The Magna Carta Project

Original Latin


Nullus constabularius distringat aliquem militem ad dandum denarios pro custodia castri, si facere voluerit custodiam illam in propria persona sua, vel per alium probum hominem, si ipse eam facere non possit propter rationabilem causam; et si nos duxerimus vel miserimus eum in exercitum, erit quietus de custodia, secundum quantitatem temporis quo per nos fuerit in exercitu.


No constable is to distrain any knight to give money instead of performing castle-guard, if he is willing to perform that guard in person, or, if he is unable to do it for a satisfactory reason, through another reliable man. And if we have led or sent him in the army, he is to be quit of castle-guard in proportion to the time he is in the army at our behest.

Audio commentary

Commentary for academic researchers

Clause 29: context and purposes

Clause 29 was the second in a group of four consecutive clauses concerned primarily to prevent abuses of power by officials, and especially by those responsible for the maintenance or stocking of castles. They appeared in the same order, and with only verbal differences, among the Articles of the Barons (nos. 18-21). No. 29 is one of several in which the voice of legislative authority shifted, from an impersonal statement of prohibition to an utterance made in the name, and the person, of the king. In most such cases the change was a purely semantic one, with the royal plural being simply substituted for the `rex’ of the originating Article. But in this instance it may have been deliberately made, in response to the differing natures of the two directives which were linked together in the Clause, as they were in Article 19. There is in fact a certain ambiguity about the target of Clause 29, arising from the way it was constructed. In translation it has usually been presented as made up of two directives separated by a semi-colon or full stop. But in the original Latin there is no punctuation, and the Clause appears as a single injunction, with the king giving an undertaking in its second half in a way which can be plausibly construed as referring back to the first half as well – John grants quittance of service to knights whom he has also freed from the attentions of his officers. This does indeed seem likely to be the correct understanding of Clause 29, but the fact that the officers in question were identified only as `constables’, and not specifically as royal ones, makes it possible that the Clause was directed against all such officers, baronial as well as royal, and that its remit was therefore wider than at first sight appears. Even if this was not in fact its purpose, it can at least be acknowledged that the Clause’s imprecision allows it to be interpreted in this way, as restraining the demands which barons could make on their military tenants, as well as those made by the king.

Both parts of Clause 29 were concerned with the service known as castle-guard, but their contexts were different. The first order, concerning commutation of service, was unusually precise among Clauses 28-31 in being directed solely against constables, in this context the military officers exercising day-by-day command over castles and responsible for the maintenance and discipline of their garrisons, just as it was in the protection it afforded, which was specifically extended to knights, and to nobody else. No doubt other, lesser, officers were in fact meant to come under the clause’s bar, just as free men who were not knights were intended to be protected by it (although the evidence is sparse, it suffices to show that a form of castle-guard could also be demanded of lesser landowners who performed the military duties of serjeants),1 but the terms chosen are probably significant – men of rank were to be defended against the activities of subordinates and underlings. The second order, dealing with army service as a substitute for castle-guard, was appropriately put into the king’s mouth because the summoning of the host, whether it consisted of men who owed knight service, or was raised from among all the king’s free subjects for the defence of the realm, was something that only the monarch, or men acting in his name, could command.


Castle-guard and its problems

Castle-guard, the performance of garrison duty at the fortress of a lord, was among the services which the latter could demand of his free tenants in return for the lands with which he had enfeoffed them.2 Commonplace in western Europe in the eleventh century,3 it was imported into England (along with the castle itself) in the wake of the Norman Conquest, in response to the immediate needs of the new regime as it set about establishing itself in the face of native hostility. Hence, for instance, the obligation imposed upon Abbot Adelelm of Abingdon, sometime between 1071 and 1083, of providing thirty knights for the garrison of Windsor Castle, one which he met by enfeoffing his own kinsmen with manors from the abbey estate.4 Of long persistence in the heavily militarised society of the Welsh march,5 castle-guard apparently became established in Scotland as much by infiltration as by imposition, since it seems to have been limited to the south and east of the country, that is, to those parts most open to English influence.6 But contrary to what might have been expected, it does not seem to have been widely employed by the Anglo-Normans in Ireland in the years after 1169,7 while in England itself it was visibly in decline by the end of the twelfth century, having never been universally established there in the first place. Many of the greatest fortresses in the country never made any use of it, but were always entirely manned by paid soldiers – the Tower of London, for instance. If such men needed reinforcement, this could be supplied by the men of the surrounding region, summoned not on the grounds of their tenure but as the king’s lieges. It was recorded in 1220 that when civil war broke out in 1215, the constable of Bristol Castle, Philip d’Aubigny, `took the fealty of the men of the country on the king’s behalf, so that they would be under his orders and come with him to guard Bristol Castle should the need arise ...’.8 Similar methods were employed to man Gloucester Castle a year later.9

