Today marks 750 years since King Henry III affixed his seal to a document that is still in force, and now the oldest law still functioning in England.

It’s most significant impact was the beginning of the end of feudalism in the country.

The Statute itself was needed as the country had been in effect at civil war for the past decade, and a large number of previous laws, especially the Provisions of Oxford had decayed in application and some of them needed renewal.

One of the other reasons for the Statute was to try and prevent future civil wars by preventing landlords from attacking the land of their neighbours. If that happened again, the attacked person would be able to seek redress in the courts.

It was Provided, agreed, and ordained, that whereas the Realm of England of late had been disquieted with manifold Troubles and Dissensions; for Reformation whereof Statutes and Laws be right necessary, whereby the Peace and Tranquillity of the People must be observed; wherein the King, intending to devise convenient Remedy, hath made these Acts, Ordinances, and Statutes underwritten, which he willeth to be observed for ever firmly and inviolably of all his Subjects, as well high as low.

The Statute of Marlborough is actually a collection of laws made up of 29-chapters, and 750 years later, four of those clauses are still being enforced.

The name of the Statute comes from the fact that it was passed at Marlborough, where a Parliament was being held, at a time when Parliament was held wherever the Monarch happened to be at the time.

The preamble dates it as “…the two and fiftieth year of the reign of King Henry, son of King John, in the utas of Saint Martin…”, which would give a date of November 19, 1267; “utas” is an archaic term to denote the eighth day after an event, in this case the feast day of Saint Martin.

The full title was Provisions made at Marlborough in the presence of our lord King Henry, and Richard King of the Romans, and the Lord Edward eldest son of the said King Henry, and the Lord Ottobon, at that time legate in England.

Among its repealed chapters are legislation on suits of court, Sheriff’s tourns, beaupleader fines, real actions, essoins, juries, guardians in socage, amercements for default of summons, pleas of false judgement, replevin, freeholders, resisting the King’s officers, the confirmation of charters, wardship, redisseisin, inquest, murder, benefit of clergy, and prelates.

Four clauses are still being enforced.

One relates to recovery of debts, and forbid a person from seeking to reclaim debt by force without permission of the courts. A second clause prevents the recovery of debts from people by stopping them on the King’s Highway or Common Streets.

That was cited in recent years by motoring activists arguing that car clamping should be illegal. That usually fails as motorists have a habit of parking on private land without permission, and private land isn’t covered by the Statute.

A third clause, which may soon be repealed as it’s been superceded by a law passed in 2007 prevents the taking of unreasonable debts.

Another stops tenant farmers from laying waste to farmland, in effect, to look after it. That clause was used during WW2 to permit the government to take over poorly managed farms and force improvements in them.

So, 750 years after a King suggested that the courts should regulate disputes, those same laws are still being enforced.

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3 comments
  1. Alex Bray says:

    What about habeas corpus in the Magna Carta from 1215?

    • Ian Visits says:

      That was never put into law formally until the passing of the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679.

  2. Christine welch says:

    Magna Carta from 1215 was almost immediately reneged on by King John – hence the need for his son to renew and add to it.

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