The Magna Carta Project

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Original Latin

Johannes Dei gratia rex Angliae, dominus Hyberniae, dux Normanniae et Aquitanniae, comes Andegaviae, archiepiscopis, episcopis, abbatibus, comitibus, baronibus, justiciariis, forestariis, vicecomitibus, praepositis, ministris et omnibus ballivis et fidelibus suis salutem. Sciatis nos intuitu Dei et pro salute animae nostrae et omnium antecessorum et haredum nostrorum, ad honorem Dei et exaltationem sanctae ecclesiae, et emendationem regni nostri, per consilium venerabilium patrum nostrorum, Stephani Cantuariensis archiepiscopi totius Angliae primatis et sanctae Romanae ecclesiae cardinalis, Henrici Dublinensis archiepiscopi, Willelmi Londoniensis, Petri Wintoniensis, Joscelini Bathoniensis et Glastoniensis, Hugoni Lincolniensis, Walteri Wygornensis, Willelmi Coventrensis, et Benedicti Roffensis episcoporum; magistri Pandulfi domini papae subdiaconi et familiaris, fratris Eymerici magistri militiae Templi in Anglia; et nobilium virorum Willelmi Mariscalli comitis Penbrociae, Willelmi comitis Saresberiae, Willelmi comitis Warenniae, Willelmi comitis Arundelliae, Alani de Galweya constabularii Scottiae, Warini filii Geroldi, Petri filii Hereberti, Huberti de Burgo senescalli Pictaviae, Hugonis de Nevilla, Mathei filii Hereberti, Thomae Basset, Alani Basset, Philippo de Albiniaco, Roberti de Roppel, Johannis Mariscalli, Johannis filii Hugonis et aliorum fidelium nostrorum:

John by God’s grace king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, reeves, officers and all bailiffs and subjects, greeting. Know that for the sake of God and for the salvation of our soul and the souls of all our forebears and heirs, to the honour of God and the advancement of holy church, and the reform of our kingdom, by the counsel of our venerable fathers Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England and cardinal of the holy Roman church; Henry, archbishop of Dublin; Bishops William of London, Peter of Winchester, Joscelin of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh of Lincoln, Walter of Worcester, William of Coventry and Benedict of Rochester; Master Pandulf, subdeacon and confidant of the lord pope, Brother Eymeric, master of the Knights Templar in England; and the noble men William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, William, earl of Salisbury, William, earl of Warenne, William, earl of Arundel, Alan of Galloway, constable of Scotland, Warin fitzGerold, Peter fitzHerbert, Hubert de Burgh, seneschal of Poitou, Hugh de Neville, Matthew fitzHerbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip d’Aubigny, Robert of Ropsley, John Marshal, John fitzHugh, and others of our subjects:

Audio commentary

Referenced in

The 1215 Magna Carta (The Copies of Magna Carta)

John grants freedom of election (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

I

In primis concessisse Deo et hac praesenti carta nostra confirmasse, pro nobis et haeredibus nostris in perpetuum, quod Anglicana ecclesia libera sit, et habeat jura sua integra, et libertates suas illaesas; et its volumus observari; quod apparet ex eo quod libertatem electionum, quae maxima et magis necessaria reputatur ecclesiae Anglicanae, mera et spontanea voluntate, ante discordiam inter nos et barones nostros motam, concessimus et carta nostra confirmavimus, et eam obtinuimus a domino papa Innocentio tertio confirmari; quam et nos observabimus et ab haeredibus nostris in perpetuum bona fide volumus observari. Concessimus etiam omnibus liberis hominibus regni nostri, pro nobis et haeredibus nostris in perpetuum, omnes libertates subscriptas, habendas et tenendas, eis et haeredibus suis, de nobis et haeredibus nostris.

1

We have first of all granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed, for ourselves and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church is to be free, and to have its full rights and its liberties intact, and we wish this to be observed accordingly, as may appear from our having of our true and unconstrained volition, before discord arose between us and our barons, granted, and by our charter confirmed, the freedom of elections which is deemed to be the English Church’s very greatest want, and obtained its confirmation by the lord pope Innocent III; which we will ourselves observe and wish to be observed by our heirs in good faith in perpetuity. And we have also granted to all the free men of our kingdom, for ourselves and our heirs in perpetuity, all the following liberties, for them and their heirs to have and to hold of us and our heirs.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

Clause 60 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

Drama and jokes at Bury St Edmunds (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

II

Si quis comitum vel baronum nostrorum, sive aliorum tenentium de nobis in capite per servitium militare, mortuus fuerit, et cum decesserit haeres suus plenae aetatis fuerit et relevium debeat, habeat haereditatem suam per antiquum relevium; scilicet haeres vel haeredes de baronia comitis integra per centum libras; haeres vel haeredes baronis de baronia integra per centum libras; haeres vel haeredes militis de feodo militis integro per centum solidos ad plus; et qui minus debuerit minus det secundum antiquam consuetudinem feodorum.

2

If any of our earls or barons, or others holding in chief of us by knight service, shall die and his heir at his decease shall be of full age and owes a relief, he is to have his inheritance by the old relief: that is, for the heir or heirs of an earl £100 for the whole barony of the earl; the heir or heirs of a baron £100 for the whole barony; the heir or heirs of a knight 100 shillings at the most for a whole knight’s fee; and anyone owing less is to give less according to the ancient custom of fees.

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Original Latin

III

Si autem haeres alicujus talium fuerit infra aetatem et fuerit in custodia, cum ad aetatem pervenerit, habeat haereditatem suam sine relevio et sine fine.

3

If, however, the heir of any of the above shall be under age and in wardship, when he comes of age he is to have his inheritance without a relief and without a fine.

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Original Latin

IV

Custos terrae hujusmodi haeredis qui infra aetatem fuerit, non capiat de terra haeredis nisi rationabiles exitus et rationabiles consuetudines, et rationabilia servitia, et hoc sine destructione et vasto hominum vel rerum; et si nos commiserimus custodiam alicujus talis terrae vicecomiti vel alicui alii qui de exitibus illius nobis respondere debeat, et ille destructionem de custodia fecerit vel vastum, nos ab illo capiemus emendam, et terra committatur duobus legalibus et discretis hominibus de feodo illo, qui de exitibus respondeant nobis vel ei cui eos assignaverimus; et si dederimus vel vendiderimus alicui custodiam alicujus talis terrae, et ille destructionem inde fecerit vel vastum, amittat ipsam custodiam, et tradatur duobus legalibus et discretis hominibus de feodo illo qui similiter nobis respondeant sicut praedictum est.

4

The guardian of the land of such an heir who is under age is not to take from the heir’s land more than reasonable issues, customs and services, and this without destruction and waste of either men or goods. And if we have committed the wardship of any such land to a sheriff or anyone else who ought to answer to us for its issues, and he shall inflict destruction or waste upon the wardship, we will take amends from him, and the land is to be entrusted to two law-abiding and discreet men of that fee, who are to answer for the issues to us or to the person to whom we have assigned them; and if we have given or sold to anyone the wardship of any such land, and he has destroyed or wasted it, he is to lose that wardship, which is to be entrusted to two law-abiding and discreet men of that fee, who likewise are to answer to us as aforesaid.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

John writes from La Rochelle, pleading for reinforcements (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

V

Custos autem, quamdiu custodiam terrae habuerit, sustentet domos, parcos, vivaria, stagna, molendina, et cetera at terram illam pertinentia, de exitibus terrae ejusdem; et reddat haeredi, cum ad plenam aetatem pervenerit, terram suam totam instauratam de carrucis et wainnagiis secumdum quod tempus wainnagii exiget et exitus terrae rationabiliter poterunt sustinere.

5

But as long as the guardian has the wardship of the land he is to maintain buildings, parks, fishponds, pools, mills and other things appertaining to the land, out of the issues of the same; and when the heir comes of age, he is to hand all his land over to him, stocked with ploughs and growing crops, according to what the agricultural season requires and the issues of the land can reasonably sustain.

