The Magna Carta Project

Original Latin


Nec nos nec ballivi nostri capiemus alienum boscum ad castra, vel alia agenda nostra, nisi per voluntatem ipsius cujus boscus ille fuerit.


Neither we nor our bailiffs are to take another man’s wood to a castle, or on other business of ours, except with the consent of the person whose wood it is.

Audio commentary

Commentary for secondary school students

Like the previous clauses, but with none of their ambiguities, Clause 31 was directed against abuses of power by the king and his officers, and specifically against their seizures of timber for castles. Henry II and his sons were great builders of castles, which they saw as a mainstay of their rule. To an increasing extent they were mostly built of stone, but some wooden ones survived, for instance York, while stone castles still needed huge quantities of timber, for fittings and minor structures like storerooms, and also for firewood. The need was met from many sources. The king’s bailiffs took wood from forfeitures and escheats, and also from the lands of bishoprics when these fell vacant, and they exploited the royal forests, and placed strict limits on the right of people who possessed land within them to cut down trees on their own property. More generally, they appear also to have claimed that the king had the right to take wood for castles from nearby estates, whoever owned them (the clearest evidence for this comes from Scotland, but it probably records a practice copied from England).

An order of 1205, which in return for horses worth ten marks (£6, 13s. 4d.) freed a Norfolk landowner from having anything taken from his wood or park for the repair of Norwich Castle, by its very rarity demonstrates how valuable this practice was to the crown, and also how it could be a threat to the property of any landowner with estates near a royal castle, Direct evidence is in fact limited, but it seems clear that King John made heavy demands on the woods of his subjects, especially once he faced the threat of revolt and responded to it by strengthening his castles, while after civil war broke out not only did he continue to take timber, but he sometimes also ordered the destruction of the woods of his enemies. Clause 31 attests the resentment aroused by royal expropriations of timber, and (not for the only time) also shows his opponents acting to prevent an abuse in a way which would reduce the king’s military power as well. But it is noteworthy that the barons did not deny the king’s basic right in this respect and attempt to prevent his calling upon his subjects to supply his castles with wood, instead they laid down that he and his agents were to take what they needed only with the consent of those affected.

Referenced in

Clause 30 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

Clause 30 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

Magna Carta 1215
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