Et ad habendum commune consilium regni, de auxilio assidendo aliter quam in tribus casibus praedictis, vel de scutagio assidendo, summoneri faciemus archiepiscopos, episcopos, abbates, comites, et majores barones, sigillatim per litteras nostras; et praeterea faciemus summoneri in generali, per vicecomites et ballivos nostros, omnes illos qui de nobis tenent in capite; ad certum diem, scilicet ad terminum quadraginta dierum ad minus, et ad certum locum; et in omnibus litteris illius summonitionis causam summonitionis exprimemus; et sic facta summonitione negotium ad diem assignatum procedat secundum consilium illorum qui praesentes fuerint, quamvis non omnes summoniti venerint.
And in order to have the common counsel of the kingdom for the levying of an aid, other than in the three instances aforesaid, or for the levying of scutage, we are to cause the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls and greater barons to be summoned individually by our letters; and moreover we are to have a general summons made, through our sheriffs and bailiffs, of all who hold in chief of us; for a fixed day, at least forty days thence, and at a fixed place. And in all the letters of summons we are to set out its cause. And after the summons has thus been made the business is to go forward on the appointed day according to the counsel of those present, even if not all those summoned have come.
Please note: commentaries are presently available only for clauses marked with *; more commentary to be added in due course.
Clause 14 complements Clause 12, which had laid down that the taxes known as aids and scutages were only to be imposed `by the common counsel of our kingdom’. Clause 14 specified how that counsel was to be given and by whom. In the last resort, all tenants-in-chief – those who held their lands directly from the crown, whether laymen or ecclesiastics – were to be summoned (which does not necessarily mean that they all came), having been notified well in advance of the date, place and business to be discussed. Summonses were of two kinds, as was probably traditional. The secular and ecclesiastical magnates, whose presence was doubtless regarded as essential, were to be summoned individually, while lesser men were informed through public announcements by royal officials, probably in the county courts. If lesser landholders and knights then chose not to go, they would still be able to lobby their superiors to act on their behalf.
In demanding that they be consulted in this way, the barons were making a highly critical assessment of King John’s style of government. Although he sometimes held formal, pre-arranged assemblies at which taxation and other administrative measures were discussed, he greatly preferred to make decisions after informal consultations with a limited number of agents, courtiers and cronies, who are easily recognizable because they were repeatedly named as being in attendance on him – in 1211 the chronicler Roger of Wendover listed thirty-two such men as being the king’s `evil counsellors’. Moreover John was forever on the move, so that even his formal council meetings tended to be short, seldom more than a day or two, so allowing little time for detailed discussions. Announcements of government measures, including taxes, often referred to the number of important people involved in preparing them, but these cannot be trusted – the archbishop of York, described in 1207 as heading the magnates who had assented to the thirteenth on moveables, the heaviest tax of the whole reign, is recorded elsewhere as leading the opposition to it! All the evidence suggests that John preferred to keep the magnates at arm’s length, in matters of government and also socially, so that even those who remained loyal to him, like the great William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, can seldom have felt comfortable in their dealings with him. Excluded from the king’s counsels and company, the barons responded by demanding for themselves the role in affairs of state to which they felt they were entitled. Clause 14 was probably dropped from the later re-issues of Magna Carta because it became unnecessary, since later kings, unlike John, usually appreciated the importance of being on good terms with their most important subjects.