Nullum scutagium vel auxilium ponatur in regno nostro nisi per commune consilium regni nostri, nisi ad corpus nostrum redimendum, et primogenitum filium nostrum militem faciendum, et ad filiam nostram primogenitam semel maritandam, at ad haec non fiat nisi rationabile auxilium; simili modo fiat de auxiliis de civitate Londoniarum.
No scutage or aid is to be imposed in our kingdom except by the common counsel of our kingdom, unless for the ransoming of our person, and knighting of our first-born son, and for marrying, once, our first-born daughter, and for these only a reasonable aid is to be taken. Aids from the city of London are to be treated in like manner.
Clause 12 represented a determined attempt by the barons to establish control over two of the most important of King John’s methods of taxation, by insisting that they were only to be taken with their own consent, since they claimed the right to speak for the kingdom at large. It is arguable that the two levies were too different to be satisfactorily dealt with together. Aids constituted one form of the assistance which lords were entitled on occasion to demand from their tenants and men, and except in certain circumstances (increasingly limited to those defined in Clause 12) it was increasingly accepted that they should be taken only with the consent of the people concerned. Scutage, on the other hand, was traditionally taken in commutation of military service as and when the king decided, and was subject to no such constraints. But John himself failed to make clear distinctions between the taxes he imposed, thereby justifying the barons in doing the same. Moreover developments in political thinking in the years around 1200, which led to the king placing greater stress on the public good as justification for his demanding a tax, could similarly be used by the barons as grounds for resisting one. In the end it seems to have been decided that aids and scutage could not be appropriately treated as effectively synonymous, and reissues of Magna Carta from 1217 onwards dealt only with scutage, but the basic principle of Clause 12, that taxation was not to be imposed without consent, survived intact.
John’s levying of taxes, which took a variety of forms, was a principal source of resentment against his government. In Clause 12 the barons tried to set firm limits on the demands he could make on his subjects, by insisting that two of the most important instruments of fiscal oppression, namely aids and scutages, should only be taken with their own consent, since they claimed to represent the kingdom as a whole. It was linked to Clause 14, which specified how such consent was to be obtained, and also with Clause 16, directed against John’s practice of requiring more in the way of services, which could include scutage, than he was in fact owed. Clause 12 had the weakness, however, that it effectively conflated quite different taxes. An aid, as its name suggests, represented the financial support which a lord was entitled to require from his free tenants; in certain circumstances (to an increasing extent those specified in the Clause) payment was regarded as obligatory, but otherwise it was accepted that it should only be taken with the consent of those who paid it. But scutage was a straightforward imposition, taken by the king at rates and at times of his own choosing, in place of the military service which he was otherwise entitled to demand from those who held their lands directly from him. Before 1215 it was never claimed that those from whom scutage was exacted should be consulted about it, still less that their consent was needed before it could be collected.
The barons may well have deliberately confused the terms used to define two different taxes, but they would have been encouraged in this by the fact that words like `aid’ were seldom used with much precision, and King John’s government, like that of his two predecessors, had in any case often used the same expression to describe more than one levy, referring to a scutage as an aid, or vice versa, and taking the latter with or without consent, according to circumstances. In linking aids and scutages, the barons were only following the king’s example. John’s intermittent appeals to the public good as justification for taking a tax – in 1207 the defence of the kingdom was invoked as grounds for the thirteenth of moveables, the heaviest tax of the whole reign - could similarly be used against him, by magnates who thought themselves no less qualified to uphold the interests of all the king’s subjects, and not just their own. But the aftermath suggests that the linking of aids and scutages could not be sustained. In 1216 Clause 12 was set aside for further discussion, and the reissues of Magna Carta in 1217 and later referred only to scutage. Perhaps it was thought unnecessary to make provision for aids, since the basic principle of Clause 12, that taxation should not be imposed without consent, quickly came to be generally accepted.
Clause 12 has been condemned as unsatisfactory, especially for its confusion of terms as it attempted to mount a unified attack on financial instruments which were related only by their being important components of King John’s fiscal armoury.1 The criticism is easily justified, not least by the Clause’s failure to survive into later reissues of Magna Carta. That said, the flexible and improvisatory nature of Angevin government, which could make abuses of power very hard to identify with exactness, was such that probably only a broad-brush attack on the king’s methods, one which gave the barons a general control over what they saw as his tools of financial oppression, had any chance of success. This Clause 12 attempted to achieve, by targeting two of John’s main instruments of taxation and subjecting them to tight constraints. It may have failed (though the extent of its failure has probably been exaggerated), but it is not easy to see how in the circumstances of 1215 the barons could have done much better.
