The Magna Carta Project

Original Latin


Nullus clericus amercietur de laico tenemento suo, nisi secundum modum aliorum praedictorum, et non secundum quantitatem beneficii sui ecclesiastici.


No cleric is to be amerced in respect of his free lay tenement, except in the same way as the others aforesaid, and without regard to the value of his ecclesiastical benefice.

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 22 extended to the secular clergy – essentially parish priests and cathedral chapters staffed by canons – the conditions laid down in Clause 20 under which free men, merchants and villeins were, and were not, to be amerced (in modern parlance, fined).  In effect, all were to be treated in the same way, with amercements being assessed by neighbours, and at rates which did not endanger the livelihoods of those condemned to pay them.  For a cleric, this meant that his specifically ecclesiastical property – basically the land on which his church was built and without which it could not operate – was to be exempted from assessment, as it was from lay jurisdiction.  In fact land which was held in return for purely spiritual services did come to be subject to royal demands, but these were made through bishops rather than secular officials, and were probably not pressed as hard as they were against the laity.  During John’s reign, however, the king’s urgent need for money, and also his quarrel with the church after 1206 over the appointment of a new archbishop of Canterbury, led to very heavy demands being made on the wealth of the clergy.  John’s excommunication in 1209, in particular, and the withdrawal of most of the bishops which followed it, left the English church largely defenceless against royal exactions, and resulted in nearly all the dioceses being placed in the hands of royal officers who were rarely concerned to preserve distinctions between lay and ecclesiastical revenues, but exploited both to the utmost.  Clause 23 aimed to restore that distinction, as well as to ensure fair treatment for the clergy in other respects.

Magna Carta 1215
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