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The free men

The Free menFree men formed only a small proportion of the population of 13th-century England. The distinction between the free and the unfree peasantry (the villeins) varied considerably across the country. Generally, though, in contrast to an unfree villein, a free man could leave his manor, could buy or sell land and owned his goods and chattels. He was not required to make numerous customary payments to his lord, nor to undertake onerous labour services for the cultivation of his lord's lands. Free men still had to attend their lord's court, but they also had access to the royal courts, which offered greater protection for their rights and property.

Although Magna Carta focused primarily on the interests of the barons, a significant proportion of its clauses dealt with all free men, from the barons, through the knights, down to the free peasantry. The most famous clause, providing protection against arbitrary imprisonment and the seizure of property by the king, applied to all free men.

Historical map of Great Britain
Matthew Paris's map of Great Britain