Overall, the number of English castles recorded as having been garrisoned by castle-guard constituted a relatively small proportion of the whole, either royal or private. Although it has been calculated that during the reigns of Henry II and his sons there were at least 327 castles in England and Wales, of which about 275 were in existence at the end of John’s reign,10 Sidney Painter estimated that there were only forty-two castles, royal and baronial, for which there was `reasonably clear evidence’ for their having been manned by garrisons provided under castle-guard obligations, and listed another nine at which this might also have been the case.11 His lists are incomplete, but when all allowances are made for omissions, the numbers remain low. In fact complete certainty about the total is probably unattainable, since the evidence is fragmented, often late, and sometimes difficult to interpret. In particular, it can be hard to tell whether the service allegedly owed was attached to a knight’s fee or a serjeanty, for a number of serjeanties were held in return for service in a castle. Indeed, contemporaries themselves sometimes found it hard to distinguish between these two forms of service. In 1228 one Peter of Cosham, a minor landowner in Hampshire, disputed the right of Geoffrey de Luscy to half a hide of land in Cosham, asserting that it belonged to the serjeanty which he himself held there. Geoffrey responded by challenging Peter’s action on technical grounds, which included the claim that the land at issue did not constitute part of any serjeanty, but rather that it owed castle-guard at the king’s nearby castle of Porchester (not listed by Painter). Peter could not deny this, and his action against Geoffrey was quashed. He fared better in a similar action against Roger of Cosham, even though Roger also claimed that the land was not held by serjeanty – he preferred to link it with socage instead.12 To compound the uncertainty, the Portsdown jury at the 1236 Hampshire eyre presented that Peter did hold a serjeanty, but said nothing to connect it with Porchester Castle, associating it only with service in the royal host (two other men, however, not mentioned in Peter’s lawsuit, did hold lands by the serjeanty of garrisoning the castle).13

Despite such uncertainties, it can safely be said that the distribution of castle-guard was geographically patchy, as well as sparse. It served to garrison castles along the south coast and Thames estuary (Porchester, Carisbrooke, Corfe, Pevensey, Hastings, Dover, Rochester), in the Thames valley at Windsor and Wallingford, and also on the border with Wales, where the continuous danger of attack gave it value for even minor strongholds like Kilpeck in Herefordshire.14 A number of fortresses in Northumberland were garrisoned by castle-guard, but none of those on the other side of the Pennines north of Lancaster – men owed castle-guard duty to Newcastle, founded by Robert Curthose in 1080, but not to Carlisle, established only twelve years later by William Rufus, and always manned by stipendiaries. Lincoln and Norwich, and Eye in Suffolk, were served by castle-guard, but it was found only rarely in Yorkshire – notably at Richmond and Tickhill – and also in the midlands, where, however, it supplied men for important strongholds at Northampton and Rockingham. These castles were predominantly royal ones, but here again there are ambiguities. Not only were baronial fortresses apt to fall in to the king’s hand through escheat, forfeiture, wardship or simply force majeure (Richmond is a prime example), but they could also come under royal control if the military situation required it. Oswestry Castle in Shropshire furnishes an example of this.15 Clause 29 was directed in the first instance against the activities of the king’s officers, but the castles potentially involved were not necessarily all royal ones, and as already noted, the Clause also had the potential to be used – and may even have been partly intended – to control members of the baronage in their dealings with their own tenants, and not least those who went on campaign in the king’s army.


The trend towards commutation

As a significant method of garrisoning fortresses, castle-guard retained an immediate military value for a relatively short period, except in the different conditions of Wales and its marches. From as early as the reign of Henry I onwards, just as there was a growing tendency for knight service in the field to be replaced by scutage, so castle-guard, too, was increasingly commuted for a money payment,16 enabling the lord to whom that service was due to hire a professional soldier to replace the tenant who owed it. The process of decline was uneven. In the Welsh marches, in particular, castle-guard might continue to be performed well into the thirteenth century, and elsewhere it could be re-activated if the need arose. In around 1218 Bishop Hugh of Lincoln made an agreement with Henry de Neville over the castle-guard which Henry owed to the episcopal castle of Newark, in which he permitted this service to be transferred to Sleaford, and reduced the number of knights owing it from five to three, but with the recent civil war doubtless in his mind, nonetheless specified that the service was to be done `on account of the exigencies of war or when the peace of the realm is disturbed ...’.17 Even so, it is noteworthy that neither Henry II’s new castle at Orford, nor the three castles built by King John, at Hanley, Odiham and Sauvey, were manned by castle-guard tenants – probably it did not occur to either monarch to have them garrisoned in this way.

The money will have been the principal reason for nominal survival of the service of castle-guard, another will have been its perceived value as an adjunct of lordship and symbol of power, maintaining links between a lord and his tenants which emphasised the latter’s dependency, but possibly also giving status, a social cachet, to the men who owed it. Among Norfolk landowners recorded as owing castle-guard to Dover in 1198/9 was Godfrey de Lisewis, who held property in Raynham.18 In May 1200 he conveyed some of his estate there to Gilbert Pauper, on terms which included a yearly rent of 7s. and 11d. towards scutage when it was demanded at the rate of 20s. per fee.19 Godfrey made careful provision for Gilbert’s performance of military service should the host be called out, but he said nothing about castle-guard. Perhaps this was because that duty was still demanded of him, but given the general tendency towards commutation it seems just as likely that (unusually, and unlike most of his associates) he actually wished to perform it in person.

The links between lords and men sometimes extended over great expanses of territory and involving large numbers of people, and could be focused, moreover, upon fortresses of great military importance, as the civil war of 1215/17 was to show. These factors can be illustrated from the great castle of Dover, which also played an absolutely crucial role in the civil war. It was ostensibly manned by knights from eight different lordships, or `custodies’ (a ninth supported the constable, who was nominally always in residence), which between them supplied some 117 men, though not all of them at once – a complicated system of rotation was devised to ensure that there were always about ten knights in the castle at any one time.20 Several of the lordships which served Dover Castle in this way were based in Kent, but they also included baronies in Oxfordshire, Hampshire and even Herefordshire, while the caput of the constable’s `custody’ was Haughley in Essex. Individual landowners owing castle-guard to Dover could also be found in Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

