The Magna Carta Project

The copies of Magna Carta 1216 in the Archives Nationales in Paris and the 1216 Irish Magna Carta

May 2015, by Professor David Carpenter

It has long been known that there are two single sheet copies of Magna Carta 1216 in the Archives Nationales in Paris. This was the first Magna Carta of Henry III, authorised by the Guala, the papal legate, and the regent, William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, at Bristol on 12 November 1216. The two Paris copies are labelled J 655 nos.11 and 31.  Both are copies rather than engrossments since neither bears any sign of having been sealed. One (no.31) indeed lacks the preamble setting out the king’s titles and explaining on whose advice he is acting. It thus starts with chapter 1 on the Church. The other copy (no.11), although it has the full text of the Charter, is written in a more cursive and less formal hand than that found in the only surviving 1216 engrossment at Durham. It is unlikely that it was ever intended to be sealed. Both copies, in terms of their hands (which are different), are compatible with their being written in or soon after 1216. Since it is likely that they have always been part of the French royal archive, they may well have been taken to France by Prince Louis when he left England in 1217.1 No.11 is presently a star exhibit in the great British Library Magna Carta exhibition.

Copy of Magna Carta 1216

Copy of Magna Carta 1216, Archives Nationales MS J655 Angleterre sans date no.11 (currently on display in the British Library's 'Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy' exhibition)

The purpose of this feature is to reveal two hitherto unrecognized or at least unremarked facts about these copies. The first is that no.31 was manifestly copied, less the preamble, from no.11. The second is that the text found in no.11 differs considerably, in terms of minor details, from that of the Durham engrossment. It is in fact much closer to the text of the 1216 Charter sent to Ireland, although lacking, of course, its specific Irish details. It would seem that both derive from a common source.

The charter with the full text (no.11) was printed in Layettes du Trésor des Chartes, ed. A. Teulet and others, 5 vols. (Paris, 1863-1909), I, no.1194.2 A note at the end says that the text of no 31 is identical to that of no.11 save in lacking the preamble. This, however, is not entirely true. Earlier this year, thanks to the good offices of Jean-François Moufflet of the Archives, Elisabeth Lalou and myself were able to examine the two copies side by side and collate them. One striking point quickly emerged. In what is conventionally numbered chapter 7 in the printed texts of the Charter (which all come from the Durham engrossment), a widow is to be allowed to stay in the house of her husband for forty days ‘infra quos ei assignetur dos sua’. No.11, however, by mistake omits here the word ‘dos’. The omission is concealed in the Layettes text since the editors have silently put ‘dos’ in. Now, when the scribe of no.31 came to this point in the Charter, he too omitted ‘dos’, only then immediately to realise his mistake and insert it above the line. There could hardly be clearer proof that he was copying from no.11. There is nothing in the rest of no.31 to contradict this conclusion. It follows no.11 closely even when no. 11’s readings are found in neither the Durham nor Irish versions, as is occasionally the case. Thus in chapter 11, both have ‘de eo’ rather than ‘inde’ while in chapter 34 they have ‘redire’ rather than ‘venire’. Right at the end both place the ‘anno’ before ‘primo’ rather than ‘regni’. There is, however, one curious divergence. No.11 has the charter ‘given’ at ‘Bristoll’’, as do the Durham and Irish versions. But here no.31 seems to break into French and has the charter given at ‘Britou’. Is this because the scribe was a Frenchman?

If the two charters were part of Louis’ archive how had that come about? Why also was there a second copy made? One possibility here, suggested to me by Louise Wilkinson, is that the agent was Elyas of Dereham. In 1216 Elyas was deep in Louis’ counsels.3 Having played a major part in the distribution of the 1215 Charter, he must have been intensely interested in how the Charter was now being revised, and correspondingly keen to obtain a copy. If he intended to circulate the new version within Louis’ party, a backup copy was obviously desirable. At the very least Louis would know what the Henricians were now putting on offer. At the most, might Louis be persuaded to issue his own version of the Charter? If Elyas hoped that, however, he was doomed to disappointment, for there is no evidence that Louis ever did so.  

