The Magna Carta Project

Original Latin


Omnes autem istas consuetudines praedictas et libertates quas nos concessimus in regno nostro tenendas quantum ad nos pertinet erga nostros, omnes de regno nostro, tam clerici quam laici, observent quantum ad se pertinent erga suos.


Moreover, all the aforesaid customs and liberties, which we have granted to be maintained in our kingdom as far as we are concerned with regard to our own men, all the men of our kingdom, both clergy and laity, are also to observe as far as they are concerned them with regard to their own men.

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Commentary for secondary school students

Clause 60 laid down that all lords – not just the barons with whom King John negotiated the content of Magna Carta – should observe the Charter’s stipulations in their dealings with those beneath them. That its beneficiaries would have been very largely free men (though villeins could have benefited from the observance of c. 20, restricting the imposition of amercements) reflects the way the repercussions of John’s rule, and especially his financial demands, had been felt throughout landowning society. Knights and the lords of manors below the level of the baronage had been affected by royal misrule and had supported the rebellion against the king, and in June 1215 they demanded a share of the concessions extracted from him. The magnates may have had some misgivings about this, as likely to undermine their control of their tenants. Added to this was the problem of enforcement, about which the Clause said nothing, and which was probably to be the responsibility of the king, thus giving him the opportunity to extend his authority through interference in relations between lords and tenants. It may have been to prevent this that a sentence was added to Clause 60 in the 1217 reissue of Magna Carta, `saving’ the rights of the barons.

Evidence is scarce for the kind of abuses on the part of lords which Magna Carta set out to rectify on the part of the king, not least because it took courage and determination for a tenant to sue or protest against his superior. There was certainly an awareness of the kinds of malpractice which a lord could perpetrate, as shown, for instance, in the charter issued by the Yorkshire baron Peter de Brus between 1207 and 1209, promising, among other concessions (and in terms very similar to Clause 20 of Magna Carta), that anyone amerced in his court would be punished in proportion to his offence and the seriousness of his offence. Presumably the tenants to whom Peter addressed his charter had demanded this. And there are also some recorded instances of abuses which Magna Carta aimed to prevent on the part of the king being inflicted by some of his leading subjects. Lords can be seen imprisoning their subordinates, demanding services and payments which they did not owe, and in particular depriving them of their lands. The constable of Richmond, having recovered lands held by his ancestors, promptly evicted the sitting tenants. Archbishop Hubert Walter – significantly, once he was safely dead – was said to have dispossessed so many men that the king had to ordered investigations into the primate’s actions. Those who recovered estates from which they had been ejected might return to find their property devastated.

King John repeatedly showed himself impulsive, aggressive and violent in his dealings with his subjects. His barons might do the same. The earl of Arundel seized a tenant’s lands in a moment of anger, the earl of Norfolk used force to keep a tenant out of his inheritance. Lay landowners bullied their ecclesiastical neighbours, often in efforts to recover lands and rights granted to monasteries by their fathers and grandfathers. The chronicle of the Yorkshire abbey of Meaux records a number of such campaigns of harassment. But monastic landlords could be no less aggressive and high-handed. Abbot Samson of Bury St Edmunds so built up his fishpond that his tenants’ orchards and gardens were flooded, but refused to listen to their complaints. But although it is possible to see why Clause 60 might have been needed, it does not seem to have been often invoked, though Henry III sometimes called upon his barons to observe it. Nevertheless its very existence may sometimes have acted as a restraint upon magnate misconduct, adding to its purely symbolic importance as a witness to the range and applicability of Magna Carta.

Magna Carta 1215
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