The Magna Carta Project

The Cartulary Copies at Lincoln and Salisbury of the Lincoln and Salisbury Engrossments of the 1215 Magna Carta

May 2015, by Professor David Carpenter

Historians have long accepted that four original engrossments of the 1215 Magna Carta remain extant. Two of these belong to cathedrals, those of Lincoln and Salisbury, while the other two were acquired by Sir Robert Cotton in the seventeenth century and are now in the British Library. The British Library Charters are, of course, the jewels in the crown of its great Magna Carta exhibition. For all its work, the Magna Carta Project has been unable to add to these four originals. Nicholas Vincent, it is true, in a striking discovery, has unearthed a new Magna Carta, but it is the Charter of 1225 as contained in Edward I’s confirmation of 1300, not the Charter of 1215. The project, is, however casting new light on both the writing and history of the four 1215 originals. Evidence bearing on ‘who wrote’ Magna Carta will appear in due course. As for the history of the four originals, it has been shown that one of the engrossments in the British Library (that virtually destroyed by nineteenth-century ‘conservation’) was once in the archives of Canterbury cathedral. There it was the source for the copy of the 1215 Magna Carta found in the great cartulary of Canterbury cathedral, known as Register E, a cartulary which dates to the early 1290s.1 Just when the engrossment entered the Canterbury archives we do not know, but it seems highly likely that it went there in 1215 itself.

The purpose of this feature is to show that the engrossments at Lincoln and Salisbury were likewise copied into their cathedral cartularies. Indeed, these copies constitute the earliest absolute proofs that the engrossments were in the possession of the two cathedrals.

In the case of the Lincoln Charter, A.J. Collins pointed to evidence suggesting that Lincoln cathedral had always been ‘its place of domicile’. There was the ‘LINCOLNIA’ written twice on the back, quite probably by the scribe of the Charter itself. On the back there were also press marks - ‘I.j” and ‘XXXV’ – similar to those found on the back of other cathedral deeds. Collins then continued ‘it becomes almost superfluous to add that the Charter was copied into the Lincoln Registrum of about 1330’.2 The Registrum, referred to here, is ‘an enormous register of charters and privileges compiled and written uniformly about 1330’.3 It has the reference Lincoln Dean and Chapter A1/6 and is now held on deposit at the Lincolnshire County Archive Office. The copy of the 1215 charter is found between folios 5v and 7v. Collins did not give precise chapter and verse for his statement and it is unclear whether he or anyone else had actually checked the transcription in the Registrum against the original Charter to see if the two do indeed match up. I have now done that checking and, mercifully, can say that they do. There are several minor points of wording where the Lincoln engrossment differs from the other three originals and the copy of the Charter found in the letters testimonial of the bishops guaranteeing the authentic text. Those divergences all appear in the Registrum copy. I indicate them below. It is, therefore, almost certain that the engrossment was in the archives of Lincoln cathedral around 1330. Very probably it had been there since 1215, being one of the two Charters received by the bishop of Lincoln, Hugh of Wells, on or soon after 24 June 1215, as recorded by the ‘despatch list’ on the dorse of the 1215-1216 patent roll.4

In the case of the Salisbury Charter, Collins pointed out that the word ‘dupplicata’ on the back was found on the back of other Salisbury cathedral charters. The description on the back as to where in the muniments the Charter might be found was also in the Salisbury style. ‘It is difficult to avoid the conclusion’, Collins wrote, ‘that the document had entered the archive very soon, perhaps immediately, after its issue’.5 In making this statement, Collins was unaware of the earliest evidence for the presence of the Charter in the archive. This is found in a copy of the 1215 Charter in a late thirteenth-century cartulary of Salisbury cathedral. The copy seems to have been generally unknown or forgotten until attention was drawn to it by Emily Naish, the archivist of the cathedral, at the recent re-union of all four original engrossments of Magna Carta at the British Library.6 The cartulary, still in the cathedral archives, is known as the ‘Liber Evidentiarum C’. It was apparently compiled before 1284. The latest dated document is from 1273 (f.131v). A document of 1284 (f.153) is clearly an addition.7 The copy of Magna Carta is between folios 5v and 7v. As is well known, there are large numbers of minor differences between the Salisbury Charter and the other three engrossments and the copy in the bishops’ letter. These re-appear in the cartulary copy as I show below. There can, therefore, be little doubt that the copy was made from the Salisbury engrossment. By the same token, that engrossment was in the archives of Salisbury cathedral in the second half of the thirteenth century.

