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.
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.
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.