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 secondary school students

Clause 22 was an ecclesiastical accompaniment to Clause 20, intended to secure for the secular clergy – parish priests, and the canons of certain cathedrals – the same terms which the latter clause laid down for the assessment and payment of amercements – in modern terms, fines.  They were to be assessed by neighbours (for parsons this must have meant their better-off parishioners), and the sums demanded were not to be so great as to endanger their livelihoods.  For the clergy, protection against ruin was to be secured by forbidding the inclusion of their ecclesiastical benefices, which in this context meant the land on which their churches were built, and such other property as enabled them to fulfil their essential functions, among the resources on which their amercements were assessed. 


By the end of the twelfth century land held in return for purely spiritual services, essentially the offering of prayers, had in fact come to be subjected to secular exactions, but these were made through bishops and their subordinates, rather than by sheriffs or other royal officials.  But in the later years of John’s reign even this qualified protection was largely ignored, thanks to the king’s financial needs and the effects of his quarrel with the church over the appointment of Stephen Langton as archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 1206, which led to the imposition of an interdict on England in 1208, and then to John’s own excommunication a year later.  Large sums were taken from individual clerics, and also from whole dioceses, which became leaderless and defenceless when almost all the bishops left the country rather than serve an excommunicated king.  Most of them were then administered by heavy-handed lay officials who applied themselves assiduously to raising money from them on the king’s behalf.  In 1211 so-called `gifts’ from the northern clergy brought over £3000 into the royal coffers.  One of the justifications offered for this campaign of exploitation was that the clergy whose property was seized were no longer performing spiritual services in return for their benefices.  Clause 22 was intended to protect the secular clergy against financial oppression.  It also aspired to restore a distinction between secular and ecclesiastical property which had largely disappeared in the years immediately before 1215.    

Magna Carta 1215
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