The potential for difficulties was there from the start. The bulk of Clause 12 appeared as number 32 among the Articles of the Barons, where its content relating to London no doubt accounted for its coming between two articles relating to trade. In Magna Carta these two became Clauses 41 and 42, but the two articles which followed them (34 and 35), which were largely concerned with the effects of indebtedness to Jews, were moved up to become Clauses 10 and 11 of the Charter, with what had been Article 32 immediately behind them, so that these three formed part of a group of clauses primarily concerned with John’s exploitation of his traditional rights in order to raise money. The effect of this transfer was weakened, however, by the treatment of the London material in what had been Article 32. As finally drafted, Clause 12 placed strict controls on the king’s right to demand the levies known as aids and scutages, in terms applicable to the tenants-in-chief, but where aids were concerned extended them to the city of London.2 Article 32 had spoken of tallages as well as aids, so extending the restriction to the arbitrary levies which the king was traditionally entitled to impose, as and when he chose, on cities, boroughs and demesnes over which he exercised lordship. Clause 12 made no mention of tallages, however, and hived off the rest of the Article to form Clause 13. This confirmed the city in its ancient liberties, and extended the grant to `all other cities, boroughs, towns and ports’, but made no reference to taxation, so that this clause appears, rather awkwardly, as an irrelevant pendant to Clause 12, one which separated it from its natural accompaniment of Clause 14.
Clause 14 (which had no equivalent among the Articles) completed Clause 12 by specifying how, and by whom, taxation was to be assessed in future, and was itself followed by two further clauses relating to taxation. The first of these dealt directly, the second by implication, with the rights of sub-tenants – the levying of aids and scutages had effects which extended beyond the magnates. It was in fact Clause 16 which spelt out one of the grievances which Clause 12 was directed against, one especially related to scutage, namely John’s misuse of his power to demand more in service, or for commutation of service, than those subjected to it actually owed him.3 For this Clause 12 attempted to provide the remedy, but without defining the grievance. The other issue was that of consent, and on this point – at least in the eyes of posterity – the barons went some way towards undermining their own case by treating aids and scutages as if they were somehow the same, so that they could be appropriately resisted or controlled together.
Strictly speaking they were not identical. Scutage was the sum charged by the king in commutation of the military service owed by a tenant-in-chief. Originating in the late eleventh century, it was traditionally assessed on the knight’s fee, at a rate decided on by the king, in accordance with his perception of his own military needs - it was for him to summon the feudal host, and when he did so to decide who should serve in person, and who was to be allowed to pay in lieu of service, and what the relevant payment should be. An aid was in its origins little more than an adjunct of lordship, and has been appropriately placed among the `vague obligations’ which any lord could call upon his dependents to fulfil, without necessarily being able to enforce them.4 A powerful ruler or lord could demand the assistance of his subordinates, and make his demand effective, simply by reason of his power, as Henry I doubtless did when, on the evidence of the 1130 pipe roll, he took aids throughout England from the boroughs, cities, counties and knights of the kingdom.5 Others relied on negotiation, or on claims based upon custom rather than strength.