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Original Latin

VI

Haeredes maritentur absque disparagatione, ita tamen quod, antequam contrahatur matrimonium, ostendatur propinquis de consanguinitate ipsius haeredis.

6

Heirs are to be married without disparagement, provided that before the marriage is agreed upon the heir’s near kin are informed.

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Original Latin

VII

Vidua post mortem mariti sui statim et sine difficultate habeat maritagium et haereditatem suam, nec aliquid det pro dote sua, vel pro maritagio suo, vel haereditate sua quam haereditatem maritus suus et ipsa tenuerint die obitus ipsius mariti, et maneat in domo mariti sui per quadraginta dies post mortem ipsius, infra quos assignetur ei dos sua.

7

After the death of her husband a widow is to have her marriage portion and inheritance immediately and without difficulty, nor is she to give anything for her dower, or for her marriage portion, or for the inheritance which she and her husband held on the day of his death, and she may remain in her husband’s house for forty days after his death, during which she is to be assigned her dower.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

John deals with Loretta de Braose and Isaac of Norwich (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

VIII

Nulla vidua distringatur ad se maritandum dum voluerit vivere sine marito, ita tamen quod securitatem faciat quod se non maritabit sine assensu nostro, si de nobis tenuerit, vel sine assensu domini sui de quo tenuerit, si de alio tenuerit.

8

No widow is to be distrained to marry while she wishes to live without a husband, as long as she gives security that she will not marry without our consent, if she holds of us, or without the consent of her lord of whom she holds, if she holds of someone else.

Referenced in

John writes from La Rochelle, pleading for reinforcements (The Itinerary of King John)

The regency government of Peter des Roches (The Itinerary of King John)

John grants freedom of election (The Itinerary of King John)

John deals with Loretta de Braose and Isaac of Norwich (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

IX

Nec nos nec ballivi nostri seisiemus terram aliquam nec redditum pro debito aliquo, quamdiu catalla debitoris sufficiunt ad debitum reddendum; nec pleggii ipsius debitoris distringantur quamdiu ipse capitalis debitor sufficit ad solutionem debiti; et si capitalis debitor defecerit in solutione debiti, non habens unde solvat, pleggii respondeant de debito; et, si voluerint, habeant terras et redditus debitoris donec sit eis satisfactum de debito quod ante pro eo solverint, nisi capitalis debitor monstraverit se esse quietum inde versus eosdem pleggios.

9

Neither we nor our bailiffs are to seize any land or rent for any debt, as long as the debtor’s chattels suffice to pay the debt. Nor are the debtor’s pledges to be distrained as long as the principal debtor has enough to pay the debt. And if the principal debtor defaults on the payment of the debt, not having the means to pay it, the pledges are to answer for it, and if they wish they are to have the debtor’s lands and rents until they have been satisfied for the debt which they previously paid for him, unless the principal debtor shows that he is quit with regard to the pledges.

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Commentary for general audience

Under King John, royal policy towards landowners owing money to the crown became unprecedentedly severe, with the exchequer increasingly prepared to seize the lands not only of men who owed the king money, but also of those who had guaranteed its payment. In a society which was founded upon land tenure, such measures constituted a threat to status, as well as to livelihood, and aroused widespread resentment, which inevitably increased as more and more people were caught up in the processes of the exchequer, either as principals or as the latter’s pledges. Clause 9 did not forbid the practices complained of, but it placed firm constraints upon their use against principal debtors, in particular by providing that chattels were to be seized before land was confiscated. And it also gave protection to sureties by ordering that nothing was to be taken from them until the resources of principal debtors were exhausted, and by ordering that when they were obliged to pay the debts they had underwritten – as it is clear that they sometimes were – then they were to be able to secure repayment from the men whose obligations they had shouldered, if necessary by being put in possession of his lands and rents. More generally, the clause attempted to bring order to the processes whereby debts were recovered, which in John’s hands, in particular, were inconsistently applied in accordance with the king’s immediate interests or personal whim.

Referenced in

Clause 49 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

Clause 55 (The 1215 Magna Carta)


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Original Latin

X

Si quis mutuo ceperit aliquid a Judaeis, plus vel minus, et moriatur antequam debitum illud solvatur, debitum non usuret quamdiu haeres fuerit infra aetatem, de quocumque teneat; et si debitum illud inciderit in manus nostras, nos non capiemus nisi catallum contentum in carta.

10

If anyone has taken a loan from Jews, great or small, and dies before the debt is paid, the debt is not to incur interest for as long as the heir is under age, whoever he may hold from. And if the debt comes into our hands, we will take only the principal recorded in the charter.

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Commentary for general audience

Clauses 10, like Clause 11 immediately following it, was concerned with the effects of indebtedness to Jews (Clause 11 also dealt with debts owed to other people). In the 150 years since the Norman Conquest, Jews had gained an effective monopoly of credit transactions in England, primarily because they were not forbidden, as Christians were, to lend money at interest.  Their role as money-lenders, with the high interest rates they usually charged, along with their religious practice, made them deeply unpopular, and they needed the protection which only the king could provide.  That protection came at a high price, however, and King John, in particular, made very heavy demands on English Jews, demands which the Jews had no choice but to pass on to those who owed them money.  Eventually, indeed, John took to acting himself as a collector of Jewish debts, the more readily because many of these had in various ways come into his hands.  He taxed the Jews very heavily, and also pursued the debts owed to them, in ways which came to be greatly resented, but John persevered in his policies until Magna Carta attempted to impose limited restraints on them.  That it did not do more in this respect may have been due to an acceptance by the barons that the relationship of the Jews with the king was such as to rule out any more extensive interference with it, as well to an appreciation that Jews had financial skills which made them indispensable to England’s economic life.

Referenced in

John deals with Loretta de Braose and Isaac of Norwich (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XI

Et si quis moriatur, et debitum debeat Judaeis, uxor ejus habeat dotem suam, et nihil reddat de debito illo; et si liberi ipsius defuncti qui fuerint infra aetatem remanserint, provideantur eis necessaria secundum tenementum quod fuerit defuncti, et de residuo solvatur debitum, salvo servitio dominorum; simili modo fiat de debitis quae debentur aliis quam Judaeis.

11

And if anyone dies, and owes a debt to Jews, his wife is to have her dower and pay nothing towards that debt. And if there are surviving children of the deceased who are under age, their needs are to be provided for them in proportion to the dead man’s tenement, and the debt is to be paid from the residue, saving the service owed to the lords. Debts owed to others besides Jews are to be dealt with in like manner.

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 11, like Clause 10 immediately before it, was concerned with the effects of indebtedness, primarily to Jews but also to other people.  In the 150 years since the Norman Conquest, Jews had gained an effective monopoly of credit transactions in England, primarily because they were not forbidden, as Christians were, to lend money at interest.  Their role as money-lenders, with the high interest rates they usually charged, along with their religious practice, made them deeply unpopular, and they needed the protection which only the king could provide.  That protection came at a high price, however, and King John, in particular, made very heavy demands on English Jews, demands which the Jews had no choice but to pass on to those who owed them money.  Eventually, indeed, John took to acting himself as a collector of Jewish debts, the more readily because many of these had in various ways come into his hands.  He taxed the Jews very heavily, and also pursued the debts owed to them.  Although direct evidence for the practices condemned by Clause 11 is very scarce, it is at least possible to see widows who owed money to Jews taking steps to protect their dowers, and also being harassed for debts formerly owed to Jews by their husbands.  The king’s exactions were greatly resented, but John persevered in his policies until Magna Carta attempted to impose limited restraints on them.  That it did not do more in this respect may have been due to an acceptance by the barons that the relationship of the Jews with the king was such as to rule out any more extensive interference with it, as well to an appreciation that Jews had financial skills which made them indispensable to England’s economic life.

Referenced in

John deals with Loretta de Braose and Isaac of Norwich (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XII

Nullum scutagium vel auxilium ponatur in regno nostro nisi per commune consilium regni nostri, nisi ad corpus nostrum redimendum, et primogenitum filium nostrum militem faciendum, et ad filiam nostram primogenitam semel maritandam, at ad haec non fiat nisi rationabile auxilium; simili modo fiat de auxiliis de civitate Londoniarum.

