Contrary to the belief of some, Magna Carta is not Latin for Great Menu. It means Great Charter.
Monday, 15 June 2015 marked the 800th anniversary of bad King John (of Robin Hood fame) affixing his seal (he did not actually sign it) at Runnymede to what the distinguished British judge, Lord Denning, called “the greatest constitutional document of all time”. As such, it did not feel appropriate for the occasion to pass without a mention in our property blog.
Today, three of the original 63 clauses still remain on the statute books. One defends the freedom of the English Church, another confirms the customs of the City of London and the third paved the way for all English subjects to have the right to justice and a free trial.
Only a few of the clauses, however, related specifically to real estate issues most of which seem rather odd today and included the following:
Clause 23 – limited the right of feudal lords to demand assistance in building bridges across rivers (reducing the financial burden of keeping bridges in repair).
Clause 23 – fixed the royal rents on land.
Clause 23 – ordered the removal of all fish weirs from rivers (keeping them free for navigation).
Clause 31 – prevented royal officials from taking timber for building castles and firewood without the owner’s consent (the King’s own woods provided sufficient timber for such purposes).
Clause 47 – abolished the royal forests newly created under King John’s reign (encouraging the deforestation of land for farming rather than the King’s hunting).
Clause 56 – established a process for dealing with Welshmen who had been unlawfully disposed of their property or rights (bringing Welsh law in line with English law following the alliance with Wales).
Magna Carta also contains clauses confirming that women had property rights and could inherit land. These clauses, however, were not designed to liberate women but to protect male children from having their mother’s property taken away by second husbands.
Magna Carta is essentially a document addressing the interests of the land owning classes which required the King to respect the medieval status quo and not to take property back on the basis of his ultimate ownership of all property. It says nothing about modern property rights and the closest decedent of the document is not the various property Acts passed in the last 100 years or so but rather the Human Rights Act 1998.
Sadly, the impact of the Great Charter on modern properties rights is not great but, at least by reading this blog, you will now know precisely where King John affixed his seal to Magna Carta.
Yes, that’s right.
At the bottom of the page!