During the twelfth century there was a movement towards definition, with regard to aids as to much else, and thus towards restriction. In Clause 12 the limits set upon aids were presented in terms of their effects upon the king’s revenue and authority, but they arose from a tendency towards restraint upon lordship of all kinds, baronial as well as royal, where such demands were concerned. Glanvill, in a discussion of the relations between lords and vassals which was only incidentally concerned with the interests of the crown, posited a lord who had paid a relief for the right to succeed to his inheritance being able to recoup his outlay by taking `reasonable aids for this purpose from his own men.’ This he was to do `in moderation’, according to the treatise, which also allowed the taking of an aid when a lord’s son and heir was knighted, or his eldest daughter married, while at the same time acknowledging the prevailing greyness of the area in question by conceding that `there is no certain rule laid down about the giving or exacting of aids of this kind ...’.6 Glanvill was probably written in the late 1180s. Only a few years earlier a grant to St Andrew’s Priory, Northampton, by William FitzRichard, a tenant of the barony of Weedon Pinkeny, had confirmed a grant of land in Sulgrave upon conditions which included contributing to three specific `services’ – the ransoming of the grantor’s body, the knighting of his first-born son, and the marriage of his eldest daughter. There was also the possibility that the canons of St Andrew’s would be called upon to join with William’s other free tenants in granting him a `common aid’, in which case they would do so in proportion to their holding (secundum suam tenuram).7 There was no reference to consent, which need not mean that none was called for – William’s charter may well have been observing a distinction between the kinds of aid (identical with those of Clause 12) which could legitimately be taken without prior consultation, and other kinds which a lord was expected to negotiate. In any case, the fact that contributions were to be assessed in accordance with the size of each tenant’s property suggests that whatever form a `common aid’ may once have taken, it now involved something more orderly than a high-handed raid upon the resources of the tenantry
The developments implicit in Glanvill and the Sulgrave charter probably made it easier for the barons to impose limits on the king’s ability to exact `gracious’ aids – their own ability to make similar demands on their own tenants was being increasingly constrained, by custom and quite possibly also by outright resistance. Like the king, they were having to accept that such aids could only be taken with consent. The very fact that Clause 15 – without much doubt included in Magna Carta at the behest of the barons’ tenants – forbade the king to grant to anyone the right to take an aid except on the grounds set out in Clause 12, suggests strongly that such levies could no longer be taken without royal authority, and the force at its disposal, to back them up. Clause 12 dealt likewise with the royal power itself, henceforward the occasions on which a king could make an irrefutable claim upon the resources of his tenants-in-chief were limited to the three set out in that clause, a process which was arguably completed there. By 1215 those occasions were probably uncontentious, all the more so, perhaps, because at that time only the first of them can have seemed even remotely likely to arise for several years. It was not completely beyond the bounds of possibility that the king himself might at some point need to be ransomed, as Richard I had been, but John’s eldest son was a boy of seven, and his eldest daughter only four, so that both were likely to be some years away from knighthood and matrimony respectively.
Of course, the barons must have been aware that mere implausibility was no necessary impediment to a king of John’s ingenuity levying such aids should he feel in need of one, and the stipulation that they should only be taken at rates felt to be `reasonable’ may have been partly included as a control on chicanery of this kind. But Clause 12 was not principally concerned with this possibility, but with the fact that a king was entitled to demand an aid in other circumstances, should circumstances require it, and at its heart lay the stipulation that neither these, nor scutages, were to be imposed `except by the common counsel of the kingdom’. That expression has been interpreted as signifying a council in the sense of a formal assembly. Clause 12 - particularly as reinforced by Clause 14 - would in fact go a long way towards giving it that meaning, but in 1215 there can be little doubt that what was demanded was not an institution but a process, whereby the king’s financial needs were met only after they had been subjected to discussion, advice and consent involving the ecclesiastical and lay magnates.8 As far as exceptional, or `gracious’, aids were concerned, this was in fact already common, though perhaps not invariable, practice. Much of the criticism directed against Clause 12 has stemmed from the way in which it elided such aids with scutages, and treated two fundamentally different forms of taxation as if they were essentially the same, and could therefore be appropriately levied using the same political and administrative machinery. But that criticism may not take sufficiently into account the interchangeability of the terms used to describe twelfth-century taxes, one which led to a semantic confusion which was not of the barons’ making but which in 1215 they could try to exploit, just as King John himself had previously done. Aid (auxilium) in particular was used to describe a number of different taxes, while aids which were taxes in the sense employed by Clause 12 might be referred to by names, or be raised using methods, more often associated with other levies.
Tallages were often referred to as aids, and the two taxes had much in common, not least in originating in the claims made by lords on the resources of their dependents. However, tallages retained connotations of arbitrariness which aids gradually lost, and consequently it has been suggested that a tallage might be referred to as an aid when it were imposed on towns, as a sop to urban sensitivities, on the grounds that the arbitrary nature of tallages led to their being particularly associated with unfreedom, and so to their being strongly resented by urban communities at a time when residence in them, at any rate when accompanied by prosperity, could release a man from villeinage9 – a development recorded in Glanvill.10 But in fact liability to tallage does not appear in the twelfth century to have been an infallible indication of serfdom,11 and in any case, although it is true that when Henry II imposed a tallage in 1156 it was recorded as a `gift’ from the counties but an `aid’ from the towns,12 there is no reason to believe that the latter’s payments were any less enforced than the former’s.