12

No scutage or aid is to be imposed in our kingdom except by the common counsel of our kingdom, unless for the ransoming of our person, and knighting of our first-born son, and for marrying, once, our first-born daughter, and for these only a reasonable aid is to be taken. Aids from the city of London are to be treated in like manner.

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 12 represented a determined attempt by the barons to establish control over two of the most important of King John’s methods of taxation, by insisting that they were only to be taken with their own consent, since they claimed the right to speak for the kingdom at large.  It is arguable that the two levies were too different to be satisfactorily dealt with together.  Aids constituted one form of the assistance which lords were entitled on occasion to demand from their tenants and men, and except in certain circumstances (increasingly limited to those defined in Clause 12) it was increasingly accepted that they should be taken only with the consent of the people concerned.  Scutage, on the other hand, was traditionally taken in commutation of military service as and when the king decided, and was subject to no such constraints.  But John himself failed to make clear distinctions between the taxes he imposed, thereby justifying the barons in doing the same.  Moreover developments in political thinking in the years around 1200, which led to the king placing greater stress on the public good as justification for his demanding a tax, could similarly be used by the barons as grounds for resisting one.  In the end it seems to have been decided that aids and scutage could not be appropriately treated as effectively synonymous, and reissues of Magna Carta from 1217 onwards dealt only with scutage, but the basic principle of Clause 12, that taxation was not to be imposed without consent, survived intact.

Referenced in

The Leges Edwardi Confessoris (Features of the Month)


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Original Latin

XIII

Et civitas Londoniarum habeat omnes antiquas libertates et liberas consuetudines suas, tam per terras, quam per aquas. Praeterea volumus et concedimus quod omnes aliae civitates, et burgi, et villae, et portus, habeant omnes libertates et liberas consuetudines suas.

13

And the city of London is to have all its ancient liberties and free customs, both on land and water. Moreover we wish and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns and ports are to have all their liberties and free customs.

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Commentary for general audience

Magna Carta would not have been granted withoutLondon’s intervention; it was the city’s rejection of King John and its opening of its gates to the rebellious barons which put the latter in a position to impose conditions on the king. Clause 13 was the most important of the concessions whichLondonreceived in return. Although it had been granted charters by Richard I and John, conceding self-government under its mayor, the city often found the rule of the three Angevin kings oppressive, as they exploited its wealth but did their best to restrict its freedom, despite their grants of charters. John’s exactions ultimately drove the Londoners into the arms of his enemies. All overEnglandcities and towns grew in size and prosperity during the twelfth century, a development regarded with suspicion by the crown and the ruling order generally. Clause 13, which was unspecific in what it gave toLondonand other towns, was as important in its acknowledgement that they now constituted a significant factor within the body politic, as it was for the actual concessions it contained.

Referenced in

Clause 60 (The 1215 Magna Carta)


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Original Latin

XIV

Et ad habendum commune consilium regni, de auxilio assidendo aliter quam in tribus casibus praedictis, vel de scutagio assidendo, summoneri faciemus archiepiscopos, episcopos, abbates, comites, et majores barones, sigillatim per litteras nostras; et praeterea faciemus summoneri in generali, per vicecomites et ballivos nostros, omnes illos qui de nobis tenent in capite; ad certum diem, scilicet ad terminum quadraginta dierum ad minus, et ad certum locum; et in omnibus litteris illius summonitionis causam summonitionis exprimemus; et sic facta summonitione negotium ad diem assignatum procedat secundum consilium illorum qui praesentes fuerint, quamvis non omnes summoniti venerint.

14

And in order to have the common counsel of the kingdom for the levying of an aid, other than in the three instances aforesaid, or for the levying of scutage, we are to cause the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls and greater barons to be summoned individually by our letters; and moreover we are to have a general summons made, through our sheriffs and bailiffs, of all who hold in chief of us; for a fixed day, at least forty days thence, and at a fixed place. And in all the letters of summons we are to set out its cause. And after the summons has thus been made the business is to go forward on the appointed day according to the counsel of those present, even if not all those summoned have come.

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 14 was a necessary complement to Clause 12.  The latter had declared that aids and scutages, John’s principal forms of taxation, were only to be taken with `the common consent of our kingdom’.  Clause 14 set out who was to give such counsel and how they were to be assembled.  It envisaged a two tier system, as was probably traditional, with the greatest men, lay and ecclesiastical, receiving individual summonses, and the rest – ultimately everyone who held land directly from the crown – being convoked through general summonses announced by royal officials, probably in county courts.  Several hundred people might have gathered to discuss proposals for taxation.  This was in stark contrast with John’s usual methods of government.  He did sometimes hold formal assemblies which had been arranged well in advance, but usually preferred ad hoc decision-making, after informal consultations with a relatively small number of agents and courtiers, most of whom were regularly in his entourage.  Even at meetings described as councils, these men – most of them named in a celebrated list of `evil counsellors’ drawn up by the chronicler Roger of Wendover in 1211 – seem to have dominated proceedings, which also tended to be short, seldom lasting more than a day or two.  Claims in documents issued after these gatherings, that they were the result of deliberations involving many important men, are very seldom borne out by the records of attendance on these occasions.  On the whole John preferred to keep away from all but a very few of the magnates, both socially and in affairs of state.  In 1215 the magnates, and those immediately below them, responded by forcing themselves into the king’s counsels.  In 1216 Clause 14, along with Clause 12, was put to one side for further discussion, and it was then dropped from all the later reissues of Magna Carta, probably because once King John had died its provisions had ceased to be controversial.


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Original Latin

XV

Nos non concedemus de cetero alicui quod capiat auxilium de liberis hominibus suis, nisi ad corpus suum redimendum, et ad faciendum primogenitum filium suum militem, et ad primogenitam filiam suam semel maritandam, at ad haec non fiat nisi rationabile auxilium.

15

We are not to grant in future that anyone may take an aid from his free men, except for the ransoming of his person, and the knighting of his first-born son, and the marrying, once, of his first-born daughter, and for these there is to be only a reasonable aid.


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Original Latin

XVI

Nullus distringatur ad faciendum majus servitium de feodo militis, nec de alio libero tenemento, quam inde debetur.

16

No person is to be distrained to do more service for a knight’s fee, or for another free tenement, than is owed for it.

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 16 was intended to prevent King John exploiting his rights so as to demand more service or money than was due to him in his capacity of feudal overlord, that is, as the man from whom all the land in the realm was ultimately held.  The king’s exactions were felt in the first instance by tenants-in-chief, who held their estates directly from the crown, but the concession embodied in Clause 16 was also capable of extension to the tenants of the prelates and barons who took the lead in obtaining it, upon whom by transference the king’s demands also fell, and who might in addition hope to find protection in it against inordinate claims by their lords.  The rights which the king was seen as misusing were not easy to define, however, which explains the clause’s failure to be precise as to exactly what it was trying to forbid.  The services concerned were primarily military ones.  There is plentiful evidence for John’s commuting these for money at unduly high rates, for his taking money from men who did not owe him such services at all, and also for his arranging that men who owed him money should pay him by providing soldiers whose wages would cost them more than the payment of their debts would have done.  A different, though related, grievance arose from repeated summonses to perform military service overseas, which was deeply unpopular and which gave rise to protests, and then resistance.  The issue was complicated by the king’s undoubted right, indeed duty, to call his subjects to arms if the safety of the realm was threatened.  But eventually John’s exactions proved intolerable.  The issue of service provided a good deal of the fuel for the baronial rebellion of 1215, and led to efforts to bring it under control in Magna Carta itself.


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Original Latin

XVII

Communia placita non sequantur curiam nostram sed teneantur in aliquo loco certo.

