Si quis tenuerit de aliqua escaeta, sicut de honore Walingeford, Notingeham, Bononiae, Lainkastriae, vel de aliis eskaetis, quae sunt in manu nostra, et sunt baroniae, et obierit, haeres non det aliud relevium, nec faciat nobis aliud servitium quam faceret baroni si baronia illa esset in manu baronis; et nos eodem modo eam tenebimus quo baro eam tenuit.
If anyone dies who held of any escheat, like the honour(s) of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other escheats which are in our hand and are baronies, his heir is not to give any other relief, or to do us any other service, than he would have done to the baron if the barony was in the baron’s hand; and we will hold it in the same manner that the baron held it.
For the tenants of any barony which came into the king’s hands for any length of time, either because their lord had forfeited his lands (rebellion was the likeliest cause of this) or because he had died without heirs, there was always the danger that they would be exposed to greater demands for money and services, as a result of their having now become tenants-in-chief, holding their lands directly from the crown. The four honours named in Clause 43 (Wallingford, Boulogne, Nottingham and Lancaster) were all important lordships, extending into several counties, and the same was often true both of other secular lordships which escheated to the king, and also of the ecclesiastical baronies which came under royal control, often for months and sometimes for years, when a bishop or abbot either died or was translated to another office. Henry II and Richard I were usually willing to treat escheats as their previous lords had done. They might use them as sources of ready cash, so that their revenues were paid directly to themselves rather than going into the exchequer, but the amounts raised stayed largely the same; indeed, some of the proceeds might be invested in the lordships involved, so as to make them more profitable.
In the early years of his reign King John continued to treat escheated baronies much as his father and brother had done, but he stepped up his demands as his financial needs grew. In part this was achieved through a greater attention to detail – a number of inquests were held to establish what the king’s rights and revenues should be, so that these could be fully exploited. Some escheats, too, were placed in the hands of specially-appointed officials, rather than being left under the control of sheriffs who had many other responsibilities. John’s excommunication in 1209 was followed by the intensive exploitation of bishoprics left vacant by prelates who would no longer serve him, and other ecclesiastical lordships, and also secular baronies, were increasingly treated in the same way. In a few cases an escheat was allowed to pay to be treated as it had been by its former lord, but most remained exposed to royal pressure. The honour of Lancaster seems to have been particularly hard hit by the king’s demands – all its knights, around eighty men, were recorded as having taken part in John’s Scottish campaign of 1209, at a time when the overall trend was for baronies to provide much less military service than was nominally due from them. Little of the money raised within escheats was now spent on them, it all went into the exchequer, or, in increasing amounts, into the king’s chamber. In 1213 John levied a scutage at the unprecedented rate of £2 per knight’s fee, but the men of two baronies and several of the bishoprics which were then in his hands were required to pay ten marks (£6. 13s. 4d.) per fee, more than three times as much. It is hardly surprising that several of the knights of Wallingford, for instance, should have joined the rebellion against King John, or that the men of escheated lordships should have demanded the protection against royal exploitation which Clause 43 provided.
From the Tower, John sends a coded message to his queen (The Itinerary of King John)
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