In fact there was little consistency in the application of any of the terms used - when Henry took another tallage in 1162, consecutive entries record his receiving £15 from Worcester as a gift, and £5 from Droitwich as an aid.13 And when he led what was largely an army of mercenaries against Toulouse in 1159, the campaign was financed by what – as described by the chronicler Robert de Torigni – was indisputably a scutage, levied at the rate of 60s. (Angevin) per knight’s fee,14 yet when the advocate of Béthune paid £6. 13s. 4d. in 1163, this, too, was described as an aid (de auxilio exercitus de Tolusa).15 On the other hand, when Henry needed to finance the marriage of his daughter Matilda to the duke of Saxony (and probably other commitments as well) in 1168, he did so by means of an aid, but raised the money by what was in effect a scutage, using a new assessment carried out two years earlier, at the rate of one mark per knight’s fee.16 A further tallage in 1177 was referred to as an aid on boroughs and townships, but an assessment (assisa) on the king’s demesnes.17 The Saladin tithe, granted for the recovery of the Holy Land at a council at Geddington in February 1188, had all the qualities associated with an aid, but the instructions for its collection referred to it only as a tithe (decima).18
The ransom of Richard I, which was raised in 1193/4 by a variety of methods including a fourth on landed revenues and movable property, a scutage, a carucage (a levy on land at the rate of 2s. per hide - roughly 120 acres), and at least two aids,19 was said by Ralph de Diceto to have been collected `by common assent’ (assensu communi).20 But in the context of Diceto’s account of the whole country uniting to gather the money, the phrase was probably intended to mean only that there were no objectors,21 and Roger of Howden seems more likely to have been correct when he stated that at first the ransom was simply decreed (statuerunt) by Queen Eleanor and the English justices (probably the men who had until recently been assisting the justiciar Walter de Coutances in the task of government),22 especially as he was followed in this by Roger of Wendover – continuo exiit edictum a justiciariis regis.23 It was nevertheless referred to as an aid, both by Howden himself, who presented his account of it under the heading De auxilio ad redemptionem regis statuto, and in one of the articles which justices itinerant were ordered to investigate in the autumn of 119424 – presentments were regularly made at that year’s Wiltshire eyre of the proceeds of a first and second aid.25
Possibly the sheer scale of the ransom, and the resentment and resistance it was certain to arouse, were such that initially, at least, it could only have been raised by government fiat, and in fact, when the first levies failed to raise all the money needed, other methods were employed, imposed, according to Gervase of Canterbury, by a series of councils,26 which may with hindsight have been regarded as justifying the description of the ransom as an aid. But it is equally possible that in the 1190s consent was not yet universally regarded as essential to the raising of an aid, and that when it came to taking one, the king’s need was still regarded as its own justification. Richard I’s attempt of 1197 to raise money to maintain a force of knights in Normandy was discussed at a council at Oxford, where it was thwarted by the opposition of the bishop of Lincoln.27 Perhaps to avoid a second frustration, another carucage in the following year does not seem to have been debated beforehand, although the machinery for its collection was both elaborate and intrusive – this apparent arbitrariness may explain why at the parochial level it could be equated with a tallage.28
On 22 May 1200 King John attempted to settle his differences with King Philip of France through a treaty negotiated at Le Goulet in Normandy. Its terms included the payment by John of 20,000 marks, which he set about raising, according to Ralph of Coggeshall, by an aid in the form of a carucage.29 It was demanded (expostulans) by the king, by whose justices its payment was then decreed (edictum) in the counties, where it came as a heavy burden immediately after a scutage at the unprecedented rate of two marks per knight’s fee (the adjective gravis was applied to both taxes). Coggeshall distinguished the aid from the scutage, but said nothing to indicate that they were differently imposed, each seems to have been levied by an act of the royal will. The fact that it could be imposed arbitrarily made scutage John’s favoured means of nationwide taxation thereafter, but he maintained the confusion of terminology by twice, in 1204 and 1205, taking it with the consent of the magnates, so effectively making it an aid.30 John’s order to the justiciar in the latter year, to raise 500 marks from the abbot of Bury St Edmunds for dues and debts which included `having his scutage and aid at one mark from each knight’s fee’, shows precisely how the two taxes could be run together.31
This was a development with the potential to be disadvantageous to the king, however, and it coincided with another. John’s demands were never likely to be welcome, especially as they came to be made with ever greater frequency, and they also became increasingly open to ideological, as well as personal objections, thanks to the development of notions of public authority and the common weal which may have originated in, though they need not have been directly borrowed from, Roman law.32 King John himself, or at any rate those who issued documents in his name, seems to have become aware of such ideas. In February 1204, shortly after his last, unsuccessful visit to Normandy, he addressed an appeal for help to the lords and clergy of Ireland in which he presented his predicament in purely personal terms – his inheritance was at risk and he needed their assistance, in both knights and money, at this hour of great need, `as you love us and our honour.’33 But a year later an additional dimension had been provided to frame the king’s needs, for now the magnates were summoned to join him in London on 15 May 1205, `to treat concerning our great and laborious affairs and the common utility of our realm’,34 the king’s business and the good of the realm being now presented as effectively synonymous. It was in similar terms, after a council at Oxford had given a grudging consent to the heaviest tax of the whole reign, that on 17 February 1207 the king announced the levying of a thirteenth on revenues and movables, as `provided for the defence of our kingdom and the recovery of our right’.35 In fact there was no plausible danger of invasion at the time, and from the fact that the tax was payable by `each lay man of the whole of England of whosesoever fee he may be’, it would appear that the thinking behind the king’s demands owed at least as much to his feudal lordship as to any notion he may have had of national sovereignty, but the former may no longer have seemed sufficient to justify a levy on this scale (it raised around £60,000).