17

Common pleas are not to follow our court but are to be held in some fixed place.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

The regency government of Peter des Roches (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XVIII

Recognitiones de nova dissaisina, de morte ancestoris, et de ultima praesentatione, non capiantur nisi in suis comitatibus et hoc modo; nos, vel, si extra regnum fuerimus, capitalis justiciarius noster, mittemus duos justiciarios per unumquemque comitatum per quatuor vices in anno, qui, cum quatuor militibus cujuslibet comitatus electis per comitatum, capiant in comitatu et in die et loco comitatus assisas praedictas.

18

Recognitions of novel disseisin, mort d’ancestor and darrein presentment are not to held except in the counties concerned, and in this manner: we, or our chief justiciar if we are outside the kingdom, are to send two justices through every county four times in the year, who with four knights of each county chosen by that county court, are to hear those assizes in the county court, and on the day and at the place of the meeting of the county court.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

The regency government of Peter des Roches (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XIX

Et si in die comitatus assisae praedictae capi non possint, tot milites et libere tenentes remaneant de illis qui interfuerint comitatui die illo, per quos possint judicia sufficienter fieri, secundum quod negotium fuerit majus vel minus.

19

And if those assizes cannot be held on the day of the county court, as many knights and free tenants are to remain out of those who were present on that day of the county court [as are needed] for the sufficient making of judgments, according to whether the business is great or small.

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Original Latin

XX

Liber homo non amercietur pro parvo delicto, nisi secundum modum delicti; et pro magno delicto amercietur secundum magnitudinem delicti, salvo contenemento suo; et mercator eodem modo salva mercandisa sua; et villanus eodem modo amercietur salvo wainnagio suo, si inciderint in misericordiam nostram; et nulla praedictarum misericordiarum ponatur, nisi per sacramentum proborum hominum de visneto.

20

A free man is not to be amerced for a small offence except in proportion to the nature of the offence, and for a great offence he is to be amerced in accordance with its magnitude, saving to him his livelihood, and a merchant in the same manner, saving to him his stock in trade, and a villein is to be amerced in the same manner, saving to him his growing crops, if they fall into our mercy. And none of the aforesaid amercements is to be imposed except by the oath of trustworthy men of the vicinity.

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Commentary for general audience

The financial penalties known as amercements featured prominently among the consequences of encounters with government in England in the years around 1200, especially for anyone caught up in proceedings in royal courts.  Although they became increasingly standardised, and it had long been accepted, at least in principle, that penalties for wrong-doing should not be imposed at rates out of all proportion to the offence, they could still be ruinous for those the king and his agents particularly wished to punish.  Substantial sums were sometimes exacted by King John in the earlier years of his reign (as they had been under Henry II and Richard I), while a nationwide visitation by so-called `autumnal justices’ in the summer of 1210 resulted in heavy penalties being imposed on leading members of society in every county, usually for ill-defined offences.  The sums demanded were often large even when they had been reduced by half, as many of them were, and a number of the men targeted in 1210 rebelled in 1215/16.  Although John was aware of the resentment such levies aroused, he continued to exploit the processes of justice to the utmost.  Clause 20 was the result.  Not only did it reiterate the principle of proportionality, but it also upheld another long-standing practice, whereby amercements were assessed by the neighbours of offenders rather than by royal officers.  No doubt it was felt that this would moderate the penalties imposed.  Clause 20 was unique in Magna Carta in extending the protection it afforded to free men not only to merchants but also to villeins.  Although its drafters were mainly concerned to protect the interests of the latter’s lords, who would lose by the impoverishment of the people who worked their lands, the provision still constitutes striking evidence for the way the demands of John’s government could impact upon the whole of agrarian society.

Referenced in

Clause 60 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

John grants freedom of election (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XXI

Comites et barones non amercientur nisi per pares suos, et non nisi secundum modum delicti.

21

Earls and barons are not to be amerced except by their peers, and not except in proportion to the nature of the offence.

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Clause 21 is a follow-up to Clause 20.  Both dealt with the imposition of amercements (monetary penalties), but whereas Clause 20 extended right across society, to free men, merchants and villeins, its sequel was concerned only with the rights of earls and barons - a small number of wealthy and powerful people.  In the early thirteenth century ranks and titles were still in flux, and the word `baron’, in particular, could still be a synonym for tenant-in-chief, someone holding lands directly from the crown, and may also have been sometimes applied to a royal servant.  But however defined, the punishment of such men’s transgressions was reserved to the king and his officers, which usually meant that it was handled in the exchequer.  The result could be a heavy penalty, assessed in proportion to an offender’s means rather than to his offence.  This was equally true of amercements as such, and of many fines which, though they were supposedly negotiated settlements, were in reality punishments, agreed to by their victims as a way of recovering the king’s favour.  The magnates wanted treatment that would be fairer in itself, and also special in accordance with their status, at a time when they were beginning to form a separate stratum in society. But they hardly achieved this, for the leading officials in the exchequer were also known as barons, and during the thirteenth century it came to be accepted that these men were the peers of the magnates, at any rate when it came to assessing the latter’s amercements, which therefore remained effectively under the king’s control.

Referenced in

Clause 55 (The 1215 Magna Carta)


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Original Latin

XXII

Nullus clericus amercietur de laico tenemento suo, nisi secundum modum aliorum praedictorum, et non secundum quantitatem beneficii sui ecclesiastici.

22

No cleric is to be amerced in respect of his free lay tenement, except in the same way as the others aforesaid, and without regard to the value of his ecclesiastical benefice.

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Clause 22 extended to the secular clergy – essentially parish priests and cathedral chapters staffed by canons – the conditions laid down in Clause 20 under which free men, merchants and villeins were, and were not, to be amerced (in modern parlance, fined).  In effect, all were to be treated in the same way, with amercements being assessed by neighbours, and at rates which did not endanger the livelihoods of those condemned to pay them.  For a cleric, this meant that his specifically ecclesiastical property – basically the land on which his church was built and without which it could not operate – was to be exempted from assessment, as it was from lay jurisdiction.  In fact land which was held in return for purely spiritual services did come to be subject to royal demands, but these were made through bishops rather than secular officials, and were probably not pressed as hard as they were against the laity.  During John’s reign, however, the king’s urgent need for money, and also his quarrel with the church after 1206 over the appointment of a new archbishop of Canterbury, led to very heavy demands being made on the wealth of the clergy.  John’s excommunication in 1209, in particular, and the withdrawal of most of the bishops which followed it, left the English church largely defenceless against royal exactions, and resulted in nearly all the dioceses being placed in the hands of royal officers who were rarely concerned to preserve distinctions between lay and ecclesiastical revenues, but exploited both to the utmost.  Clause 23 aimed to restore that distinction, as well as to ensure fair treatment for the clergy in other respects.


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Original Latin

XXIII

Nec villa nec homo distringatur facere pontes ad riparias, nisi qui ab antiquo et de jure facere debent.

23

Neither township nor man is to be distrained to make bridges over rivers, except those who should of old and rightfully do so.

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Clause 23 was concerned with an abuse of royal rights, whereby communities near rivers might be compelled to provide makeshift bridges when the king went out hawking.  The birds pursued by his falcons were most likely to be found on or near rivers, and his enjoyment of his sport might depend on his being able to cross quickly from one bank to another.  Although some communities lay under a long-standing obligation to provide such bridges, it appears to have been widely extended during the twelfth century.  All the Angevin kings were keen falconers, John as much as any, and unlike Henry II and Richard I he spent years at a time in England, travelling widely and taking his birds with him – he sometimes went hawking on saints’ days, and then felt obliged to give food to poor people as penance for having done so.  He appointed officials to look after rivers where he went hawking, and later evidence shows that these were found in many parts of England.  By John’s reign it would appear that the penalty for failing to provide a bridge had become fixed at five marks (£3. 6s. 8d.), and that it was imposed on the spot.  Both the practice, and the large and arbitrary penalties resulting from it, were clearly greatly resented, as injurious not only to villagers but also to their lords, who risked being punished if their tenants did not supply the bridges demanded from them.  Clause 23 did not deny that the king could legitimately require bridges to be built at certain places, but aimed to curtail what seems to have become a limitless extension of this right.

