Statute of Marlborough
The Statute of Marlborough of 1267 is of interest to both historian and lawyer – and possibly to motorists. The historian is concerned with the circumstances that led to the writing of the statute, and what it tells us of the latter stages of Henry III’s reign; the lawyer with its current impact, as it is the oldest statute with parts still in force today.
Henry III was holding a Parliament in Marlborough, an event in itself as after the earlier part of his reign – he came to the throne as a child upon the death of his father King John – his view of kingship was absolutist, reflected happily in his development of Westminster Abbey , but unhappily in the tensions such a view created with the aristocracy leading to the eventually unavoidable Barons’ War.
The interest of the historian is piqued in the very preamble to the statute: it mentions the presence as a witness of the future Pope Adrian V, at that time papal legate in England, a mediator in the recent civil war, and on hand to drum up support for the crusades . It also cites the presence of Richard, King of the Romans, Henry’s brother Richard Earl of Cornwall who was then the elected king of Germany, though never in effective control of those lands, and who suffered the shame of being captured by the Barons after the Battle of Lewes .
This legislation was passed just two years after the defeat of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham , and can be seen as smoothing the post-conflict situation in England in that it confirmed Magna Carta . It also regulated wardship, but its lasting effect was upon the law of distress – recovery of damages - chapters I, IV and XV still valid today (indeed chapter I may be referred to as The Distress Act of 1267). In brief, the statute ruled that damages could only be recovered through the courts, and that they may not be sought in the street.
Chapter XXIII of the statute is now known as The Waste Act of 1267, seeking to prevent tenant farmers from allowing their land to go to waste, in medieval times a potential political act against the feudal holder of the land who derived income from it, but of interest more recently in providing potential grounds for the seizure of poorly run farms for example in WWII .
In contemporary times some debate has arisen about the impact of the statute on clampers – their operations apparently seeking distress without recourse to the courts, and often in the street as proscribed in 1267.
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