Nullus constabularius, vel alius ballivus noster, capiat blada vel alia catalla alicujus, nisi statim inde reddat denarios, aut respectum inde habere possit de voluntate venditoris.
No constable or other bailiff of ours is to take anyone’s corn or other chattels, unless he pays cash for them immediately, or obtains respite of payment with the consent of the seller.
Clause 30 (The 1215 Magna Carta)
Clause 30 (The 1215 Magna Carta)
Clause 29 (The 1215 Magna Carta)
Please note: commentaries are presently available only for clauses marked with *; more commentary to be added in due course.
The reference to a constable places Clause 28 in a group of four clauses concerned with the way in which castles were garrisoned and supplied. The king’s household enjoyed a long-standing right to commandeer the supplies it needed, above all in the form of food and drink, as it travelled round the country, against the promise of future repayment. This right, known as purveyance, came to be extended to the king’s castles, of which there were many – King John controlled around seventy. In an age when supplies of ready cash were limited, purveyance may have been unavoidable, but it was still deeply unpopular, not least because it was capable of being badly abused, by officials who might, for instance, remove goods but never pay for them, or threaten to take supplies and then invite bribes for not doing so. Efforts were made to prevent such malpractices, but they seem to have enjoyed only limited success, not least because the processes of purveyance appear to have been inadequately supervised. Its extension from the royal household to the king’s castles was bitterly resented, especially as those castles were fundamental to the maintenance of John’s exacting regime. Except at times of sudden danger, for example immediately after the unexpected death of Richard I, the number of soldiers in them was seldom great, at least until the last years of the reign when there was a growing danger of civil war, but castles did not only contain soldiers. Those in county towns, in particular, also contained the sheriff and his staff, prisoners, and any hostages which John had taken as a way of enforcing obedience – there were six hostages in Hereford Castle in 1215, for instance. Cumulatively, castles held many men, and horses, and needed large stocks of food, drink and weapons for their maintenance.
The king’s castles gave forcible expression to his strength in the English counties, an expression which the use of purveyance intensified. The build-up of garrisons after 1212 meant that still more supplies were needed for castles, and though purveyance was not the only means used to obtain them, it probably remained the most important one. The barons, where they could, also took goods by purveyance to stock their own castles as they prepared to resist the king, and sometimes maintained large garrisons in them – that of Rochester Castle, besieged by John in the autumn of 1215, was said to have consisted of 140 knights, with their retinues. Their demand that the king should pay cash down for stores for his castles was not only a means of preventing, or at any rate controlling, an abuse, it was also, in a document which contained several provisions calculated to reduce his revenues, a way of reducing his military strength. But perhaps because purveyance was an ancient practice, the barons did not go so far as to forbid it altogether, and by conceding that goods could still be taken without immediate payment if their owner consented, they allowed this potentially abusive process to continue.