Referenced in

The copies of Magna Carta 1216 (Features of the Month)

King John’s Lost Language of Cranes (Features of the Month)


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Original Latin

XXIV

Nullus vicecomes, constabularius, coronatores, vel alii ballivi nostri, teneant placita coronae nostrae.

24

No sheriff[s], constable[s], coroners or other of our bailiffs are to hold the pleas of our crown.

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The term `pleas of the crown’ covered a number of royal rights, but fundamental to them was the king’s jurisdiction over serious crimes (homicide, arson, rape etc.), and it was with this that Clause 24 was primarily concerned.  In the period immediately after the Norman Conquest such crimes had usually been dealt with in the county court, where the sheriff presided, but the twelfth century saw a steady reduction in his powers.  Justice was increasingly administered by professionals appointed from Westminster, and new controls were created, notably the office of coroner, to increase efficiency and to prevent corruption, with its attendant loss of revenue by the king, on the part of sheriffs and their subordinates.  But there were still areas of uncertainty, particularly where theft was concerned, and sheriffs could still sometimes exercise jurisdiction over matters from which they had usually come to be excluded.  In the last years of John’s reign, when the judicial system came under increasingly heavy pressure, their importance as royal agents not only allowed them to exploit their powers at the expense of those they governed, in ways which included dealing with matters arising from pleas of the crown, but they were also employed by the king as justices in judicial visitations which were largely money-raising enterprises.  The result was a blanket prohibition on the employment of sheriffs, and all other local officials, in the hearing of crown pleas, one which was maintained thereafter.


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Original Latin

XXV

Omnes comitatus, hundredi, wapentakii, et trethingii, sint ad antiquas firmas absque ullo incremento, exceptis dominicis maneriis nostris.

25

All counties, hundreds, wapentakes and ridings are to be at their old farms, without any increment, except for our demesne manors.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

The regency government of Peter des Roches (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XXVI

Si aliquis tenens de nobis laicum feodum moriatur, et vicecomes vel ballivus noster ostendat litteras nostras patentes de summonitione nostra de debito quod defunctus nobis debuit, liceat vicecomiti vel ballivo nostro attachiare et inbreviare catalla defuncti inventa in laico feodo, ad valentiam illius debiti, per visum legalium hominum, ita tamen quod nihil amoveatur, donec persolvatur nobis debitum quod clarum fuerit; et residuum relinquatur executoribus ad faciendum testamentum defuncti; et, si nihil nobis debeatur ab ipso, omnia catalla cedant defuncto, salvis uxoris ipsius et pueris rationabilibus partibus suis.

26

If anyone holding a lay fee of us dies, and the sheriff or a bailiff of ours shows our letters patent of summons for a debt which the dead man owed us, it is to be lawful for the sheriff or our bailiff to attach and record the chattels of the deceased found on the lay fee to the value of the debt, by the view of law-abiding men, so that nothing is to be removed thence, until the clear debt is paid to us; and the residue is to be relinquished to the executors to carry out the testament of the deceased; and if nothing is owed us by him, all the chattels are to go to the deceased, but reserving their rightful shares to his wife and children.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 26 is concerned with debts owed to the king when they died by tenants-in-chief – men (as they nearly always were) who held their lands directly from him, and therefore included many of his leading subjects – and with how what was left when those debts had been paid was disposed of. The way in which government deals with the possessions of the recently-deceased has probably always been a sensitive issue. In the years around 1200 it was made much more so by the imprecise state of the law, which made it easy for kings and their officers to take too much, to keep more than they should of what they had taken, and to interfere with bequests. Hence the stress on formal summonses and record-keeping, intended to ensure that those affected should know both what was owed and what was subsequently removed by way of payment. The existing procedures had clearly put the heirs and dependents of the deceased at a severe disadvantage, with the result that they often found it necessary to bargain with the king in order to keep sheriffs and bailiffs off their lands, which might otherwise be stripped of goods and crops even though little or nothing was in fact owing.

The right to make a testament (in modern parlance, a will), and to have it observed, was one that the barons had been seeking for over a century. Early in his reign John declared that bishops were entitled to dispose of their goods and chattels in this way, but though he does not seem to have tried to prevent laymen from making testamentary bequests, many still felt obliged, or found it prudent, to pay for a right which they had come to feel entitled to. By the early thirteenth century it had become customary for the moveable property (not the lands) of a dead layman to be divided into three equal parts, of which two were reserved for his wife and children, while the third was expected to be devoted to pious works for the salvation of his soul. In a religious age, any interference with this process was likely to be keenly resented. The barons did not object to the principle that the king should be able to recover what he was owed by those who died in debt to him, rather they aimed to bring order to the procedures involved, and to prevent their becoming a means of extortion.


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Original Latin

XXVII

Si aliquis liber homo intestatus decesserit, catalla sua per manus propinquorum parentum et amicorum suorum, per visum ecclesiae distribuantur, salvis unicuique debitis quae defunctus ei debebat.

27

If any free man shall die intestate, his chattels are to be distributed by his nearest kinsmen on both sides of his family, under the supervision of the church, but saving to everyone the debts which the dead man owed him.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 27, dealing with intestacy, was an appropriate sequel to Clause 26, which provided for the execution of free men’s testaments after their debts to the king had been paid, by stipulating how the goods of men who had died intestate, having made no testament at all, were to be disposed of. Making a testament – which was concerned with movable goods, whereas a will directed what was to be done with landed property – was by the early thirteenth century increasingly seen as a religious obligation, whereby a dying man bequeathed a third of his goods for the salvation of his soul (the other two thirds were reserved for his widow and children). But although it became established that intestacy was an offence against God’s law, attempts in the years around 1170 to make it an infringement of the king’s law as well came to nothing, and it was increasingly regarded as something to be dealt with by the church. Paradoxically, the most notable exceptions to this rule were bishops who died intestate. References to either King John or his predecessors taking the goods of intestates are scanty and often ambiguous, so that it is not surprising that Clause 27 was dropped from later reissues of Magna Carta, or that after 1215 intestacy became very largely an ecclesiastical concern.


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Original Latin

XXVIII

Nullus constabularius, vel alius ballivus noster, capiat blada vel alia catalla alicujus, nisi statim inde reddat denarios, aut respectum inde habere possit de voluntate venditoris.

28

No constable or other bailiff of ours is to take anyone’s corn or other chattels, unless he pays cash for them immediately, or obtains respite of payment with the consent of the seller.

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 28 was one of a group of clauses which were principally concerned with the manning and supplying of royal castles, and with the abuses which these processes might entail.  In this instance, the malpractices complained of were associated with purveyance, the procedure whereby the royal household was entitled to maintain itself by taking goods from the neighbourhoods through which it passed, against a promise of future repayment.  Purveyance gave rise to a great deal of corruption, and was profoundly unpopular, the more so as it increasingly came to be extended to the upkeep of castles as well as to that of the king’s mobile court.  His control of a considerable number of castles was fundamental to the regime of King John, who spent a good deal of money on them.  Their garrisons were usually small, but they were not only occupied by soldiers – those in county towns, in particular, also housed the sheriff and his staff, along with prisoners and hostages.  Consequently they generated a steady demand for supplies, while as the danger of civil war grew in the last years of the reign, garrisons were built up, leading to a greater use of purveyance to maintain them; once the fighting began, the rebels stocked their own castles in the same way.  Through its insistence that officials must pay cash down for whatever they took, Clause 28 was intended to remedy a widely felt grievance, and probably also to limit the number of soldiers the king was able to retain.  But by conceding that payment for goods could be deferred with their owner’s consent, it left the way open for abuses to continue.

Referenced in

Clause 29 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

Clause 30 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

Clause 30 (The 1215 Magna Carta)


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Original Latin

XXIX

Nullus constabularius distringat aliquem militem ad dandum denarios pro custodia castri, si facere voluerit custodiam illam in propria persona sua, vel per alium probum hominem, si ipse eam facere non possit propter rationabilem causam; et si nos duxerimus vel miserimus eum in exercitum, erit quietus de custodia, secundum quantitatem temporis quo per nos fuerit in exercitu.