The copies of the 1215 Magna Carta found in the cathedral cartularies of Canterbury, Lincoln and Salisbury are unique in demonstrably coming from original engrossments of the Charter. There was nothing, however, unique in the 1215 Charter being copied, for it is often found both in cartularies and in ‘statute books’, the latter the unofficial collections of legal material made by lawyers. There was evidently little sense that the 1215 Charter was either invalid as quashed by the pope or irrelevant as replaced by the Charter of Henry III. Indeed, in the Lincoln Registrum, as in some other cartularies and statute books, the copy of the 1215 Charter is followed by copies of Henry’s 1225 Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest.8

The numerous copies of the various versions of Magna Carta show that it was far more than a vague symbol of good government. There was great interest in the actual content and a lively, if not always accurate, appreciation of the differences between the various versions. The copying of the 1215 Charter was particularly significant because it kept alive the radical chapters which were omitted in the watered down Charters of Henry III. The 1215 Charter thus proclaimed that taxation needed the common consent of the kingdom and defined the assembly which might give it. It was to this chapter that the barons appealed in 1255 when they thought parliament had been improperly summoned.9 The 1215 Magna Carta also had the famous security clause empowering twenty-five barons to enforce the Charter with the assistance of ‘the commune of all the land’. As Nigel Saul has shown, this chapter seemed particularly relevant to the politics of the late fourteenth century.10 It may also have influenced the schemes of reform in 1258.

The 1215 Charter had a particular relevance to the Church. Chapter 1 did not merely set the Church free. It also, as a testimony to John’s good faith, drew attention to his charter guaranteeing freedom of episcopal and abbatial elections, a charter, as the chapter went on to say, which had been confirmed by Pope Innocent III.11 This section of the chapter was omitted from the later versions. How it was nonetheless valued by churchmen can be seen in the copy of the 1215 Charter at Salisbury. There a marginal comment, in a later hand, drew attention to this clause: ‘libera electio fuit concessa ecclesie anglicane per Johnannem Regem anglie et confirmata per papam Innocentium tercium’. There is a similar note in a later hand in the margin of the Lincoln copy: ‘de libertate electionum concessa ecclesie anglicane per Johannem Regem anglie’. These notes, almost the only ones in the margins of the two copies, show, of course, that the Charter was being read.

The importance of the Charter to the Church can also be seen in the way it is described in the Canterbury, Lincoln and Salisbury cartulary copies. At Canterbury, in Register E, the copy comes in a section dealing with ecclesiastical liberties. The words ‘Carte regum anglie | De libertate ecclesiastica’ appear in red at the top of the folios which contain the copy of the Charter. In the Lincoln Registrum, the heading to the Charter, likewise red, is ‘Carta de iuribus et libertatibus ecclesie Anglicane et regni Anglie’. This echoed the contemporary description on the back of the engrossment: ‘Concordia inter Regem Johannem et Barones per concessionem libertatum ecclesie et regni anglie.’

The heading in the Salisbury cartulary, likewise in red, is particularly interesting. It runs

Carta Johnannis Regis anglie de reconciliatione facta sancte ecclesie anglicane et baronibus regni de legibus regni conservandis et de omnibus consuetudinibus et libertatibus comitum,12 baronum, militum et libere tenencium inviolabiliter observandis et specialiter de libertate ecclesie et de mensuris ulnarum lagenarum perticarum in regno anglie discurrencium et aliis.

Charter of John, King of England, concerning the reconciliation made to the holy English Church and the barons of the kingdom concerning the preservation of the laws of the kingdom and the observation inviolably of all customs and liberties of earls, barons, knights and free tenants, and especially concerning the liberty of the Church and concerning measures of ells, gallons and perches current in the kingdom of England and other matters.

