Authored by Simon Black via SovereignMan.com,
During the summer of 1215 in a riverfront meadow near London, some of England’s top barons gathered to confront King John and force him to sign a contract guaranteeing their rights and freedoms.
The contract became known as the Magna Carta. And one of its key provisions (#43) gave the Barons protection against something called ‘escheat’.
In medieval times, ‘escheat’ referred to the property being forcibly passed to the King if its original owner died without heirs.
So if a Baron passed away without a son, his domain would pass by escheat back to the crown.
Over time, kings vastly expanded the use of escheat; anyone convicted of a crime would have their property seized by escheat. Occasionally someone’s son or daughter could be pressed into servitude by escheat.
It was like a medieval version of Civil Asset Forfeiture: the King took whatever he wanted, for any reason, and people had no rights.
By 1215, England’s noblemen were sick and tired of it, and they successfully forced King John to sign the Magna Carta.
Unfortunately for the other 99.9% of England’s population, most of the Magna Carta’s guarantees only applied to Barons and other noblemen.
Plain ole’ regular serfs still had their meager property plundered by the King, and by the noblemen themselves who had just fought to preserve their own rights at the expense of everyone else’s.
So if a feudal serf in England died without an heir, or was convicted of a crime, all his property was escheated to the local Lord, or to the King.
This became such big business in England that the government appointed special agents called ‘escheators’ in every single English county to oversee property confiscation every time someone passed away.
If there was any doubt at all whether or not the deceased had valid heirs, the escheator would seize the property immediately.
Amazingly enough, this ...