By the end of the twelfth century few of Dover’s castle-guard tenants are likely to have been performing their service in person; some may have supplied deputies, but it would have been much cheaper for them to commute their service for money, at a standard rate of 10s. per knight’s fee – such, for instance, was the amount due from William of Bodham in 1198/9 for his single fee in Holt hundred in Norfolk.21 A document from a heraldic collection, of very uncertain value, attributed the commutation to Hubert de Burgh, who as constable of Dover concluded that `it was not safe for the castle at different months to have new guards to ward’, and therefore arranged, with the consent both of the king and of the tenants concerned, that the latter should pay cash instead, so that `henceforth certain men chosen and sworn, both knights and foot-soldiers, should be hired for the guarding of the castle.’22 The payment due from William of Bodham shows that the commutation preceded de Burgh’s tenures of the constableship (he held it twice, from 1200 to 1202, and again from 1215), but the reason for it looks authentic, whenever the calculation was made, and was justified when Dover successfully held out against a sustained siege by French forces in 1216/17. The fighting qualities of tenants by knight service should not be automatically dismissed, but it seems unlikely that a castle which was assailed with such determination over so long a period could have been effectively defended by a garrison primarily composed of amateurs and irregulars.

Richmond Castle in Yorkshire did not play a role in the civil war in any way comparable to that of Dover (it was captured by royalists late in 1215, but later returned to its constable in a gesture of conciliation). But it, too, was nominally manned by castle-guard, and on an even further-flung basis.23 Its military importance, and organisation, stemmed from its position at the head of the Vale of York, which it protected against attackers coming from Cumbria and Scotland via the Eden valley and the Roman road across Stainmore. Its original lords were the counts of Brittany, whose widely distributed estates were required to contribute to the defence of the caput of their lord, even when that caput was in the hands of the king, as it was throughout John’s reign. As well as having a great block of nearly 200 manors to provide material support, Richmond Castle was defended by the castle-guard of about 180 knights’ fees, of which a third were situated in Yorkshire and around twenty per cent in Lincolnshire. The rest were in Cambridgeshire, Nottinghamshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Hertfordshire, while in the 1240s there were even two fees in Hampshire. As with Dover, their service was so organised as to fall due by rotation, with six groups of between twenty-six and thirty-two knights being required to man the castle at two-monthly intervals (the smaller groups performed their service in winter). And also as with Dover, it had been methodically commuted for cash – the rates recorded in the late thirteenth century had probably originated much earlier.

The geographical distance of many tenants from the castles they were expected to serve were exceptionally large in the cases of Dover and Richmond, but castle-guard was provided, and then commuted, in otherwise similar ways at a number of other fortresses. The 120 knights owing castle-guard to Rockingham Castle did not have far to come from the baronies of the abbot of Peterborough (sixty knights), Chipping Warden (fifteen), Odell in Bedfordshire (thirty) and Great Weldon (fifteen), and in that respect were better off than some of the seventy-three knights required to serve at Windsor, nearly all of whom were provided by three baronies besides that of the abbot of Abingdon, namely Eton (Buckinghamshire), Weedon Pinkeny (Northamptonshire), and Little Easton (Essex).24 No fewer than 200 knights owed castle-guard at Norwich, with forty of them being supplied by the abbot of Bury St Edmunds. The service of the Bury knights, which in theory they performed in four groups of ten (a glimpse of a system of rotation like that prevailing at Dover and Richmond), had by the reign of Richard I been commuted for cash, at the rate of 3s. per fee, though this was reduced to 2s. 5d. by contributions from a further ten knights who had been enfeoffed from the abbey estate. Abbot Samson famously made determined efforts to compel all fifty knights to pay the same, full, amount, and succeeded, for from 1197 onwards each of them undertook to pay 3s. per fee in commutation, either to Norwich Castle or to the abbot.25

Some time between 1156 and 1166 Earl Hugh Bigod, who held three fees of the abbot, refused to perform castle-guard at Norwich, and had to be ordered by the king to fulfil his obligations, something which in 1166 he was reportedly doing.26 He would have been unlikely to be troubled thus forty years later, since by then such service had become increasingly fragmented as well being widely commuted. Although most (but not all) of the Bury knights who settled with Abbot Samson owed the service due from one or more entire fees, an inquest into escheats and other royal rights from Norfolk in 1198/9 records a number of payments in lieu of castle-guard which can only have been owed from fractions of them.27 Among them was Ralph FitzAubrey, described as owing 14d. for fourteen weeks service `from the barony of St Edmund’. Since Ralph is not recorded as having fined with the abbot in 1196/7, he was presumably the tenant of one of the knights who did, showing how the service, as well as the land, was divided as it was pushed down free-holding society. A similar descent doubtless explains how William FitzHerlewin owed just 7d. per annum `for the guarding of Norwich castle ’ (and also 2d. for watchmen), how Julian de Suathefeld, a tenant of the bishop’s, owed 42d. in lieu of thirty weeks’ service in that castle, and how the land of Thomas of Hastings in Gissing (where he held one of four manors) owed 29d. in commutation of castle-guard there on each of five occasions in two years. Robert FitzRichard, holding part of a fee in Deopham, owed 20d. for castle-guard and an additional 2½d. for watchmen, one of several such dues to be associated with castle-guard at Norwich, and also found at Tickhill,28 though elsewhere the duties of a castle watchman seem to have been more often either provided by serjeanty tenure, as was the case at Launceston,29 for instance, or simply paid for in wages.


