History Tax Feudal England

History of Accounting > Tax History > The Revenue from the Incidents and Casualties of the Feudal Tenures

Gradual establishment of the feudal system in England. Military service by the knight’s fee. The feudal aids. Incidents and casualties of the feudal system. Other items of reyenue under the Norman kings and their successors.
After the Norman Conquest, when, in process of time, the continental feudal system had become established
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iii England, the king derived a considerable revenue from the incidents and casualties of the feudal tenures, a source of income which, sometimes in abundant, sometimes in diminished yield, continued to flow for five centuries and a half, and was only dried up when the court of wards and liveries, created subsequently by Henry VIII. for the supervision of this revenue, was abolished practically at the outbreak of the Civil War. This system was established in England gradually, and not so much by the will of the Conqueror as by the force of circumstances. William had seen, in France, the difficulties of government involved in a system in which the king was primus inter pares, and for that reason, as well as in view of the hereditary claim he advanced, was desirous to govern the kingdom as it had been governed under previous kings. When, therefore, after the battle of Senlac he confis
cated the lands of all who had fought for Harold, and portioned out some of them to the participators in the conquest and allowed others to be redeemed at a price by former owners willing to submit to him, he did not introduce, in regard to these lands, any distinct alteration in tenure. Nevertheless, it is clear that such an alteration in the ownership of lands must have involved, if only in regard to the lands held by the Normans, some approximation in tenure to that with which they were familiar on the continent—the application, to a greater or less degree, of .the principles of the continental feudal system. The leaven began to work ; and as more Normans were settled on the lands confiscated in consequence of the revolt of the English against the justices regent in the absence of the Conqueror, the feudal principle was more fully enforced and more extensively applied. William found it impossible to rule in England without Norman landowners, and the Normans found it impossible to hold their own in the island, except upon a feudal footing. Further revolts of the English led to a process of confiscations and redistribution of land, in which we see the feudal principle gaining additional strength and extending itself more and more. The current of change was quickened by the alarm of Danish invasions. Many English followed the example of the Norman landowners; and, in the result, before the survey was recorded in Doomsday Book, all the landowners of the kingdom were placed in the position of vassals to the king or some tenant of the king ; and under William Eufus, the red king, feudalism became established in this country.
The feudal system, the result of the efforts of the individual to protect himself amidst the anarchy that prevailed in Western Europe after the destruction of civilisation by the Northern barbarians, was a Land League formed upon a basis of mutual protection, with a king-in-chief. The weaker placed himself under the protection of the more powerful landowner, and acknowledged to hold from him and be his man; while his lord, in turn, stood in a similar relation to some more powerful landowner, or to the most powerful, and supreme lord, the king.. As may be supposed, the principal feature of the system consisted in the obligation of the vassal to protect his lord and aid him in fight, with the corresponding security of receiving protection from him. The relations between the sub-kings of the system, as they have been termed, and their tenants and vassals have only an incidental interest from our present point of view; but as between the king and the landowners holding from him, this obligation of assistance in war, at first unlimited, or at any rate ill-defined, gradually grew, by arrangement and composition, into a fixed service of a knight for every holding sufficient to support a knight. The area of land that would suffice for the purpose varied, of course, in amount, for there are lands and lands; but it has been usually taken at about four or five hides, and the annual value was fixed at 201.: the Knight’s Fee was twenty librates of land; and upon this basis proceeded service by knightly tenure and the assessment of the knightly tenants of the king-iii-chief. The time of service was also limited :—Every tenant of the king by knight’s service was bound, if so required by the king, to serve him personally in anus, with the knights for the fees he held, for forty days in every year.
On three occasions of extraordinary expense, the king’s tenants-in-chief were bound to give an Aid, Auxilium to the king: First, when the king made his eldest son a knight; secondly, when he married out his eldest daughter; and, lastly, should he be captive, to ransom his person. These auxilia were assessed upon the fee; and, except on the three occasions before mentioned, the king had no right to put his hand upon the purse of a military tenant.