29

No constable is to distrain any knight to give money instead of performing castle-guard, if he is willing to perform that guard in person, or, if he is unable to do it for a satisfactory reason, through another reliable man. And if we have led or sent him in the army, he is to be quit of castle-guard in proportion to the time he is in the army at our behest.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

Like its predecessor, Clause 29 was concerned with abuses originating in castles, and above all royal ones (it was capable of being applied to baronial fortresses as well, but that was probably not its primary purpose). Castle-guard, essentially garrison duty, was one of the services which men holding lands by knight tenure might be called upon to perform for their lords. It was by no means universal (it was never used to man the Tower of London, for instance), and by the early thirteenth century it had become usual for it to be commuted for cash, enabling those to whom the service was due to hire mercenaries instead. The rates of commutation were probably increased sharply in the years leading up to Magna Carta, as the king strengthened his castles and reinforced their garrisons. Stipulating that men willing to perform castle-guard in person should be allowed to do so curbed a method of extorting money, and it also gave the tenants concerned a potential role in the manning of royal castles which could have resulted in their being able to control them, or at least to reduce their trustworthiness, to John’s disadvantage. Straightforward financial issues probably lay behind Clause 29’s second provision. A knight could be required to serve in the king’s army and also in his castles, and performing the one service did not exempt him from the other – no doubt he had either to hire a substitute or pay cash in commutation for the service he did not perform, at rates imposed at the whim either of the king or of the officials charged with collecting the money. After 1215 the amount of castle-guard he was called upon to provide was reduced in proportion to the time he spent with the army.


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Original Latin

XXX

Nullus vicecomes, vel ballivus noster, vel aliquis alius capiat equos vel caretas alicujus liberi hominis pro cariagio faciendo, nisi de voluntate ipsius liberi hominis.

30

No sheriff, or bailiff of ours, or anyone else is to take any free man’s horses or carts for transporting things, except with the free man’s consent.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 30 was another clause directed against misconduct by officials, pre-eminently royal ones, but possibly (the reference to `anyone else’ is ambiguous) baronial ones as well. In protecting the horses and carts of free men (and nobody else) against arbitrary seizure, it aimed to prevent the undue exploitation of the crown’s ancient privilege of purveyance (also restricted by Clauses 28 and 31) – its right to take goods it needed against only a promise of future repayment. In this case the goods in question were the means of transport, in the shape of horses and carts. Armies had to have the means to move their supplies, as did the court as it travelled around the country. King John was an exceptionally mobile ruler, and also a rapid one, thanks to the increasing use of horses rather than oxen for the transport of goods. In the period immediately before Magna Carta, moreover, he and his agents oversaw a large-scale programme of restocking castles, as a precaution against rebellion. The king’s need of horses and carts was accordingly constant and great, but his ability to commandeer them was highly unpopular, not least because the promised repayment was not always adequate, if, indeed, any was made. Restricting John’s ability to take the means of transport would bring an abuse under control and also reduce the king’s military effectiveness. The barons aimed only at restriction, however, not abolition, and horses and carts continued to be taken after 1215, albeit with further restrictions added to the texts of Clause 30 in 1216 and 1217.


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Original Latin

XXXI

Nec nos nec ballivi nostri capiemus alienum boscum ad castra, vel alia agenda nostra, nisi per voluntatem ipsius cujus boscus ille fuerit.

31

Neither we nor our bailiffs are to take another man’s wood to a castle, or on other business of ours, except with the consent of the person whose wood it is.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 31 was the fourth and last in a sequence intended to prevent abuses of power by officials, especially royal ones and particularly where castles were concerned. Castles were essential to the maintenance of the king’s authority, and they needed a great deal of timber. Some, indeed, were entirely made of it. Henry II and his sons not only exploited to the full the rights which forest law gave them, they also felled large numbers of trees on lands forfeited by rebels or the estates of vacant bishoprics, when these came into their hands, and moreover they appear to have claimed the privilege of taking timber needed for the upkeep of their fortresses from nearby woods, regardless of who owned them – the evidence for this practice consists mainly of exemptions from it, which were very rarely granted, showing how important it was to the crown. Although the evidence is meagre, it is clear that King John maintained the pressure on his subjects’ woods, and intensified it in the later years of his reign, as the danger of rebellion grew and his castles needed strengthening. It aroused resentment in itself, while curbing it also had the effect (like a number of other clauses) of weakening the king militarily. But the barons did not try to abolish the king’s right to take timber for his castles, only to make it subject to consent.

Referenced in

Clause 30 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

Clause 30 (The 1215 Magna Carta)


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Original Latin

XXXII

Nos non tenebimus terras illorum qui convicti fuerint de felonia, nisi per unum annum et unum diem, et tunc reddantur terrae dominis feodorum.

32

We will hold the lands of those convicted of felony for only a year and a day, and then the lands are to be surrendered to the lords of the fees.

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 32 was concerned with the disposal of the lands of free men who had been convicted, either in court or (through the process of outlawry) in their absence, of the serious crimes known as felonies. By the early thirteenth century it had become established, probably after much debate, that such lands should be held by the king for a year and a day, and then be restored to the lord or lords from whom the felon had held them, though only after royal officials had first removed everything on them, down to the houses and trees. But there was always the danger that the king, who had usually occupied such lands from the time the felon first came under suspicion, would also hold onto them after his or her conviction. There are signs of Henry II acting thus, and clearer evidence for its happening under King John. Not only did he occasionally arrange for lands which had reverted to their lords to be granted out again by them to servants of his own, but on a number of occasions he took money from lords for returning to them lands forfeited by their tenants, sometimes explicitly after the estates in question had been in the king’s hand for more than the prescribed period. In several cases the process of recovery was delayed while an inquest was held, to ensure that the king had received his due from the lands, not to safeguard the interests of their lords. The sums involved were often modest (though £30 was paid on one occasion), but none should have been given at all. Those affected could be magnates – the earl of Devon in one case – but many were relatively humble landowners, again showing how far down free society John’s fiscal measures could have an effect, and be resented accordingly.


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Original Latin

XXXIII

Omnes kydelli de cetero deponantur penitus de Thamisia, et de Medewaye, et per totam Angliam, nisi per costeram maris.

33

All fish-weirs are in future to be entirely removed from the Thames and the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea-coast.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 33 is unusual, in that it demanded action to remedy an abuse apparently unconnected with the actions of the king or his agents.  Mainly intended to benefit the city of London, it was extended to cover the whole of England, in ordering the removal of fish-weirs from rivers  In the form complained of, they had probably been relatively recently introduced from the Continent.  Substantial V-shaped structures of wood and sometimes stone, which were set in riverbeds to catch fish by guiding them into central baskets or nets, they proliferated in the Thames, where they helped to provide food for London’s growing population, and also to meet the needs of the devout who ate fish instead of meat on the numerous religious fast-days.  But they also constituted serious obstructions to river craft, and hence to trade, both upstream and downstream of the city, and presumably hindered navigation on other rivers as well.  The explicit exclusion of coastal weirs from Clause 33 was no doubt principally due to their being usually less likely to obstruct shipping than riverine ones, but it may also reflect the fact that secular and ecclesiastical magnates were the likeliest owners of such devices along the shores.


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Original Latin

XXXIV

Breve quod vocatur Praecipe de cetero non fiat alicui de aliquo tenemento unde liber homo amittere possit curiam suam.

34

The writ called Praecipe is not in future to be issued to anyone for any tenement in respect of which a free man could lose his court.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

The regency government of Peter des Roches (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XXXV

Una mensura vini sit per totum regnum nostrum, et una mensura cervisie, et una mensura bladi, scilicet quarterium Londoniense, et una latitudo pannorum tinctorum et russetorum et halbergettorum, scilicet duae ulnae infra listas; de ponderibus autem sit ut de mensuris.