No doubt it was John’s intention that those who had reservations about his pursuit of his rights should feel unable to object to the protection of the realm, even if that, too, was `ours’ in the king’s eyes. But the equation of these two elements was potentially a double-edged weapon, since bishops and barons, too, had ideas about national well-being, which were not necessarily identical with the king’s, but which were arguably legitimized by documents like the summons of 1205 and the writ authorising the thirteenth. They saw themselves as embodying the community whose well-being was now professedly at issue, and although the fact that the thirteenth was said to have been imposed `by the common counsel and consent of our council’ may not exactly have furnished a precedent for their involvement in the processes of taxation, since the king’s council was a limited group,36 it seems certain to have provided a potential model for this, since in their own eyes, and also in those of the realm at large, they could claim the right to speak for the latter and to cooperate with the king in its government. The thirteenth of 1207, which was unequivocally described as an aid in the writ ordering its collection, was thus as important for its stated justification as for its contribution to the development of fiscal administration. However, it may have been partly for the same reason that as a tax upon property it had no immediate successor; in order to exclude magnate participation in government, as well as because it suited his naturally authoritarian temperament, John reverted to raising money through scutages and the ruthless exploitation of all the other resources of kingship.
The re-emergence of ideas of `common counsel’ in 1215, attached now to the kingdom rather than to the royal council, was doubtless encouraged both by memories of the thirteenth, and also by John’s methods, financial and otherwise, in the years which followed it. When he summoned his subjects to man the coasts against a threatened invasion in the spring of 1213, for instance, although he called on them to defend `our head and their own heads and the land of England’, he made no mention of consultation or consent.37 Whatever he may have thought about national security as a matter of common concern in 1207, six years later he treated it as a matter for his sole judgment. Inevitably he did the same when he tried to raise a scutage in the following year to reimburse his expenditure on that year’s expedition to Poitou, ordering its collection in a letter sent from Parthenay on 26 May 1214 which set out its purpose in characteristically peremptory terms – statuimus tres marcas capi de scutagio.38 When the demand ran into opposition, he eventually called upon the pope for support, and on 1 April 1215 received it, one autocrat here endorsing another.39
Meanwhile war was not John’s only concern, for he also needed to raise up to 100,000 marks to compensate bishops, abbots and other ecclesiastics for their losses at the hands of the king and his agents during the interdict.40 A letter-patent addressed `to barons, knights and all his liegemen of the whole of England’ which was sent from La Rochelle on 6 March 1214, and which announced that the interdict was over and asked for help and counsel in amending the state of the realm, may have been issued in the hope of, or as a prelude to, an appeal for money, but if so it had no effect. Perhaps addressing the letter’s recipients as `our dear and faithful men in whose love and loyalty we fully trust’ merely irritated them. But two days later the king reverted to more familiar methods, in the form of letters sent on 8 March to the men of `all the lord king’s boroughs and demesnes’ requesting a loan to enable him to settle his differences with the church41 - the `loan’ was to be emphatically an enforced one, for it was entered on the pipe roll as a tallage.42 Indeed, this tax provides a good example of the way multiple terms could be used to refer to the same levy, for in later records, and also in some royal mandates sent out in 1214, it was referred to as an aid, imposed `for the lifting of the interdict’ (ad relaxionem interdicti), making clear that its purpose was to finance the compensation of the clergy.43 London paid 2000 marks towards the 1214 tallage;44 describing the tax as an aid would have done nothing to reduce the city’s contribution to it.
