1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Scutage

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25022221911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 24 — ScutageJohn Horace Round

SCUTAGE or Escuage, the pecuniary commutation, under the feudal system, of the military service due from the holder of a knight’s fee. Its name is derived from his shield (scutum). The term is sometimes loosely applied to other pecuniary levies on the basis of the knight’s fee. It was supposed till recently that scutage was first introduced in 1156 or on the occasion of Henry II.’s expedition against Toulouse in 1159; but it is now recognized that the institution existed already under Henry I. and Stephen, when it occurs as scutagium, scuagium or escuagium. Its introduction was probably hastened by the creation of fractions of knights’ fees, the holders of which could only discharge their obligation in this fashion. The increasing use of mercenaries in the 12th century would also make a money payment of greater use to the crown. Levies of scutage were distinguished by the names of the campaigns for which they were raised, as “the scutage of Toulouse” (or “great scutage”), “the scutage of Ireland” and so forth. The amount demanded from the fee was a marc (13s. 4d.), a pound or two marcs, but anything above a pound was deemed abnormal till John’s reign, when levies of two marcs were made in most years without even the excuse of a war. The irritation caused by these ex actions reached a climax in 1214, when three marcs were demanded, and this was prominent among the causes that led the barons to insist on the Great Charter (1215). By its provisions the crown was prohibited from levying any scutage save by “the common counsel of our realm.” In the reissue of the Charter in 1217 it was provided, instead of this, that scutages should be levied as they had been under Henry II. In practice, however, under Henry III., scutages were usually of three marcs, but the assent of the barons was deemed requisite, and they were only levied on adequate occasions.

Meanwhile, a practice had arisen, possibly as early as Richard I.’s reign, of accepting from great barons special “fines” for permission not to serve in a campaign. This practice appears to have been based on the crown’s right to decide whether personal service should be exacted or scutage accepted in lieu of it. A system of special composition thus arose which largely replaced the old one of scutage. As between the tenants-in-chief, however, and their under-tenants, the payment of scutage continued and was often stereotyped by the terms of charters of subinfeudation, which specified the quota of scutage due rather than the proportion of a knight’s fee granted. For the purpose of recouping themselves by levying from their under tenants the tenant-in-chief received from the crown writs de scutagio habendo. Under Edward I. the new system was so completely developed that the six levies of the reign, each as high as two pounds on the fee, applied only in practice to the under-tenants, their lords compounding with the crown by the payment of large sums, though their nominal assessment, somewhat mysteriously became much lower (see Knight Service). Scutage was rapidly becoming obsolescent as a source of revenue, Edward II. and Edward III. only imposing one levy each and relying on other modes of taxation, more uniform and direct. Its rapid decay was also hastened by the lengths to which subinfeudation had been carried, which led to constant dispute and litigation as to which of the holders in the descending chain of tenure was liable for the payment. Apart from its financial aspect it had possessed a legal importance as the test, according to Bracton, of tenure by knight-service, its payment, on however small a scale, proving the tenure to be “military” with all the consequences involved.

The best monograph on the subject (though not wholly free from error) is J. F. Baldwin’s The Scutage and Knight Service in England (1897), a dissertation printed at the University of Chicago Press. Madox’s History of the Exchequer was the standard authority formerly, and is still of use. The view now held was first set forth by J. H. Round in Feudal England (1895). In 1896 appeared the Red Book of the Exchequer (Rolls series), which, with the Testa de Nevill (Record Commission) and the Pipe Rolls (pulblished by the Record Commision and the Pipe Roll Society, is the chief record authority on the subject; but many of the scutages are wrongly dated by the editor, whose conclusions have been severely criticized by J. H. Round in his Studies on the Red Book of the Exchequer (privately issued) and his Commune of London and other Studies (1899). Pollock and Maitland’s History of English Law (1895) should be consulted. M‘Kechnie’s Magna Carta (1905) is of value; and Scargill Bird’s “Scutage and Marshal’s Rolls” in Genealogist (1834), vol. i., is important for the later records.  (J. H. R.)