Complications and abuses

The process of commutation was incomplete, however, and this probably helped to breed uncertainties concerning the performance of castle-guard which the king and his officers were able to exploit. These can be illustrated from the case of Wallingford, an important royal castle commanding the upper reaches of the Thames south of Oxford. In 1197 a fine between Samson de la Pomerai and his wife and William of Upton over land at Upton included the stipulation that William would provide the service `in hosts and castle-guard (in exercitibus et wardo castelli de Walingeford’)’ appropriate to the property, and defined it as two horses, a shield and a lance, suggesting that William would provide armaments for the defence of the castle, even if he did not fight himself.30 But the possibility of personal service clearly persisted, for in 1199 or 1200 one Thomas FitzRichard, probably one of the recognitors in a Berkshire land action, was excused attendance in court on the grounds of his doing castle-guard at Wallingford, a writ from the constable having confirmed this31 (in 1205 a similar essoin was accepted from a man on duty in Dover Castle).32 In the spring of 1215 Wallingford castle was manned by paid soldiers, but when King John decided that these were insufficient, he issued writs in April and May to nineteen men, presumably all tenants owing castle-guard, ordering them to serve in the castle, and followed this up on 13 May with an order to all the knights of the honour, commanding them to take up residence in the castle, `as of old you were wont to do’.33 It is noteworthy, however, that even this was not enough. John’s demands on the knights of the honour led to a number of them joining the rebels,34 and probably for this reason, once civil war broke out in earnest, he fell back on an even older claim on the services of his subjects, when on 7 June 1216 he directed all the knights and free tenants of Berkshire to reinforce the garrison.35 Thus strengthened, Wallingford remained under royal control throughout the civil war.

Similar uncertainties may have prevailed at Rockingham, at least among the holders of Peterborough Abbey’s sixty fees who owed castle-guard there. The process of commutation had been far advanced by 1189, when a charter of Richard I confirmed the practice of his father’s reign, whereby the knights were to be quit of castle-guard in peacetime in return for a payment of 4s. per fee per annum.36 But wartime remained a different matter, and late in 1215, when Abbot Robert of Lindsey was attending the Lateran Council in Rome, King John endeavoured to enforce `the whole military service of the Abbot’, and when the latter’s knights resisted his demands, he ordered the constable of Rockingham Castle `that he should destrain all the military feods’, many of which, indeed, he confiscated and granted away.37 It is highly likely that John demanded the physical performance of castle-guard as part of the abbot’s service, for when on 30 May 1216 he granted the manor of Benefield, forfeited by Nicholas of Bassingbourne, to Baldwin de Gynes, he stipulated that it was to be held `by the service of one knight for the keeping of our castle of Rockingham’, this being the only service required of him.38

Castle-guard at Rockingham may well have seemed especially valuable at this time because John was finding it increasingly difficult to pay the wages of the garrison, so much so that on 3 March he had ordered the constable to give forty days’ pay to the knights under his command, and then told him that henceforth they must live off their own [de suo vivant].39 The knights themselves plainly resented the king’s demands, and at least sixteen of them – out of forty-one (some knights held more than one fee), well over a third – joined the rebels.40 After John’s death the regency government tried to enforce their service at Rockingham, ordering the constable not to distrain the abbot and monks, but telling him `to betake yourself to the lands of the knights who hold those fees of them for which they should perform those [castle-]guards’, but it was probably only the end of the civil war which put a stop to their recalcitrance – by 1221 it was commutation, not service, which was once more at issue.41 

In 1214 and the early months of 1215 John had added to the garrisons and built up the stores in his castles, and had also financed works in many of them.42 His precautions proved to have been well-taken. Castles were essential power-bases – it was per vim constabularii Norwic’ that the royalists for a while exercised authority in Norfolk43 – and of course they were also military strongpoints. The civil war which broke out in the autumn of 1215 proved to be very largely one of sieges, as the chronicles amply document, while the two battles which decided the conflict arose directly or indirectly from the extended sieges of the castles of Lincoln and Dover respectively. Of the castles which John had had strengthened, either with men or masonry, or both, at least ten – Corfe, Dover, Lancaster, Northampton, Rochester, Salisbury, Shrawardine, Tickhill, Wallingford and Windsor – were at least potentially manned by castle-guard. There is no way of telling if commutation rates were increased by the constables charged with reinforcing these (and doubtless other) strongholds. But taking into account King John’s particular needs, and also the rise in soldiers’ wages during the years on either side of 1200,44 it seems highly likely that they were, as, indeed, Clause 29 itself suggests. Since some of these fortresses were nominally served by many tenants, with sub-tenants who may also have been targeted, the discontent that resulted could have been widespread.

A few earlier cases suggest how resentment could arise. At some point between 1177 and 1189 Abbot Benedict of Peterborough `at great cost and with immense labour’ came to an agreement with Henry II that in peace-time his knights should not pay more than 4s. per fee in commutation of the castle-guard they owed at Rockingham. According to the abbey chronicler, they had been `molested with great injuries and exactions’, and forced to pay half a mark or more, `according to the will of the constables ...’.45 It was this settlement which Richard I’s charter of 1189 confirmed, specifying that it only applied to times of peace – as the years during which the agreement was reached had been. Once such arrangements were made, those who benefited from them quickly claimed the status of custom for them, and resisted efforts to alter the terms on which service was done, or commuted. In 1206 one William FitzAlan, seemingly the tenant under Simon of Kyme of three quarters of a knight’s fee at Kirkby Laythorpe and Evedon, put himself on the grand assize to prevent Simon passing on to him a demand from the constable of Lincoln for a higher commutation rate than the 5s. 4d. he had been accustomed to pay.46

Equally suggestive in this context is King John’s order to a number of sheriffs, issued on 3 June 1207, commanding them to distrain all the knights and free tenants who owed castle-guard to Richmond to perform the service they owed, `as they should and are wont to do them, lest we hear further outcry for want of justice.’47 The status of Richmond Castle at this time is not entirely clear. It was in the king’s hand when the order was issued, having been confiscated from its constable, Roald FitzAlan, as a result of his opposition to the thirteenth. It had been nominally under royal control since 1171, but only Henry II had spent any money on it, and Roald may have regarded himself – and been regarded – as its effective lord. His command there would probably have been less abrasive, and more amenable to local interests, than that of the king’s agents (John’s order that the castle be seized was sent to the notoriously exacting Hugh de Neville), who might well have signalled their arrival by an instant demand for castle-guard payments at an exorbitant rate – something would certainly have constituted `want of justice’ in the eyes of the tenants.