The king’s right to levy scutage had long been uncontested. It was for him to decide whether a campaign should take place, who should attend it, and how it was to be fought and funded. But by no means all of John’s scutages were in fact levied in order to finance military undertakings. At the very beginning of his reign he demanded a scutage months before fighting began in Normandy, and he took one in 1201 when no campaign was mounted at all, in France or anywhere else, while in 1209, though he could claim in justification for levying a scutage that he had led an army to the Scottish border, in fact his dispute with William the Lion was decided by treaty, rather than battle.45 The king’s own actions, on occasions like these, were partly responsible for the differences between a scutage and an aid having by 1215 become so blurred that it was hardly surprising, or unreasonable, that the barons should have demanded the right to treat them as identical, and to insist on their right to be consulted before either was levied, especially when ideological developments were also encouraging them in this stance. The conventional aid taken for the marriage of Princess Matilda in 1168, together with those subsequently raised for the marriages of Princess Isabella in 1235 and Princess Margaret in 1245 and the knighting of the Lord Edward in 1253, were all assessed on knights’ fees, and so were the taxes of 1204 and 1205, while although the bulk of Richard I’s ransom and the thirteenth of 1207 were raised by other means, the former was supplemented by a scutage, while the reference in the writ ordering the latter’s collection to the fees of those who paid it suggests that even when implementing a fiscal innovation, King John himself instinctively saw his tax-base in terms of feudal units. In 1215 the barons turned against him an analogy which he had previously exploited to his own advantage.
There were still difficulties, of course. Linking aids and scutages may not have been as much of an innovation as might at first sight appear, but they were not in fact quite close enough together for the connection to be maintained. Only on the three conventional aids was any effort made to fix the rate at which levies should be imposed, and for these all that was suggested was that they should be `reasonable’. In the first reissue of the Charter, of 12 November 1216, Clause 12 was one of several to be set to one side for further discussion, while all that survived of it into the second reissue, granted twelve months later, was the stipulation that `scutage shall be taken in future as used to be taken in the time of King Henry our grandfather’.46 Clause 8 of the `Unknown Charter’ had proposed a rate of one mark per fee, a figure which might have been acceptable enough to Henry II in 1168, but which was totally unrealistic as a means of financing a campaign nearly fifty years later, as the clause itself effectively conceded when it added the rider – one which ahead of Clause 12 showed the magnates to be determined to control the king’s right to levy scutages47 - that if necessary a higher rate could be taken on the advice of the barons.48
Under Henry II the usual rate for scutage subsequently became 20s. per knight’s fee, and this may have been what the draftsmen of the Charter had in mind by `reasonable’, on the evidence of a number of settlements of land disputes from John’s reign in which defined, or alleged, contributions to scutage took 20s. as its typical amount. Thus when William de Hauville and Ralph of Grantham settled a dispute over property in Helhoughton, Norfolk, in 1201, it was agreed that Ralph should pay 2s. to William for a scutage of 20s.,49 while two years later William Mordant, the defendant against Henry Tresgoz in an action over land in Goring, Sussex, claimed that he was bound to pay Henry only 18d. `when a scutage of 20s. is given....’.50 In 1206 a number of the Suffolk tenants of Roger de St Philibert acknowledged owing him sums ranging from 20d. to 44d. when scutage was demanded, with the rate of the latter, when given, being always defined as 20s.51 It seems unlikely that this figure was always chosen because fractions of it were easy to calculate, not least because lawsuits from later in John’s reign sometimes reflect or refer to the higher rates of scutage which were being levied by then. Thus Richard de Sifrewast, prosecuting Robert of Pinkney in 1212 for failing to observe the terms of a fine over property in Buckinghamshire, claimed to be owed a third of the service of a knight’s fee, including 8s. 10½d. for scutage from the previous year’s expedition into Wales, which had been levied at the rate of two marks – 26s. 8d., or three times the sum claimed by Richard.52 20s. per fee was a convenient figure for scutage, but in 1215 it may also have still seemed to be the proper one. In the second decade of the thirteenth century a scutage set at such a rate would still have been insufficient to pay for a serious military undertaking, and if 20s. per fee was indeed what the draftsmen of Magna Carta had in mind, they would certainly have been aware of this. It might have allowed a king to launch a campaign, or have supported the fighting of a campaign once launched, but by itself it could never have supported both preparation and fighting, as John himself, as well as the barons, must have understood – the fact that Clause 12 would have seriously impaired the king’s ability to wage war as and when he wished was no doubt an additional reason for its failure to survive into later reissues of Magna Carta.