35

There is to be one measure of wine throughout our kingdom, and one measure of ale, and one measure of corn, namely the quarter of London, and one breadth of dyed, russet and haberget cloths, that is, two ells within the borders; and let weights be dealt with as with measures.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

Uniformity of weights and measures was something English kings had been trying to achieve since well before the Norman Conquest, in attempts to overcome local variations which hindered the effectiveness of government and hampered trade. It was an uphill struggle, and even very recent efforts sometimes failed. The clauses relating to the measuring of cloth in an enactment of 1196 were abandoned in 1202, while King John’s attempt to fix the price of wine in 1199 met so much resistance that this, too, was given up. But although such initiatives could be intrusive or over-ambitious, it would appear that inLondon, in particular, they represented aspirations that were generally welcome. In fact Clause 35 was one of the elements in Magna Carta which instead of pointing to resistance to recent developments in governmental practice, show that there was a demand for more of it. Its recommendation for weights was vague, and nothing was said about prices, but it demonstrates that where measures were concerned the interests of the crown and of English merchants coincided.

Referenced in

The Copies at Lincoln and Salisbury of the 1215 Magna Carta (Features of the Month)


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Original Latin

XXXVI

Nihil detur vel capiatur de cetero pro brevi inquisitionis de vita vel membris, sed gratis concedatur et non negetur.

36

Nothing is to be given or taken in future for a writ for an inquest concerning life or members, but it is to be given without payment and not denied.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

In the late twelfth century jury trial began to replace trial by ordeal as the principal method of proof in the king’s courts in criminal cases. The process whereby accusations of serious crimes, for which conviction might result in hanging or mutilation, were decided by juries’ verdicts was a slow and uneven one, however, and took time to become settled. The most important agency in this development was the writde odio et atia(`of hatred and spite’), which was ostensibly intended to discover whether an accusation had been made maliciously, but which was often used to decide simply whether an accused man or woman was guilty or not. This writ may not have been precisely identical with the `writ of life or members’ referred to by Magna Carta, but it often served the same purpose. Writs of this kind could be expensive, and might even be refused altogether. Clause 36 was intended to bring order into the process of securing jury trial for those who wanted it, and seems to have been largely successful.


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Original Latin

XXXVII

Si aliquis teneat de nobis per feodifirmam, vel per sokagium, vel per burgagium, et de alio terram teneat per servitium militare, nos non habebimus custodiam haeredis nec terrae suae quae est de feodo alterius, occasione illius feodifirmae, vel sokagii, vel burgagii; nec habebimus custodiam illius feodifirmae, vel sokagii, vel burgagii, nisi ipsa feodifirma debeat servitium militare. Nos non habebimus custodiam haeredis vel terrae alicujus, quam tenet de alio per servitium militare, occasione alicujus parvae sergenteriae quam tenet de nobis per servitium reddendi nobis cultellos, per sagittas, vel hujusmodi.

37

If anyone holds of us by fee-farm, socage or burgage, and holds of someone else by knight service, we will not have the wardship of his heir, or of the land which forms part of the other man’s fee, by reason of that fee-farm, socage or burgage; nor will we have the wardship of that fee-farm, socage or burgage, unless the fee-farm owes knight service. We will not have the wardship of the heir, or of anyone’s land which he holds of someone else by knight service, by reason of some petty serjeanty which he holds of us by the service of rendering us knives or arrows and the like.

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 37 was concerned with wardship, and with the ways in which a king could exploit his particular rights in it.  All lords had the right to wardship – the custody of the heir, and property, of a free tenant, when that heir was a minor – and the king was no exception.  But his rights were more extensive, since what was known as his `prerogative wardship’ gave him the right to the custody during a minority not only of the land which a tenant-in-chief had held land directly from the crown, but also of all the property which such a tenant had held of other lords.  The fact that by the early thirteenth century there was a variety of tenures under which men could hold land freely, that they were often confused with one another, and that they could be unstable and liable to change, created opportunities for the exercise of prerogative wardship which Magna Carta aimed to restrict.  (That the drafters of Magna Carta clearly found it difficult to produce a satisfactory text of this Clause is a pointer to the complexity of the basic issues.)  Although a passage in Clause 53 suggests that there were opponents of King John hostile to prerogative wardship as such, Clause 37 did not attempt to abolish it, only to limit its application.  Actual evidence for its exploitation is limited, and cases can be more often suspected than demonstrated.  But the abbot of Bury St Edmunds was recorded as expressing anxiety about its impact under Richard I, and King John was sufficiently aware of its effects to be willing to remit them when he wanted to grant a favour.  The  widespread inquests into tenures which he ordered in 1212 may have been partly organised with an extension of prerogative wardship in mind, and have aroused fear for the same reason. The resentment provoked by John’s pursuit of this right is shown by Clause 37 itself, in which the king was compelled to renounce his claims to the wardship of lands which sub-tenants had held by knight service from other lords, if he had no other justification than that they had also held land from himself by non-military services.

Referenced in

John moves toward the March (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XXXVIII

Nullus ballivus ponat de cetero aliquem ad legem simplici loquela sua, sine testibus fidelibus ad hoc inductis.

38

No bailiff is in future to put anyone to law by his accusation alone, without trustworthy witnesses being brought in for this.


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Original Latin

XXXIX

Nullus liber homo capiatur, vel imprisonetur, aut dissaisiatur, aut utlagetur, aut exuletur, aut aliquo modo destruatur, nec super eum ibimus, nec super eum mittemus, nisi per legale judicium parium suorum vel per legem terrae.

39

No free man is to be arrested, or imprisoned, or disseised, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any other way ruined, nor will we go against him or send against him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 39, one of only four from the version of Magna Carta issued in 1215 still to be found upon the statute book, was intended to place constraints upon the crown’s executive powers by subjecting them to law, as that was determined either by judgment of peers – that is, by a man’s social equals – or by the law of land, a phrase covering alternative methods of proof like the ordeal or trial by battle.  Its benefits were specifically restricted to the free, it was not intended for serfs.  Medieval thought contrasted law with will, but the two were not easily separated, especially under powerful, and also unpredictable, rulers like Henry II, Richard I and John.  The actions of those kings were many times recorded as arising from their anger or malevolence, and their victims were often among the great men of the realm (the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 is the best-known example), but could also be found at much lower social levels.

 

The coercive powers at the crown’s disposal were great, and when due process was followed their exercise was perfectly lawful.  King John made full use of them, to raise money, to discipline and to punish, but all too often without regard to legality.  The most effective weapon in his armoury, and the one he most often used, was disseisin, deprivation of land, which, moreover, was often accompanied by the removal of everything on a sequestrated property.  The evidence shows that it was used against free men and women of all ranks and for all kinds of offences, serious and insignificant alike.  Slowness in paying a debt, an infringement of forest law, simply provoking the king’s anger – all could lead to dispossession.  Supplementing disseisin were the other forms of coercion listed by Clause 39, ranging from arrest and imprisonment to physical destruction (probably comprehended within the term `ruined’).  All were deployed at the will of the king, for instance to extract money from English Jews or to browbeat the clergy during the Interdict.  A government violent in its actions was no less violent in its use of words, and indeed was sometimes so indiscriminate in its measures that it lost track of its reasons for taking them, and had to find out what they were, or to correct actions carried out by mistake.  The sheer extent of the power at the king’s disposal made injustice easy for him to inflict, but hard for those who suffered from it to remedy.  There are signs that demand for legal remedy was growing even before Magna Carta imposed one, while the rebels of 1215/16 included many who had suffered from the kinds of wrongs which Clause 39 aimed to prevent.  Its solution, an insistence on the observance of due process before any kind of coercive action was taken, constituted an important step towards the separation of law from government.

Referenced in

Papal Letters of 19 March (Features of the Month)

Clause 60 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

John grants freedom of election (The Itinerary of King John)

'by the law of our realm or by judgment of their peers' (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XL

Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus, aut differemus, rectum aut justiciam.