Ambitious intentions

Although circumstances occasionally led to tenants who owed castle-guard being called upon to perform their service in person, the commutation of service for money was so far advanced by the beginning of the thirteenth century, at Richmond as almost everywhere else, as to make it very unlikely that the injustice implicit in John’s order of 1207 involved compelling tenants to commute their service instead of allowing them to perform it. Rather the issue then, as in 1215, was surely not so much the commutation itself as the rate at which it was set. By the time of Magna Carta, it would seem, castle-guard had all too often become effectively a means of extortion, affecting a large number of people, and from having been negotiated it was now imposed with all the force at the disposal of the king’s military officers. That, or simply the fear of it (a fear which might well have been exacerbated by the searching inquests of 1212 into tenures and services),48 could plausibly have affected the conduct of the Peterborough knights, for instance, whose rate of 4s. per fee had been fixed for peacetime service only. Clause 29 thus constituted an attempt to extend the rights of barons and knights at the expense of those of the crown.

In this it resembled Clause 12, dealing with scutage, the commutation of military service for cash, which had hitherto been levied in accordance with the will of the king, and nobody else, for the commutation of castle-guard for money had hitherto been ultimately determined at the pleasure of the lord concerned. But whereas scutage was exacted at a uniform rate from every tenant-in-chief who did not serve in the host or was not granted quittance, castle-guard was required from a relatively small number of tenants-in-chief and sub-tenants. The processes of subinfeudation meant that the distribution of service had become widespread, but the numbers involved were hardly comparable with those of the servitium debitum of the whole country.  Moreover the commutation rate differed, not only from castle to castle but even among the tenants of a single castle – for Richmond, for instance, it came to be 6s. 8d. per fee for Yorkshire, but 10s. per fee for tenants of the honour in every other county except Norfolk, where the rate varied. Under such circumstances it was hardly possible to lay down what the rate should be, or to reserve its determination to the common counsel of the realm, as was done with scutage.

The chosen response to this problem, as contained in Clause 29, was hardly less revolutionary than Clause 12, since to all outward appearances it gave the tenants the right to choose how they would perform the service required of them, treating the king’s needs, and wishes, as irrelevant, and placing an absolute prohibition on the power of royal officers to compel their service in one form rather than the other. How seriously men owing castle-guard really wished to perform it is impossible to say. The steady trend towards commutation throughout the twelfth century makes it seem unlikely that many tenants truly preferred to take time away from their usual occupations to man the stronghold of a lord who might be living a considerable distance, or even hundreds of miles, away, just as it is difficult to believe that resistance to this trend had arisen from baronial and knightly resentment at being deprived of a form of service which had become an agreeable social amenity, enabling tenants to pass a few undemanding weeks in one another’s company in a lordly residence.49 It seems more likely that Clause 29 was intended to pose a threat to the defensibility of certain castles, and so to compel negotiations between constables and tenants on terms more favourable to the latter than any they had latterly been offered.

In the circumstances of 1215, that threat may have been meant to be more than just a bargaining ploy, a possibility suggested, for instance, by the number of rebels among the Peterborough knights. The clause did not forbid constables to dispense with castle-guard altogether, though presumably there was nothing to stop their doing so, but seems to have been drafted on the assumption that it would continue to be exploited in one form or the other, in demands for either men or money. From the king’s point of view, however, some men were much better than others. Mercenaries, upon whom King John relied heavily for armed manpower, whether or not their pay originated in money given in commutation of castle-guard, could have been expected to remain loyal to the king who gave them their wages. But the immediate implementation of Clause 29 could have meant that a number of royal castles, some of them of great military importance, would have been at least partly garrisoned by men whose loyalty to the king might have been outweighed by their links to their lords and to one another, to the extent of endangering John’s hold upon the fortresses concerned.

The possible consequences are shown by John’s treatment of Pevensey and Hastings castles. On 24 June 1215, possibly in response to Clause 29, he ordered the sheriff of Sussex to `distrain those who owe castle-guard [custodiam] in our castle of Pevensey, so that without delay they perform that guard in the same castle as they should and are wont to do’.50 How far Pevensey was in fact a royal fortress is uncertain; Gilbert de l’Aigle was at least intermittently lord of Pevensey,51 but the castle was referred to as the king’s in a lawsuit in 1203,52 and in 1215 and afterwards John clearly regarded it as being at his disposal. For his order of 24 June evidently failed to have the desired effect – perhaps the knights of the honour refused to serve – and on 8 October he sent a force of ten sergeants to man the castle, its constable having notified him that it was `insufficiently provided with men.’53 The king was unsure about the need for this measure, and gave instructions that if the earl of Arundel thought that Pevensey was in fact adequately manned, then the reinforcements should be sent back to him.54 The earl probably did so consider, for the sergeants appear to have ended up in another south-coast castle-guard stronghold, that of Hastings.55