I now come to the proof that no.11 in the Archives was derived from a 1216 text similar to that on which the 1216 Irish engrossment was based, and different, if only in minor details, from the engrossment at Durham. A word first about the Irish engrossment. It was not despatched to Ireland until February 1217, although since it retains the 12 November 1216 date, it may have been drawn up at the same time as the English version.4 I have suggested elsewhere on this website, although it is hardly a difficult idea to come up with, that it was the brain child of William Marshal.5 His absence in 1225, and also the absence of his son (who does not attest the Charter) helps explain why the initiative was not repeated. The original of the Irish Charter does not survive but it was copied, probably in the reign of Henry III, into ‘The Red Book of the Irish Exchequer’.6 ‘The Red Book’ was destroyed in the Dublin fire of 1922 but fortunately the text of the 1216 Charter had been printed in volume 1 of Thomas Leland’s The History of Ireland (Dublin, 1814) between pp.355-69. It had also, a little earlier, been used by the editors of the first volume of Statutes of the Realm, published in 1810. The Statutes of the Realm text of the Charter came from the Durham engrossment but the variations found in ‘The Red Book’ copy were indicated in the footnotes. The most striking variations, of course, were those which fitted the Charter for Ireland. So we have ‘Irish Church’ rather than ‘English Church’, ‘Dublin’ rather than ‘London’ and so on. The Charter also omitted the chapter on Wales. Beyond this, there are many other minor divergences when it comes to word order and the use or omission of individual words. Now, no.11 follows the Irish Charter in many of these divergences. The instances are too numerous for this simply to be a case of a scribe making similar independent choices. Most striking of all, no.11, like the Irish Charter, omits at the start the name of Roger of Clifford from the list of the king’s counsellors.  I provide below a list of the variations from the Durham engrossment which are found in both the Paris and Irish copies.

This correspondence between no.11 and the Irish Charter shows, therefore, that their texts must go back to some common source, one different from the text in the Durham engrossment. This was presumably either a draft or an engrossment of the 1216 Charter. The Paris and Irish texts are not, however identical. The Paris copy, as we have said, has a few readings found in neither the Durham nor Irish version. These may be down to changes made by the copyist although in general, apart from the omission of ‘dos’, he worked carefully and corrected his errors.7 The Paris copy also sometimes agrees with Durham against Ireland, leaving the latter on its own. The Irish copy thus omits ‘omnibus’ from the first sentence of the Charter , ‘nostris’ after the second ‘heredibus’ in chapter 1,  ‘cum’ and ‘fiat’ from chapter 3, ‘dignitatum’ from chapter 5, ‘sit’ after ‘paratus’ and ‘debiti’ after ‘solutione’ in chapter 9, ‘nobis’ and ‘ipsius’ from the last sentence of chapter 20, and ‘homo’ from chapter 27. It also inserts ‘baronis’ after ‘baronia’ in chapter 2, has ‘reddet’ not ‘reddat’, ‘illam’ not ‘illas’ and ‘custodia’ not ‘custodiis’ in chapter 5,  ‘dilacione’ not ‘difficultate’ in chapter 7, ‘faciat’ not ‘faciet’ in chapter 8, ‘nec’ not ‘nos non’ in chapter 30, ‘gruariis’ not ‘ripariis’ in chapter 36, ‘barones’ not ‘homines’ in chapter 37, and ‘conservent’ not ‘observent’ in chapter 40.

All this may be due to mistakes and alterations made by the scribe who copied the text into ‘The Red Book’. Alternatively, some of the differences could have been in the original engrossment, being either the work of its scribe or drafter, or present in the text which was being adapted. If the latter, it follows that while the Paris and Irish Charters had a common source, different from the Durham engrossment, the text used for the Irish Charter had been altered so that it differed in places from both the Paris and Durham versions. Of particular interest here is chapter 36. In the Irish Charter this freed from enclosure not the ‘river banks’ (‘ripariis’) enclosed by King John, as in the Paris and Durham texts,  but the ‘cranaries’, ‘gruariis’.8 As Henry Summerson’s splendid commentary on chapter 23 of Magna Carta shows, the river banks were the main areas for hawking and cranes were amongst the most favoured targets. It seems unlikely that the copyist of the Charter into ‘The Red Book’ made this change. It was surely there in the original engrossment. And as the change had no particularly relevance to Ireland, it was probably there also in the draft or engrossment which formed the basis for the Irish Charter. There were, therefore, at least three different texts of the 1216 Charter in circulation even before one was adapted for use in Ireland.

A final word about the destination of the 1216 engrossments. There is evidence to suggest that the great majority of the engrossments of the 1215 Charter went to cathedrals.9 Three of the four surviving originals, after all, were certainly kept at cathedrals - at Lincoln, Salisbury and Canterbury. (We do not yet know the home of the fourth). The fact that the only surviving engrossment of the 1216 Charter is at Durham, while copies of the Charter are found in the fourteenth-century York Minster cartularies, may indicate that the same procedure was followed in 1216. On the other hand, Durham may have got its engrossment because its bishop, Richard Marsh, was also the king’s chancellor. The minority government’s attitude was the reverse of King John’s. John had wished to conceal the details of the Charter, the minority government wished to proclaim them. John was sticky about issuing engrossments. The minority government wished to spread their new Charter round the kingdom. The fact, as we have seen, that different versions of the Charter were in circulation is testimony to their efforts. If more originals survived, doubtless more textual changes would be apparent, just as there are differences between all four surviving engrossments of the Charter of 1215. In distributing the Charter, the minority government must above all have targeted leading rebels, hoping they would be tempted back into the king’s camp. Perhaps that was the channel through which Elyas derived his copy, assuming the speculations advanced above are correct. If in 1216 the engrossments, therefore, went chiefly to the rebel leaders it would also help explain why only one survives, the majority being not in enduring cathedral homes but in the hands of barons.