Here again there is the emphasis on the liberties of the Church, although combined with a proper recognition of the social range of the other beneficiaries – earls, barons, knights and free tenants. The heading, by stopping with free tenants and not continuing with ‘and all the men of the kingdom’, recognized that the liberties had only been granted to the free. The reference to the Charter being ‘inviolably’ observed made the point that it was still valid. What is unique, as far as I know, is the way the heading drew attention to chapter 35 of the Charter on weights and measures. This was presumably because of the great importance of Salisbury’s market to the prosperity of the town.13 Since the heading must have been written before the Charter was copied out, it shows the scribe was already familiar with its contents.

One final point about the Salisbury copy. Does it explain the ‘dupplicata’ written in a later hand on the back of the engrossment? As Collins noted this is found on the back of other Salisbury charters, the obvious meaning being that in some way the charters in question have been duplicated. In one case ‘dupplicata’ seems to mean that there are two engrossments of the same charter. Thus the archives have two engrossments, both still with their seals, of a charter issued by Richard II on 13 July 1378. Both have ‘dupplicata hec carta’ written on the back.14 Could then ‘dupplicata’ on the Salisbury Magna Carta indicate that the cathedral had more than one engrossment?! One remembers that the bishop of Lincoln is known to have received two 1215 engrossments, although one of these may well have been for his brother, the bishop of Bath and Glastonbury.15 On balance, it seems unlikely, given the paucity of engrossments in 1215, that Salisbury had two originals of Magna Carta. A more likely scenario is that at some point a single sheet copy was made of the 1215 Charter. Indeed, in the cathedral archives there is just such a copy, with ‘copia’ written on the back, of a charter of Henry II.16 A different hypothesis again is that ‘dupplicata’ refers to the copy in the cartulary. The Henry II charter, of which there is the ‘copy’, is itself found in the cartulary, which would explain why ‘dupplicata’ on its back appears to have been altered to indicate that it had in fact been triplicated.17 Admittedly, if the cartulary copy is the explanation for ‘dupplicata’ on the Salisbury Magna Carta, there was no consistency in the use of the term, for far from all the original charters copied into the cartulary have ‘dupplicata’ written on their back.  The whole question awaits a full examination of the material in the Salisbury archives.  


The idiosyncrasies of the Lincoln Magna Carta and Registrum copy as measured against the other three engrossments and the copy in the letters testimonial of the bishops18

In chapter 6, both omit ‘tamen’ after ‘ita’.

In chapter 25, both omit ‘et’ before ‘hundredi’.  

In chapter 29, both have ‘exercitum’ not ‘exercitu’. 

In chapter 34, both have ‘possit amittere’ not ‘amittere possit’.  

In chapter 41, both omit ‘et’ before ‘morari’.  

In chapter 48, both have ‘prius sciamus’ not ‘sciamus prius’.19


The idiosyncrasies of the Lincoln Magna Carta and the copy in ‘Liber Evidentiarum’ as measured against the other three engrossments and the copy in the letters testimonial of the bishops

In chapter 14, both have ‘aliter assidendo’ not ‘assidendo aliter’.

In chapter 23, both start ‘Nulla’ rather than ‘Nec’.

In chapter 28, both have ‘capiet’ not ‘capiat’.

In chapter 29, both have ‘in exercitum fuerit’ not ‘fuerit in exercitum’.20

In chapter 30, both have ‘capiet’ not ‘capiat’.

In chapter 31, bot have ‘illius’ not ‘ipsius’.

In chapter 32, both omit ‘de’.

In chapter 35, both omit ‘mensura’ before ‘cervisie’.

In chapter 40, both have ‘vel’ in place of the second ‘aut’.

In chapter 45, both insert ‘vel’ before ‘constabularios’.

In chapter 48, both insert ‘nos’ after the ‘si’ at the end.

In chapter 52, both have ‘fiet’ not ‘fiat’.

In chapter 55, at the end, both have ‘substituentur’ not ‘substituantur’.

In chapter 57, both omit ‘elongatus’ and have ‘Walensis’ not ‘Walensium’.

In chapter 57 at the end, both have ‘Wallie’ not ‘Walensium’. The copy, however, reads ‘per’ not ‘secundum’ as found in the engrossment and the other texts.

In chapter 59, both have ‘eius’ not ‘ipsius’.

In chapter 60, both place ‘observent’ after ‘pertinet’.

In chapter 61, both read ‘firma et integra’ not ‘integra et firma’.

In chapter 61, both place ‘et’ before ‘petent’.