Article 32 had required the same consent for tallages and aids on London and other boroughs as for scutages and aids generally, and since Clause 12 spoke only of aids taken from London, it has been argued that the city obtained less than it had hoped for, and remained liable to be tallaged at the king’s pleasure. As things turned out, that was indeed what happened, but it is not certain that in 1215 the barons deliberately betrayed their allies in the capital. The demand that tallages on other privileged cities and towns should be made only with consent, although it must have been eagerly sought by communities hit by the nationwide levy imposed at punishing rates in 1210,53 was successfully resisted by John, who was able to ensure that they continued to be treated as part of the royal demesne, and thus tallaged at pleasure.54 London’s position in Clause 12, which gave it a measure of protection, is not without ambiguities, perhaps deliberately so - the barons may have hoped that unclear distinctions would remain opaque in ways the city could exploit, as they themselves tried to turn uncertainties to their own advantage.
The Londoners had made payments to King John under a variety of names. In 1206 the collection of tallages there was giving rise to internal conflict,55 but a year earlier the city had paid the king £600 in aid of his planned expedition to Poitou – ad auxilium nostre transfretacionis.56 A payment of 2000 marks in 1211 was euphemistically recorded as a `gift’,57 another of the same amount in 1214 was unequivocally called a tallage.58 In 1215 the Londoners had good reason to want their contributions to the royal treasury to be made only subject to consent, with the levy of 1207 apparently furnishing a precedent for this having happened. The closeness of tallages to aids had previously been such that the two could easily appear synonymous, and since it appears to have been only in the 1220s that tallage came to be decisively associated with unfreedom, and seen as a tax arbitrarily imposed by lords on their serfs,59 it may have been the opening up of a clear distinction between tallage and aid which came to be made after 1215 which left the Londoners openly exposed to royal demands, demands from which they only secured their freedom in 1340.60 Ironically, the closer definition of an aid made by Clause 12 may have worked against the interests of at least some of those whom it was intended to benefit. In other respects its effect was no less paradoxical. Clause 12 was dropped from later reissues of the Charter, to be replaced after 1217 only by a stipulation concerning the rate of scutage. Perhaps that was all that was necessary, since scutages continued to be taken by later kings. Otherwise the Clause’s `message’ survived intact. The three occasions it specified for the taking of aids remained in force, and John’s successors only took aids after first obtaining the consent of the magnates. On that last issue, in particular, it would appear to have expressed a need which was so powerfully felt that it did not have to be written down to secure acceptance.
In particular by J.C. Holt, Magna Carta (2nd edn., Cambridge, 1992), 297-8, 301, 317-23, and W.S. McKechnie, Magna Carta (2nd edn., Glasgow, 1914), 231-40.
The possibility that the concluding sentence relating to London originally constituted the opening sentence of Clause 13 is discussed in the commentary on the latter.
Discussed in the commentary on Clause 16.
Sir F. Pollock and F.W. Maitland, The history of English law, 2 vols. (2nd edn., Cambridge, 1898), i, 549-51; P.R. Hyams, Kings, lords and peasants in medieval England (Oxford, 1980), 192.
Details in J.A. Green (ed.), PR 31 Henry I (1130), Pipe Roll Society new series 57 (2012).
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), 111-12.
F.M. Stenton, The first century of English feudalism, 1066-1166 (2nd edn., Oxford, 1961), 173-4, 276-7.
I have followed the argument of G. Langmuir, `Per commune consilium regni in Magna Carta’, Studia Gratiana 15 (1972), 465-85, though without accepting his suggestion that consent was not implicit in counsel.
A.L. Poole, From Domesday Book to Magna Carta, 1087-1216 (2nd edn., Oxford, 1955), 418-19.
Hyams, Kings, lords and peasants, 191.
PR 2-4 Henry II (1155-1159), 4-67 passim.
PR 8 Henry II (1162), 57.
R. Howlett (ed.), Chronicles of the reigns of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I, 4 vols. (Rolls Series, 1884-9), iv, 202.
PR 9 Henry II (1163), 9.
