.70 The fact that FitzWalter and Vescy had committed treason had potentially severe effects for their tenants, in that it should have made the lands of their former lords permanently the possession of the crown, in circumstances in which it would have been difficult for the tenants to argue that they should be treated by the king as they had been by the lords who had recently plotted to kill him.

As resistance mounted in the latter years of John’s reign, the king’s adversaries faced the possibility that escheat by forfeiture would come to supplement escheat by failure of heirs, or (in the case of Normans who sided with the French king) by change of allegiance, with the first being enforced and exploited with even greater severity than the other two. The return of the conspirators from exile in 1213 may have averted this danger, or at any rate diminished it, but the underlying abuse persisted, and aroused resentment. The tenurial connections of the king’s enemies are often hard to pin down, but at least a dozen of the knights of the honour of Wallingford, with grievances which included some excessive reliefs and large demands for scutage and military service (in 1210 around twenty of them accompanied the king to Ireland), joined the rebellion against King John,71 which also found several identifiable supporters among the tenants of the honour of Tickhill.72 Three of the latter (John de Lacy, Eustace de Vescy and Roger de Montbegon) were among the twenty-five barons charged with enforcing Magna Carta, and up to twelve more of their fellow tenants followed them into revolt.

In January 1214 William the archer of Sibbertoft had given ten marks for an inquest as to `whether the serjeanty of Sibbertoft which he holds should pertain to the honour of Berkhampstead or [whether] he should hold the same serjeanty in chief of the lord king ...’. The sheriff of Northamptonshire was therefore ordered to investigate, with instructions that if William was found to hold in chief, then he should be left in peace, while if he held it of the honour, then he should be permitted to hold it `as of that honour ...’ (sicut de honore illo).73 Having passed to the crown by forfeiture early in the twelfth century, in 1214 Berkhampstead was nominally part of Queen Isabella’s dower, but was effectively under the king’s control, administered by a royal keeper.74 In paying for an inquest, William showed his awareness of the relationship between tenancy and lordship, and of the advantages for himself which might follow from the terms in which the latter was defined. In the event, like Robert the chamberlain earlier in the reign, William was found to be a tenant-in-chief, holding his serjeanty (a military one) directly from the king.75 No doubt he was disappointed, having hoped to hold his lands on terms which left him less exposed to royal demands. Nevertheless his case is significant in showing that men understood that there were significant differences between holding estates directly from the crown and holding them from a barony which circumstances had brought under the crown’s immediate lordship, and that they expected those differences to be maintained. King John’s acceptance of William’s proffer shows that when offered a material inducement he, too, might be prepared to observe the distinction. Clause 43 demanded that he should always do so.


In contemporary usage honours and baronies were regarded as well-nigh identical.  The use of the term `honour’ in Clause 43 probably reflects only the way in which the four lordships named had come to be referred to, for instance in the pipe rolls, rather than any substantive difference.


W. Stubbs (ed.), Gesta Henrici secundi Benedicti abbatis, 2 vols. (Rolls Series, 1867), ii, 78. 


Details from J.H. Round, Studies in peerage and family history (1901), 147-80.


E. Amt and S.D. Church (eds.), Dialogus de Scaccario (Oxford, 2007), 144-5.


W.S. McKechnie, Magna Carta (2nd edn., Glasgow, 1914), 411-14.  McKechnie applied to the period of Magna Carta a distinction between escheats held ut de corona and those held ut de escaeta.  This terminology, at least, appears to be anachronistic, for the examples cited (taken from Madox) date from the reign of Henry III and later.


PR 26 Henry II (1180), 33; H. Hall (ed.), The red book of the exchequer, 3 vols. (Rolls Series, 1896), i, 201.


PR 22 Henry II (1176), 98.


PR 27 Henry II (1181), 16.


PR 28 Henry II (1182), 148-9.


PR 31 Henry II (1185) 1-12.


PR 33 Henry II (1187), 12-30.


PR 14 Henry II (1168), 46.


PR 26 Henry II (1180), 122.


Ib., 32-3; PR 27 Henry II (1181), 145.


PR 19 Henry II (1173), 30, 79.


PR 33 Henry II (1187), 12-13.


PR 6 Richard I (1194), 171.


PR 1 Richard I (1189), 1-19; PR 2 Richard I (1190), 4-8.


PR 6 Richard I (1194), xx-xxj, 1-27; W. Stubbs (ed.), Chronica Magistri Rogeri de Houeden, 4 vols. (Rolls Series, 1868-71), iii, 266.


PR 6 Richard I (1194), 125; Red book of the exchequer i, 160.