In chapter 61, both have ‘justiciariis nostris’ not ‘justiciario nostro’.

In chapter 61, both place ‘predictis’ after ‘noluerint jurare’. The other versions omit it.

In chapter 62, both omit the name of Henry, archbishop of Dublin.

In chapter 62, at the end, both have ‘illa’ not ‘ista’.

In chapter 63, both place ‘omnes’ after ‘concessiones’ and omit ‘et’ after ‘bene’.



D. A. Carpenter Magna Carta (London, 2015), pp.477-80. For the cartulary, see G.R.C. Davis, C. Breay, J. Harrison and D.M. Smith, Medieval Cartularies of Great Britain and Ireland (London, 2010), no.168.


A. J. Collins, ‘The documents of the Great Charter 1215’, Proceedings of the British Academy, xxxiv (1948), p.264-5.


The Registrum Antiquissimum of the Cathedral Church of Lincoln: volume I, ed. C. W. Foster (Lincoln Record Society, 27, 1910), pp.xli-ii. Canon Foster was here quoting from a note by Mr H. Bradshaw.


RLP, p.180b.


One might add that the rips in the vellum made almost certainly by wrenching off the seal are similar to those found in a charter of Henry III dated 23 March 1227: Salisbury cathedral archives P4/ C3/ 8.


I am most grateful to Emily Naish for help in the cathedral archives.


For this cartulary, see Davis, Breay, Harrison and Smith, Medieval Cartularies, no.869. There is no copy of Magna Carta (or any other public document) in another Salisbury cartulary: London Inner Temple, 511.18 (Davis, Breay, Harrison and Smith, Medieval Cartularies, no.868.) This cartulary dates to before 1272.


I have not checked but presumably the copy of the Forest Charter comes from the original preserved at Lincoln. There is no original at Lincoln of the 1225 Magna Carta so the source of the copy is not known. It is printed in full from the Registrum copy in Registrum Antiquissimum, no.221. The Forest Charter is printed from the original as no.220. The original of the 1217 Forest Charter at Lincoln (Registrum Antiquissimum, no.219) does not seem to have been copied.


Matthaei Parisiensis, Monachi Sancti Albani, Chronica Majora, ed. H.R. Luard, 7 vols. (Rolls Ser., 1872–83), v, 520-1; J. R. Maddicott, The Origins of the English Parliament 924-1327 (Oxford, 2010), pp. 198-9, 471.


N. E. Saul, 'Feature of the Month: March 2015 - Magna Carta and the Politics of the Reign of Richard II', The Magna Carta Project[  accessed 17 May 2015].


For the Freedom of Election charter, see K. Harvey, 'Feature of the Month: August 2014 - The Freedom of Election Charter', The Magna Carta Project[  accessed 17 May 2015] and King John's diary for 16-22 November 1214: N. C. Vincent, 'King John's Diary & Itinerary', The Magna Carta Project[ accessed 17 May 2015].


In the margin besides ‘comitum’ there is an indecipherable word in red ink in the same hand apparently as the heading. It is just possible it stands for ‘Runnymede’.


This emerges very clearly in V. Jansen, ‘Displacements at Medieval Salisbury, Old Sarum and Wilton’, in Studies in Gothic Art, Liber Amicorum Paul Crossley, 2 vols., eds. Z. Opačić and A. Timmermann (Turnhout, 2011), i, pp.35-46.


Salisbury cathedral archives P4/ C2/ 1a and 1b.


In the margin of the Salisbury copy a later hand has drawn attention to the form ‘Bath and Glastonbury’. Subsequent bishops were, of course, bishops of Bath and Wells.


Salisbury cathedral archives P4/ C2/ 32 for the original sealed charter and for the copy P4/ C2/ 36.  


On the back of another Henry II charter, ‘dupplicata’ has been crossed out and ‘triplicata’ written above it: P 4/ C2/ 2/. There is a copy of this charter in the cartulary but no other copy to explain the triplication.


In my Magna Carta, the Latin text of the Charter between pp.36-69 is that of the Lincoln Charter. The differences with the other engrossments and the copy in the bishops’ letters are noted in the footnotes.


The copy by a mistake at the end has ‘Julii’ not ‘Junii’


Lincoln here has ‘exercitu’.

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