The incidents and casualties of the feudal tenure were, principally, as follows: On the death of a tenant in-chief, in capite, the king came in to ward oft’ intruders until the heir appeared to claim the lands and do homage to him as lord; and. in return for this, had a right to a year’s profits of the lands, which was termed Primer seisin. Where the heir was a minor, under twenty-one years of age, and therefore incapable legally of performing knight service to the king, the king kept his person in ward, maintaining, educating, and training him to arms, and kept his lands in possession, providing out of the profits a person capable of performing the services due from the minor for the lands.
Where the infant was an heiress, the king might select a husband for her, and give her away in marriage to a person of suitable position willing and able to do knight service to the king. This right was subsequently much abused. Royal wards were given to favourites of the king, or were sold for money. The maritigium, or right of bestowal in marriage, came to be considered of direct money value, and if the infant declined a proffered marriage, or married without the king’s consent, she or he (for the maritigium was subsequently extended to males—’ sive sit masculus, sive foemina,’ as Bracton says) forfeited to the king dupliceni valorem maritigii, double the value of the marriage.
The following are extracts from the Exchequer Eolls in illustration of the revenue from fines for permission to marry or for excuse from marriage: Walter de Caucey gives 15/. for leave to marry when and whom he pleases; Wiverone of Ipswich, 4/. and a mark of silver, that she may not be married, except to her own good liking, ‘ne capiat virum nisi quern voluerit;’ and so, ‘upon the like occasion,’ Albreda Sansaver, Alice de Heriz and many others, men and women, make fine.1 Perhaps the highest priced ward on the Eolls is Isabell, countess of Gloucester, for whom, with all her lands and knight’s fees, Geoffrey de Mandevill gave to king Henry III. 20,000 marks.2
The heir, at the age of twenty-one, and the heiress, originally at the age of fourteen, but subsequently at the age of eighteen, sued out his or her livery or ousterlemain (take the hand off), and obtained release from royal protection and control. For this they paid to the king a fine of half a year’s value of their lands.
If a tenant died without heirs or made default in performance of due service to the king, his lands escheated—that is, reverted or returned to the king us paramount lord. And on his attainder for treason, his lands were forfeited to the king.
1 Madoi, Hist. Exch. p. 310. - Ibid. p. 322.
On the alienation of .lands, a fine was paid to the king; and on taking up the inheritance of lands, a relief. The relief originally consisted of arms, armour and horses, and was arbitrary in amount, but was subsequently ‘ ascertained,’ that is, rendered certain, by the Conqueror, and fixed at a certain quantity of arms and habiliments of war. After the assize of arms of Henry II., it was commuted for a money payment of 100s. for every knight’s fee, and as thus fixed continued to be payable ever afterwards.
The king as lord paramount had also a right to the following: Waifs, bona waviata—goods stolen and thrown away by the thief iu his flight; ‘estrays’ —valuable animals found wandering in a manor, the owner being unknown, after due proclamation made in the parish church and two market towns next adjoining to the place where they were found; wreck of the sea; whales and great sturgeons, which were considered to be royal fish by reason of their excellence ;l bona vacantia—property for which there was no owner; and treasure trove, that is to say, money, coin, gold, silver plate or bullion found hidden in the earth or other private place, the owner thereof being unknown. In the absence of any better claim, the king took the waif, the estray, and the goods or treasure without an owner.
1 See 17 Edward II. stat. 1, c. xi. The men of Roger de Poles were amerced, tem. Henry II., ‘quia injuste saisiaverunt se de crasso pisce,’ because they took a royal fish. The town of Haltebarge paid two marks for a royal fish, which they took without license and concealed.—Madox, Hist. Exch. pp. 349, 381.
He had also the custody of lands of ‘ natural fools, taking the profits without waste or destruction’ and finding them their necessaries.