PR 8 Richard I (1196), 205; Red book of the exchequer i, 308-10.


Ib., 122.


T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli de oblatis et finibus ... tempore regis Johannis (Record Commission, 1835 – hereafter Rot.Ob.Fin.), 128; Liber feodorum.  The book of fees commonly called Testa de Nevill, 2 vols. In 3 (1920-31), i, 119.


PR 4 John (1202), 9-10.


Ib., 163-4


PR 3 John (1201), 18; Rot.Ob.Fin., 113.


Curia Regis Rolls i, temp. Rich. I – 2 John (1922), 263.


Book of fees i, 186.


T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli litterarum clausarum i, 1204-1224 (Record Commission, 1833 – hereafter Rot.Lit.Claus. i), 312 (Robert as rebel); PR 3 Henry III (1219), 120, PR 8 Henry III (1224), 52 (Robert’s first and last payments); PR 13 John (1211), 60 (Simon’s pardon).


PR 2 John (1200), 236.


PR 4 John (1202), 159-60.


Details concerning Lancaster in this year from PR 3 John (1201), 269-76.


PR 4 John (1202), 165.


PR 5 John (1203), 231.


Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 55.


Rot.Ob.Fin., 147.


PR 6 John (1204), 257.


PR 7 John (1205), 174-5.


PR 4 John (1204), 5.


PR 5 John (1203), 171.


PR 8 John (1206), 71.


PR 7 John (1205), 180.


Ib., 175-6.


PR 8 John (1206), 69; PR 13 John (1211), 149.


PR 10 John (1208), 163.


Book of fees i, 17-48.


PR 11 John (1209), 4.


Ib., 151; Book of fees i, 42; Red book of the exchequer ii, 550.


PR 12 John (1210), 61; Book of fees ii, 689.


PR 12 John (1210), 151; Book of fees i, 63, 211.


PR 12 John (1210), 184; Book of fees i, 615.


PR 13 John (1211), 65 (Gloucester), 258 (Exeter).


Ib., 11.  350 marks were pardoned, and more may have been - the disappearance of the 1213 pipe roll makes it impossible to tell how much Bigod eventually paid of a debt which had been cleared when the 1214 pipe roll was drawn up.


J.C. Holt (ed.), `Praestita roll 14-18 John’, in PR 17 John (1215), 93 (Mortimer), 94 (Gant), 96 (Devon).  Details of service owed from I.J. Sanders, English baronies: a study of their origins and descent, 1066-1327 (Oxford, 1960), 46 (Gant) and 75 (Mortimer), PR 2 Henry III (1218), 90 (Devon).


Holt, `Praestita roll’, 94, 97; Sanders, English baronies, 35.


On this point I differ from J.C. Holt, Magna Carta (2nd edn., Cambridge, 1992), 316-17.


PR 2 Henry III (1218), 56; Holt, `Praestita roll’, 102-3, where the Canterbury names are also recorded.


The figures are discussed by F.R.H. du Boulay, The lordship of Canterbury (1966), 76-8.


PR 12 John (1210), 215; Red book of the exchequer i, 370-2; H.M. Chew, The English ecclesiastical tenants-in-chief and knight service (Oxford, 1932), 123-4.


PR 13 John (1211), 151.


Holt, `Praestita roll’, 97.


PR 11 John (1209), 24-6 (Leicester), 201 (Toni).


PR 12 John (1210), 204- 5.


Ib., 5-6 (Kenilworth), 128 (Tickhill).


PR 13 John (1211), 68.


`Annales prioratus de Dunstaplia’, in H.R. Luard (ed.), Annales monastici, 5 vols. (Rolls Series, 1864-9), iii, 35.


Holt, Magna Carta, 479.


Book of fees i, 576-9 (FitzWalter);  Sanders, English baronies, 103 (Vescy).


Figures from Chew, English ecclesiastical tenants-in-chief, 19.  For Herbert Poor see B.R. Kemp. `Poor [Pauper], Herbert (d. 1217)’:


G.D.G. Hall (ed.), The treatise on the laws and customs of the realm of England customarily called Glanvill (2nd edn., Oxford, 1993), 171-3.


C.D. Tilley, `The honour of Wallingford, 1066-1300’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, King’s College, University of London, 2011, 338-48 – accessed at


Book of fees i, 32-3; identifications or rebels from RLC i, passim.


Rot.Ob.Fin., 519; PR 16 John (1214), 24.


Victoria County History of Hertfordshire ii (1908), 165-6.


Book of fees i, 602-4.

Referenced in

From the Tower, John sends a coded message to his queen (The Itinerary of King John)

Magna Carta 1215
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