Nullus distringatur ad faciendum majus servitium de feodo militis, nec de alio libero tenemento, quam inde debetur.
No person is to be distrained to do more service for a knight’s fee, or for another free tenement, than is owed for it.
Please note: commentaries are presently available only for clauses marked with *; more commentary to be added in due course.
Clause 16 was intended to prevent King John exploiting his rights so as to demand more service or money than was due to him in his capacity of feudal overlord, that is, as the man from whom all the land in the realm was ultimately held. The king’s exactions were felt in the first instance by tenants-in-chief, who held their estates directly from the crown, but the concession embodied in Clause 16 was also capable of extension to the tenants of the prelates and barons who took the lead in obtaining it, upon whom by transference the king’s demands also fell, and who might in addition hope to find protection in it against inordinate claims by their lords. The rights which the king was seen as misusing were not easy to define, however, which explains the clause’s failure to be precise as to exactly what it was trying to forbid. The services concerned were primarily military ones. There is plentiful evidence for John’s commuting these for money at unduly high rates, for his taking money from men who did not owe him such services at all, and also for his arranging that men who owed him money should pay him by providing soldiers whose wages would cost them more than the payment of their debts would have done. A different, though related, grievance arose from repeated summonses to perform military service overseas, which was deeply unpopular and which gave rise to protests, and then resistance. The issue was complicated by the king’s undoubted right, indeed duty, to call his subjects to arms if the safety of the realm was threatened. But eventually John’s exactions proved intolerable. The issue of service provided a good deal of the fuel for the baronial rebellion of 1215, and led to efforts to bring it under control in Magna Carta itself.