Hastings Castle was the caput of an honour held by the counts of Eu. It had been taken into the king’s hand on the death of Count John in 1207, but was conveyed to Ralph de Lusignan on 26 May 1214.56 But as with Pevensey, John regarded the castle as being still his to dispose of, and although no fewer than sixty knights owed castle-guard to it, in September 1215 he sent a force of sergeants there, to be maintained ad solidos nostros.57 But either because the military situation deteriorated, or because he ran short of money, John decided that after all he had no need of Hastings and Pevensey Castles, even though their position on the south coast might have been expected to give them strategic value. Prince Louis and his army landed in Kent on 21 May 1216, whereupon John, who had gathered forces to resist the invaders, decided to retreat towards Winchester. He passed by Hastings and Pevensey, and as he went he had both their castles destroyed58 – on 26 May he sent order to Matthew FitzHerbert to receive Pevensey from the earl of Surrey, and then to have it demolished.59 He had retreated from a confrontation with the French, according to the Dunstable annalist who recorded the destruction of the castles, `because he did not fully trust his own men.’ Those men, it may be assumed, also included the castle-guard tenants with whom he could have tried to garrison the two fortresses. There is no way of telling if they would have been willing to serve thus, but it is clear that John was not prepared to put the matter to the test, and preferred to do without the castles altogether rather than place their defence in the hands of men he could not rely upon.60


The problem of dual service

Clause 29 was not concerned only with commutation as an alternative to service, for it also addressed the issue of how the tenant should be treated who owed two forms of service, as many did, both in a castle and in the field. Although the two forms of service could be alternatives – in 1166 the ten knights enfeoffed upon the lands of Cerne Abbey in Dorset all owed castle-guard at Corfe for a month each year, but only if the abbot was not required to send men to the host, when only two of them were obliged to go (later reduced to just one by Henry II)61 – the evidence suggests that that the holders of knights’ fees were more often required to act in both capacities (presumably they either paid commutation or provided a substitute for the service which they did not perform in person). This can be seen with particular clarity in some of the detailed inquests of the thirteenth century. In 1272, for instance, Hugh de Balliol was recorded as holding five manors in Northumberland `by rendering 5 marks and 6d. yearly for the guard of the castle of Newcastle on Tyne, going in the king’s army with two knights at his own charges for 40 days, and afterwards at the king’s charges ...’.62

But similar demands were made much earlier. Thus William of Upton drew up his settlement with Samson de la Pomerai in 1197 in terms relevant to service in exercitibus et wardo castelli de Walingeford’ – `in the host and in the guarding of Wallingford castle ...’.63 Hamo of Gatton (the holder of five fees in Surrey and Kent) and Aubrey de Marinis (who held two fees in Kent of the honour of Hagenet, which was itself held by the constable of Dover) went with King John to Poitou in 1214. They also owed castle-guard at Dover, and were manifestly not released from this obligation on the grounds of their service abroad, for they found it necessary to obtain royal letters to William Brewer, in terms anticipating those of Clause 29, ordering that they be quit of this second duty for as long as they were overseas.64 Similar considerations probably lay behind the order which John sent to the sheriff of Northamptonshire on 5 November 1213, notifying him that he had acquitted William FitzHamo `and his knights’ of the castle-guard they owed to Northampton for the year 1212/13 (William was lord of the barony of Wolverton, made up of fifteen knights’ fees, a number consistent with a mid-thirteenth-century record of their castle-guard service having been commuted for £7 10s. per annum, that is, at 10s. per fee).65 No reason was given, but as William served in Ireland in 1210, and in Poitou in 1214,66 he may well have been involved as well in the king’s planned expeditions to Wales in 1212 and to France in the following year, and earned his quittance from castle-guard thereby. But if that is correct, then here too such a quittance can be seen to have been formally necessary, the performance of one kind of military service did not automatically bring exemption from another – as Clause 29 granted that it should, but now as a general principle rather than as a personal concession.

Commutation was organized in broadly similar ways, in that it could be arranged for both scutage and castle-guard in identical terms, and without any suggestion that payment for the one entailed remission for the other. This can be seen in litigation, for instance in the action for arrears of service which the Cambridgeshire baron Robert de Pinkeny brought against Richard de Sifrewast in 1212, when he claimed that Richard, who held a third of a fee of him in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, owed him a total of 51s. 1d.: `for the scutage of the army of Scotland [1209], half a mark; for the scutage of the army of Ireland [1210], one mark; for the scutage of the army of Wales [1211], 8s. 10½d.; for the guarding of Windsor Castle, of which he should perform a third, 22s. d., for three years and a term ...’.67  No less precisely, the justice Richard of Herriard, when granting Bedfont vill in Middlesex to Thomas of Haverhill in 1205, specified that he was to perform the service of one knight, when required, `in money’ (in denariis), and castle-guard at Windsor, when required, `likewise in money’ (similiter in denariis).68 In 1201 Richard had himself been granted quittance of a number of duties, including castle-guard, by the king, `for as long as he shall be in our service’.69 The services he rendered are much more likely to have been judicial than military, and the same is true of John of Guestling, also a royal justice, who in the following year proffered two palfreys, the equivalent of ten marks (£6. 13s. 4d.), for exemptions which also included castle-guard (he cleared his debt in 1209).70 It is nonetheless significant that men with official duties which involved performing important services to the king should have felt obliged to obtain release from this one – castle-guard, whether performed in cash or in person, seems to have been a service that was not lightly dispensed with.