Other sources of revenue springing from the king’s prerogative or his right to the demesne existed in— Grants of liberties and charters to towns and guilds; compositions for tallage, a head which strictly falls within the revenue from demesne; and grants to individuals of markets, fairs, parks and monopolies.
For instance, the Londoners fined, in the fifth year of Stephen’s reign, a hundred marks of silver that they might have sheriffs of their own choosing; the burgesses of Bedford fined, in the thirteenth year of Henry II., in forty marks to have the same liberties as the burgesses of Oxford had; the burgesses of Bruges fined in twenty marks to have their town at ferm, &c., &c.; the citizens of Hereford fined, in the second year of Henry III., in a hundred marks and two palfreys, to have the king’s charter that they might hold the city of Hereford at ferm of the king and his heirs to them and their heirs for ever for 40/. to be yielded at the exchequer, and that they might for ever have a merchant guild, with a hanse and other liberties and customs thereto belonging, and that they might be quit throughout England of toll and lastage, of passage, pontage and stallage, and of leve, and dauegeld, and gaywite, and all other customs and exactions. And, in the same year, the citizens of Lincoln fined in two hundred marks, that they might not be tallaged that time in the tallage which was laid upon the king’s demesnes, and that they might have their town in ferm that year as they had in the time of king John, the father of the king, and that for the same year they might be quit of the XL. increment of the ferm of their town (‘ de cremento firmae villae suae’). The burgesses of York fined two hundred marks for their liberties. The fullers of Winchester gave ten marks for the king’s charter of confirmation of their liberties. They also paid a yearly rent, as did the guilds in several towns : the weavers and bakers of London, the weavers of Oxford, Nottingham, York, Huntingdon and Lincoln, and others. The vintners of Hereford fined forty shillings to have the king’s grant that a sextertium of wine might be sold for tenpence in Hereford for the space of a year.
The bishop of Salisbury and the abbot of Burton gave palfreys that they might have respectively a market and a fair until the king’s full age. Koger Bertram gave ten marks that his fair at Mudford, which lasted four days, might last eight days. Peter de Goldington gave one hawk for leave to enclose certain land part of his wood of Stokes, to make a park of it; and Peter de Perariis gave twenty marks for leave to salt fishes as Peter Chivalier used to do.1
The Exchequer Eolls abound in records of payments made to the king to have right done, or for expedition of justice, and counter-payments by defendants to have writs denied or proceedings delayed or stayed. It was against practices such as these that the clause in Magna Carta was aimed, which declares :—’ Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus, aut diSeremus rectum
1 Madox, Hist, Exch. cases quoted from the Rolls.
aut justitiam’—’ to no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.’
Pecuniary penalties recovered for crimes, trespasses and offences of all sorts afforded a considerable revenue, more particularly during the times of the Norman kings, when justice was administered mainly on account of the profits. Amerciaments—fines assessed on offenders who were in misericordia regis, at the mercy (merci) of the king, and compositions for offences real or supposed, formed another source of revenue; from which the Conqueror, on the eve of his departure from England in 1086, drew largely, when he ‘gathered mickle scot of his men where he might have any charge to bring against them whether with right or otherwise.’x
Lastly, a great variety of extortions helped to augment the royal income. Among the fiscal curiosities ‘to be found on the Eolls of the Exchequer are such items as the following:—The wife of Hugo de Nevill gives to the king 200 hens for permission to sleep with her husband, Hugo de Nevill, for one night, Thomas de Sandford being pledged for 100 hens. Ralph Bardolph fines in five marks for leave to arise from his infirmity. Robert de Abrincis fines for pardon of the king’s illwill in the matter of the daughter of Geldewin de Dol, &c. &c. The Bishop of Winchester owes a tonell of good wine for not reminding the king (John) about a girdle for the countess of Albemarle; and Robert de Vaux fines in five of the best palfreys, that the same king would hold his tongue about the wife of Henry Fiuel.
1 Uhron. Sax. A.d. 1086.

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