In 1215, the engrossments of the Charter were probably written some by chancery scribes and some by scribes of the bishops who received them. (The Project will offer a full discussion of this issue in due course.) The bishops took a hand because John, in line with his general reluctance to broadcast the Charter, was unwilling to galvanize the chancery into making the effort.10 1216 would have been different, and one may imagine the chancery being put to work with a will. To my eye at least, the hand of the Durham original is the same as that found in the Canterbury Magna Carta of 1215. This would suggest that the scribe was a chancery clerk. This view has, however, yet to be confirmed (or contradicted) by the palaeographical experts!  

As far as I know, the only other copies of the 1216 Charter are the three, evidently derived from a single source, in fourteenth-century York minster cartularies.  I will say something about these copies in a future Feature of the Month.


Magna Carta 1216: places where the Paris and Irish copies differ together from the Durham engrossment11

In the preamble, both omit the name of Roger of Clifford between the names of Walter of Clifford and Robert de Mortimer.

In chapter 1, both refer to the free men ‘de regno nostro’ not ‘Regni nostri’.

In chapter 3, the lord is to have ‘custodiam ipsius’ not ‘custodiam eius’.

In chapter 5, the reading is ‘vivaria’ not ‘vivarios’.

In chapter 7, both omit ‘pro’ before ‘maritagio’, and both include ‘vidua’ after ‘maneat’ and read ‘sit’ not ‘fuerit’.  

In chapter 9, both omit ‘vero’ before ‘vel ballivi’.

In chapter 9, at the end, ‘esse’ follows ‘quietum’ rather than precedes it.

In chapter 10, ‘burgi’ follows ‘ville’ rather than precedes it.

In chapter 13, there is ‘et’ before ‘de ultima presentacione’ and before ‘in die et loco’.

In chapter 15, ‘ipsius’ is missing before ‘delicti’.

In chapter 18, there is ‘debent’ not ‘debet’.

In chapter 21, there is ‘vel’ before ‘respectum’, not ‘aut’.

In chapter 25, there is ‘illorum’ not ‘eorum’.

In chapter 28, there is no ‘et’ before ‘russettorum’.

In chapter 32, there is ‘vel’ before ‘dissaisiatur’ not ‘aut’.

In chapter 34, there is ‘antea’ not ‘ante’.

In chapter 36, at the end, there is ‘sint’ not ‘sunt’.

In chapter 41, the first ‘nos’ is omitted.

In chapter 42, there is ‘et’ before ‘redeundi’ not ‘vel’ and ‘id quod’ not ‘que’ before ‘ad communem’.

In the dating clause, ‘Com’ Penbr’’ is omitted.




This is argued in J. W. Baldwin, ‘Master Stephen Langton, future archbishop of Canterbury: the Paris Schools and Magna Carta’, English Historical Review, 123 (2008), pp.838-42.   . 


The two Paris copies and the Durham engrossment are described in N. C. Vincent, Magna Carta: Origins and Legacy (The Bodleian Library, forthcoming July 2015).


For Elyas, see N. Vincent, ‘Master Elyas of Dereham (d.1245): A reassessment’, in The Church and Learning in Later medieval Society: Essays in Honour of R.B. Dobson, ed. C.M. Barron and J. Stratford (Harlaxton Medieval Studies, XI, 2002), pp. 128-59 and A Hastings, Elyas of Dereham; Architect of Salisbury Cathedral (Much Wenlock, 1997).


Patent Rolls 1216-25, p.31.


D. A Carpenter, ‘The Copies of Magna Carta: The 1216 Magna Carta’. The absence of a 1225 Charter for Ireland may be due to the Marshal’s death and the absence in 1225 of his son, William Marshal, earl of Pembroke. The latter does not attest the 1225 Charter.  


J.F.F. Ferguson, ‘A Calendar of the Contents of the Red Book of the Irish Exchequer’, Proceedings and Transactions of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, 3 (1854), pp.36-8.


Thus when ‘ballivis’ is erroneously repeated in the first line, it is underlined for deletion. A rather botched correction has been made to indicate the age of majority is ‘xxi’ in chapter 3. What looks to have been ‘viribus’ in chapter 4 has been corrected to ‘hominibus’. A correction has been made to ‘clericus’ in chapter 17. A ‘vel’ has been corrected to ‘nec’ in chapter 30.


For some inexplicable reason this difference was missed in Statutes of the Realm but is found in Leland’s transcription.


As first suggested by I. W. Rowlands, ‘The text and distribution of the writ for the publication of Magna Carta, 1215’, English Historical Review, 124 (2009), pp.1422-31.


However, it may have been common for royal charters to be written by scribes supplied by their ecclesiastical beneficiaries.


In discovering the variations in the Irish Charter, I have relied on the footnotes in the Statutes of the Realm edition, although I have checked these against Leland’s printed text. The main place where the two do not agree (in chapter 36) I have referred to above. 

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