Despite castle-guard’s potential usefulness as an adjunct of lordship, its value, and therefore its survival, must by 1215 have become primarily financial. This is not always easily assessed, but it has been estimated that later in the thirteenth century the sums paid in lieu of castle-guard at Richmond amounted to about £80 per annum, while castle-guard at Lancaster was worth £36. 15s., at Tickhill £30 and at Hastings £20 per annum.71 All these castles were at best only occasionally in the king’s hand, and it was their baronial lords who usually received these sums. The royal castle of Rockingham was owed the service of 120 knights’ fees, of which sixty were held of the abbot of Peterborough and paid 4s. apiece instead of performing castle-guard, a total of £12. So if the remaining sixty paid at the same rate, then the constable of the castle should have received £24 per annum towards the cost of manning the castle in peacetime. The usual resident garrison there has been estimated as consisting of thirteen or fourteen knights, so that if each served for the conventional forty days, at what had by 1199 become a knight’s accustomed daily wage of 2s. (it had risen from 8d. a day in the 1160s), then the total of their wages for this limited period alone would have amounted to at least £52. But although the commuted rate was nowhere near enough to hire full replacements for the knights involved, the sum was still a significant one, while its collection was probably well organised – in the early 1250s half of virgate of land in Rockingham was said to be held `by the service of collecting the guard [rent] of Rockingham Castle to the king’s use, and distraining for it, with the aid if necessary of the constable of the castle ...’.72

A number of the Norfolk landowners recorded in 1198/9 as making payments in lieu of castle-guard were also recorded as paying scutage, or receiving quittance from it, presumably because they had served in the host – for instance Hugh of Polstead, who owed castle-guard at Dover, went quit of scutage in 1210, when he is known to have accompanied the king to Ireland.73 It is unfortunate that the exact terms under which commutation for castle-guard was paid in Norfolk are not recorded with any consistency, but in a number of cases it was specifically said to have been an annual render. Thus the land of Geoffrey FitzGeoffrey in Panworth was described as owing `7d. per annum to the guarding of the king’s castle of Norwich’, and William de Francheville owed half a mark yearly to Dover Castle from his land at Langford, while Theobald Walter owed 13d. twice every year to Eye Castle from Robert FitzRoger’s fee at Wootton.74 There are no references to exemptions, making it seem highly likely that such men paid automatically for their castle-guard regardless of whether or not they also paid scutage or served in the host at the king’s command. But although the trend towards commutation was also one favourable to regular payments, it is possible that the numerous landowners who were not said to have given money in commutation every year paid instead as and when the king’s officers thought fit, and were thus more vulnerable to extortion that those who had come to give modest yearly sums.

Those who did and those who did not – if there were any – pay regular sums in lieu of castle-guard must have come to resent having to pay at all, if they also served in the host or paid scutage instead, although it appears to have been long-established practice that they should do so. The fact that the second part of Clause 29 seemingly treated castle-guard and host duty as performed in the context of a single unit of time, within which the two forms of service were henceforth to be set off against one another, may indicate that the forty days conventionally required for service in the host had come to be regarded as embracing garrison duty as well, or at least reflected a feeling that they should so. That has to be surmise, and the fact that no account by a constable of a castle which was nominally manned by castle-guard survives from John’s reign, similarly makes it impossible to tell precisely what exactions might have provoked Clause 29. But it appears highly likely that like several other clauses in Magna Carta, it originated in extortionate demands for money by the king’s officers, a trend probably intensified in recent years, and in the resentment to which these gave rise. In the form it took Clause 29 was both audacious – an attack on the king’s hitherto undisputed right to decide how his castles were best defended – and, in the stress it laid on service, more than a little disingenuous, since the issue was in fact primarily a fiscal one . Although in the immediate circumstances of 1215 it may have also have been drafted in the hope of undermining the king’s control of some important strongholds, its main purpose (which it shared with Clause 12) was that of controlling one of the ways in which John raised money, using means which were potentially – and no doubt often actually – oppressive, and which could also be presented as unreasonable and unjust.


F.M. Stenton, The first century of English feudalism, 1066-1166 (2nd edn., Oxford, 1961), 206-9


For castle-guard in general I have relied particularly on Stenton, The first century of English feudalism, 192-217; S. Painter, `Castle-guard’, R. Liddiard (ed.), Anglo-Norman castles (Woodbridge, 2003), 450-9; M. Prestwich, `The garrisoning of English medieval castles’, R.P. Abels and B.S. Bachrach (eds.), The Normans and their adversaries at war: essays in memory of C. Warren Hollister (Woodbridge, 2001); J.S. Moore, `Anglo-Norman garrisons’, Anglo-Norman studies xxii (Woodbridge, 2000), 205-59.


C.W. Hollister, The military organisation of Norman England (Oxford, 1965), 140-1.


T.K. Keefe, Feudal assessments and the political community under Henry II and his sons (Berkeley, 1983), 77.


R.R. Davies, Lordship and society in the march of Wales, 1282-1400 (Oxford, 1978), 77-8.


A.A.M. Duncan, Scotland: the making of the kingdom (Edinburgh, 1975), 383-4.


J. Otway-Ruthven, `Knight service in Ireland’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 89 (1959), 1-15, at 7.


Curia Regis Rolls ix, 4-5 Henry III, 1220 (348-50); T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli litterarum patentium, 1201-1216 (Record Commission, 1835 – hereafter Rot.Lit.Pat.), 149-50.


T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli litterarum clausarum i, 1204-1224 (Record Commission, 1833 – hereafter Rot.Lit.Claus. i), 288.


Figures from R.A. Brown, `A list of castles, 1154-1216’, English Historical Review 74 (1959), 249-280. They are derived from written sources alone, and it seems likely that they could be added to from archaeological discoveries made in the last half-century.


Painter, `Castle-guard’, 203 and nn. 3-4.


Curia Regis Rolls xiii, 11-14 Henry III, 1227-1230 (1959), nos. 992-3.


TNA:PRO, JUST 1/775 m. 16.


J.S. Brewer and C.T. Martin (eds.), Registrum Malmesburiense, 2 vols. (Rolls Series, 1879-80), ii, 247.


F. Suppe, `The persistence of castle-guard in the Welsh marches and Wales: suggestions for a research agenda and methodology’, R.P. Abels and B.S. Bachrach (eds.), The Normans and their adversaries at war: essays in memory of C. Warren Hollister (Woodbridge, 2001), 201-221, at 208.


Prestwich, `The garrisoning of English medieval castles’, 192.


