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The villeins

The villeinsMost of the population of thirteenth-century England were unfree peasants called villeins. They were bound to their lord in a close, restrictive, tenurial tie which they were not free to break. They had to spend a fixed proportion of their time cultivating their lord's land without pay, they were not free to leave their manor, they did not own their goods and chattels and they owed their lord numerous customary payments. Villeins also fell under the jurisdiction of their lord's manorial court, without access to the protection of the royal courts.

Very few clauses in Magna Carta dealt directly with the villeins. The charter limited the fines which could be imposed on them, so as not to deprive them of their livelihood. It also prohibited royal officials from seizing anyone's goods without payment and forbade officials from arbitrarily forcing anyone to carry out bridge-building or riverbank repairs.

Although Magna Carta primarily addressed the concerns of the barons, knights and other free men, in the long term the establishment of the principle that the king was subject to the law benefited everyone.