Details in PR 14 Henry II (1168), passim. See also W.L. Warren, The governance of Normand and Angevin England, 1086-1272 (1987), 155-6.
Details from PR 23 Henry II (1177), passim.
W. Stubbs (ed.), Gesta regis Henrici secundi Benedicti abbatis, 2 vols. (Rolls Series, 1867), ii, 33-4.
S.K. Mitchell, Taxation in medieval England (Yale, 1961), 122-7.
W. Stubbs (ed.), Radulfi de Diceto decani Lundoniensis opera historica, 2 vols. (Rolls Series, 1876), ii, 110.
This interpretation is not that of J.R. Maddicott, The origins of the English parliament, 924-1327 (Oxford, 2010), 120.
W. Stubbs (ed.), Chronica Rogeri de Houedene, 4 vols. (Rolls Series, 1868-71), iii, 210.
H.G. Hewlett (ed.), Rogeri de Wendover liber qui dicitur flores historiarum, 3 vols. (Rolls Series, 1886-9), i, 224.
Chronica Rogeri de Houedene iii, 263.
F.W. Maitland (ed.), Three rolls of the king’s court of the reign of King Richard the First, A.D. 1194-1195, Pipe Roll Society 14 (1891), 77-115 passim.
W. Stubbs (ed.), The historical works of Gervase of Canterbury, 2 vols. (Rolls series, 1879-80), ii, 519.
D.L. Douie and H. Farmer (eds. and trans.), The life of St Hugh of Lincoln, 2 vols. (1961-2), ii, 98-100.
Chronica Rogeri de Houedene, iv, 46-7.
J. Stevenson (ed.), Radulphi de Coggeshall chronicon Anglicanum (Rolls Series, 1875), 101-2.
Holt, Magna Carta, 319.
T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli de oblatis et finibus ... tempore regis Johanne (Record Commission, 1835), 293.
What follows is heavily indebted to G.L. Harriss, King, parliament and public finance in medieval England to 1369, (Oxford, 1975), chapter 1.
T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli Chartarum, 1199-1216 (Record Commission, 1837), 133-4.
W. Stubbs (ed.), Select charters ... from the earliest times to the reign of Edward the First (9th edn., revised by H.W.C. Davis, Oxford, 1913), 277.
T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli litterarum patentium, 1201-1216 (Record Commission, 1835 – hereafter Rot.Lit.Pat.), 72-3.
Discussed in the commentary on Clause 14.
Rogeri de Wendover ... flores historiarum, ii, 66-7.
T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli litterarum clausarum i, 1201-1224 (Record Commission, 1833 – hereafter Rot.Lit.Claus. i), 166.
C.R. Cheney and W.H. Semple (eds. and trans.), Selected letters of Pope Innocent III concerning England (1198-1216) (1953), 202.
Authoritatively discussed by C.R. Cheney, Innocent III and England, Päpste und Papsttum 9 (Stuttgart, 1976), 348-55.
Both letters are entered in Rot.Lit.Pat., 111.
PR 16 John (1214), xvj-xvij.
Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 208-9, 213.
S.K. Mitchell, Studies in taxation under John and Henry III (New Haven, 1914), 117 note 109; PR 6 Henry III (1222), 196.
The details are summarised by Mitchell, Studies in taxation, 315. For the Scottish campaign see A.A.M. Duncan, Scotland: the making of the kingdom (Edinburgh, 1975), 241-9.
H. Rothwell (ed.), English Historical Documents iii: 1189-1327 (1975), 337.
Maddicott, Origins of the English parliament, 131-2.
Holt, Magna Carta, 428.
Curia Regis Rolls i, temp. Rich.I-1201 (1922), 406.
Curia Regis Rolls ii, 1201-1203 (1925), 142-3.
Curia Regis Rolls iv, 1205-1206 (1929), 134, 292.
Curia Regis Rolls v, 1207-1209 (1931), 5.
Details in PR 12 John (1210), passim.
R.S. Hoyt, The royal demesne in English constitutional history: 1066-1272 (Ithaca, New York, 1950), 144-5.
PR 13 John (1211), 135.
PR 16 John (1214), 81. It is not clear if this levy was identical with the tallage referred to above as having been demanded following the lifting of the interdict, but probably it was a separate tax.
Hyams, Kings, lords and peasants, 192.
McKechnie, Magna Carta, 238.
The Leges Edwardi Confessoris (Features of the Month)
Please note: commentaries are presently available only for clauses marked with *; more commentary to be added in due course.