C.W. Foster (ed.), The Registrum Antiquissimum of the cathedral church of Lincoln ii, Lincoln Record Society 28 (1933 for 1931), no. 237 (pp. 84-5).


Sir H. Maxwell Lyte (ed.), Liber feodorum. The book of fees commonly called Testa de Nevill, 2 vols. in 3 (1920-31), ii, 1327.


B. Dodwell (ed.), Feet of fines for the county of Norfolk, 1198-1202, Pipe Roll Society new series 27 (1952 for 1950), no. 244 (p. 108).


For Dover I have followed N. Denholm Young, History and heraldry, 1254 to 1310: a study of the historical value of rolls of arms (Oxford, 1965), 64-89, correcting Painter, `Castle-guard’, 204-5.


Book of fees ii, 1326.


Keefe, Feudal assessments. The document cited occurs in J. Harris, The history of Kent i (1719), 372.


Details from C.T. Clay (ed.), Early Yorkshire charters v: The honour of Richmond part ii, Yorkshire Archaeological Society record series, extra series ii (1936), 1-16.


Details from Moore, `Anglo-Norman garrisons’, 225.


Jocelin of Brakelond, Chronicle of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds, ed. and trans. D. Greenway and J. Sayers (Oxford, 1989), 58-61..


D.C. Douglas (ed.), Feudal documents from the abbey of Bury St Edmunds (Oxford, 1932), no. 90 (p. 99); H. Hall (ed.), The red book of the exchequer, 3 vols. Rolls Series, 1890), i, 392.


 Book of fees ii, 1324-9


Ib., 1148, 1150.


T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli de oblatis et finibus ... tempore regis Johannis (Record Commission, 1835), 340.


Feet of fines of the ninth year of the reign of King Richard I, A.D. 1197 to A.D. 1198, Pipe Rolls Society 23 (1898), no. 64 (pp. 44-5)


Sir F. Palgrave (ed.), Rotuli Curiae Regis, 2 vols. (Record Commission, 1835), i, 355-6.


Curia Regis Rolls iv, 7-8 John, 1205-1206 (1929), 30


Rot.Lit.Pat., 132, 134, 135.


C.D. Tilley, `The honour of Wallingford, 1066-1300’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, King’s College, University of London (2011), 338-48, accessed through


Rot.Lit.Pat., 186.


L. Landon (ed.), The cartae antiquae, rolls 1-10, Pipe Roll Society new series 17 (1938), no. 214 (p. 106).


S. Gunton, The history of the church of Peterburgh, ed. S. Patrick (1686, reprinted Peterborough and Stamford, 1990), 296.


T.D. Hardy (ed., Rotuli chartarum, 1199-1216 (Record Commission, 1837), 222.


Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 250.


I have used the list in Hall, Red book of the exchequer, ii, 618-19, there dated to 1211-12.


Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 297, 545.


For details see the commentary on Clause 28.


PR 17 John (1215), 10 (citing TNA:PRO E 159/1 m. 3).


P.D.A. Harvey, `The English inflation of 1180-1220’, R.H. Hilton (ed.), Peasants, knights and heretics: studies in medieval English social history (Cambridge, 1976), 57-84, at 67-8.


R.C. Van Caenegem (ed.), English lawsuits from William I to Richard I, 2 vols., Selden Society 106-7 (1990-1), ii, no. 612 (p. 650).


Curia Regis Rolls iv, 137-8.


Rot.Lit.Pat., 73.


S. Painter, The reign of King John (Baltimore, 1949), 208-9.


As suggested by S. Painter, Studies in the history of the English feudal barony (Baltimore, 1944), 46.


Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 217.


I.J. Sanders, English baronies: a study of their origin and descent, 1066-1327 (Oxford, 1960), 136-7.


Curia Regis Rolls ii, 3-5 John, 1201-1203 (1925), 242-3.


Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 156.


Rot.Lit.Pat., 156.


Ib., 158.


Sanders, English baronies, 119-20; Rot.Lit.Pat., 116.


Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 228.


H.R. Luard (ed.), Annales monastici, 5 vols. (Rolls Series, 1864-9), iii, 46.


Rot.Lit.Pat., 184.


John’s treatment of Malmesbury Castle might appear to have been broadly similar – he made elaborate arrangements for its garrisoning when he granted it to the nearby abbey on 18 July 1215, but licensed the monks to demolish it on 9 July 1216. But Malmesbury was well away from the battle lines, and the monks were prepared to pay nearly 200 marks for permission to remove buildings which greatly inconvenienced them. Rotuli chartarum, 213, 222; Registrum Malmesburiense, i, 430, ii, 81.


H.M. Chew, The English ecclesiastical tenants-in-chief and knight service (Oxford, 1932), 101-2, citing Hall, Red book of the exchequer, i, 212.


Calendar of inquisitions post mortem i: Henry III, no. 804.


See n. 28 above. The emphasis is mine.


Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 167. For their lands see Book of fees i, 271, 582; ii, 1465.


Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 154; Sanders, English baronies, 100; Book of fees i, 19.


T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli de liberate ac de misis et praestitis, regnante Johanne (Record Commission, 1844), 183, 206, 221; PR 11 John (1209), 12.


Curia Regis Rolls vi, 11-14 John, 1210-1212 (1932), 379-80.


PR 7 John (1205), 171-2.


Rot.Lit.Pat., 2.


PR 4 John (1202), 216; PR 11 John (1209), 12.


Painter, English feudal barony, 133-4.


Calendar of inquisitions post mortem i, nos. 210, 246.


Rotuli de liberate, 199; PR 12 John(1210), 32; Book of fees ii, 1329.


Book of fees ii, 1324, 1327.

Magna Carta 1215
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