40

We will not sell, or deny, or delay right or justice to anyone.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 40 is the shortest in the whole of Magna Carta – just nine Latin words. But it covered a wide range of judicial activity, along with the king’s capacity to exploit and misuse it. Essentially it required the king to step back from the position of advantage which he had long occupied in his capacity as the realm’s supreme upholder of law and provider of justice, a position which had, indeed, become potentially more advantageous in the late twelfth century thanks to Henry II’s reforms and innovations. Instead he was to forego the opportunities which it gave him to manipulate the administration of justice to harm his enemies and benefit both his friends and himself.

The ways in which Henry II and his sons used the processes of the law to their own political, administrative or financial advantage can be seen most clearly in the case of King John, not least because the records from his reign are much fuller than those from the time of his two predecessors. They show him taking a close interest in the proceedings of his courts (one of which, the court coram rege, originated in his reign and very possibly on his own initiative), and provide evidence for his capacity for the creative and disinterested administration of justice. However, the uneven development of legal processes in the years on either side of 1200 meant that great lords (essentially tenants-in-chief, holding their lands directly from the crown) did not yet have access to all the legal remedies available to lesser men, which in turn gave the king a good deal of latitude in his handling of disputes between them. Although John did not always take advantage of this, there were occasions when he did so. He could be partisan in his decisions, or take money to favour one side at the expense of the other, and he might use his control of the courts as an instrument of revenge – in 1210 he was said to have ordered his officials to deny justice to the Cistercian abbots who had just refused him a grant of money. In some cases involving powerful men, political considerations were allowed to take precedence over legal ones. Robert FitzWalter and Fulk FitzWarin, who both later rebelled aganst the king, both appear to have suffered in this way, either losing inherited property and rights or having to pay for what should have been theirs for nothing. In the dispute in 1200 between two important Yorkshire barons, William de Mowbray and Robert de Stuteville, John accepted proffers of money from both parties and then presided over a settlement highly favourable to Stuteville, but still required Mowbray to pay what he had promised. An action over land in Cumberland ended in 1206 when the defendants, Robert de Courtenay and his wife, proffered over £200 for the disputed property, whereupon the plaintiff, Alexander of Caldbeck, abandoned the case, `as it does not please the king that he should have it.’.

John’s weakness in the administration of justice, as in so many things, was his lack of consistency. He was capable of providing good justice, and often did so, but his impartiality could never be relied on. There are signs that in the early thirteenth century the idea of objective justice, administered without regard to the interests of the king who controlled its processes, was gaining ground, not least among the royal justices. Clause 40 (which is still on the statute book) constituted an important step towards the eventual realisation of that process.

Referenced in

Clause 46 (The 1215 Magna Carta)


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Original Latin

XLI

Omnes mercatores habeant salvum et securum exire de Anglia, et venire in Angliam, et morari et ire per Angliam, tam per terram quam per aquam, ad emendum et vendendum sine omnibus malis toltis, per antiquas et rectas consuetudines, praeterquam in tempore gwerrae, et si sint de terra contra nos gwerrina; et si tales inveniantur in terra nostra in principio gwerrae, attachientur sine dampno corporum et rerum, donec sciatur a nobis vel capitali justiciario nostro quomodo mercatores terrae nostrae tractentur, qui tunc invenientur in terra contra nos gwerrina; et si nostri salvi sint ibi, alii salvi sint in terra nostra.

41

All merchants are to be safe and secure in departing from and coming to England, and in their residing and movements in England, by both land and water, for buying and selling, without any evil exactions but only paying the ancient and rightful customs, except in time of war and if they come from the land against us in war. And if the latter are found in our land at the outbreak of war, they are to be attached without harm to their bodies and goods, until we or our chief justiciar know how merchants of our own land, who are then found in the land against us in war; are being treated, and if ours are safe there, the others are to be safe in our land.

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 41 was principally a concession to the city ofLondon, which by opening its gates to the rebellious barons on 17 May 1215 made it at least temporarily impossible for King John to resist their demands for sweeping reforms.

The reigns of Richard I and of John himself had seen heavy new customs duties imposed on merchants trading to and fromEngland, while the wars of both kings against Philip II ofFranceand his allies led to frequent restrictions on the movement of people and goods. Under this clause, foreign merchants were to be able to trade freely withEngland, paying only the traditional customs on the goods they imported and exported. In times of war they were to be treated in the same way that English merchants were treated in the hostile territories. Clause 41 remained in force after 1215, and seems to have been generally observed.

Referenced in

Clause 60 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

The regency government of Peter des Roches (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XLII

Liceat unicuique de cetero exire de regno nostro, et redire, salvo et secure, per terram et aquam, salva fide nostra, nisi tempore gwerrae per aliquod breve tempus, propter communem utilitatem regni, exceptis imprisonatis et utlagatis secundum legem regni, et gente de terra contra nos gwerrina, et mercatoribus de quibus fiat sicut praedictum est.

42

It is to be lawful in future for every man to depart from our kingdom, and to return to it, safely and securely, by land and water, saving our allegiance, except in time of war for some short time, for the sake of the common utility of the kingdom, [and] excepting those imprisoned and outlawed according to the law of the kingdom, and people from the land against us in war, and merchants who are to be dealt with as aforesaid.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 42 complemented Clause 41, extending the freedom of movement granted in the latter to merchants to the rest of the king’s subjects. The king’s right to control movements to and from England, facilitated by its being an island, went back at least to the eleventh century, and perhaps much earlier. It is probably not an accident that a large proportion of the surviving evidence for the implementation of this right relates to churchmen, members of an international community whose dealings with Rome, as the seat of a higher power than the king’s, often had the potential to be detrimental to royal authority. The quarrels of Henry II with Thomas Becket, and of John with Innocent III and Stephen Langton, both prompted greater determination to control comings and goings between England and the Continent, and in doing so generated a power which could also be exerted over laymen and which constituted an asset that no government was likely to surrender lightly. Nor, in fact, was it given up, for the clause was dropped from the later reissues of Magna Carta.


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Original Latin

XLIII

Si quis tenuerit de aliqua escaeta, sicut de honore Walingeford, Notingeham, Bononiae, Lainkastriae, vel de aliis eskaetis, quae sunt in manu nostra, et sunt baroniae, et obierit, haeres non det aliud relevium, nec faciat nobis aliud servitium quam faceret baroni si baronia illa esset in manu baronis; et nos eodem modo eam tenebimus quo baro eam tenuit.

43

If anyone dies who held of any escheat, like the honour(s) of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other escheats which are in our hand and are baronies, his heir is not to give any other relief, or to do us any other service, than he would have done to the baron if the barony was in the baron’s hand; and we will hold it in the same manner that the baron held it.

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Commentary for general audience

Escheats were baronies which had come into the king’s hands through the forfeiture of their previous lords, most often for treason, or as a result of a failure of heirs. The tenants of such lordships which were not granted away again, but remained in the king’s hands – like the four identified by name in Clause 43 – risked being treated differently from before. Now holding their lands directly from the king, they could be regarded as tenants-in-chief, and as such might be exposed to more direct pressure and heavier demands, especially for `reliefs’, the sums due on succession to free property. On the whole this did not happen under Henry II and Richard I, or in the early years of the reign of King John, but as time passed the latter began to step up his demands on escheats, and also on their ecclesiastical equivalents, bishoprics and abbeys which the death or translation of their holders brought into his hands, where they might stay for months or even years. The king’s excommunication in 1209 led to a number of these coming under royal control, and to their intensive exploitation, and secular escheats were increasingly treated in the same way, with the honour of Lancaster being especially hard hit. Their resources were carefully investigated in order to maximise returns, which were often paid directly to the king rather than to the exchequer. In a few instances tenants were able to pay to avoid having additional burdens placed upon them, but most efforts failed to avoid demands which became ever heavier – in 1213 the tenants of some escheats, both secular and ecclesiastical, were required to pay scutage at the rate of ten marks (£6. 13s. 4d.) per knight’s fee, compared with three marks (£2) demanded elsewhere. It is not surprising either that the tenants of escheats should often have been prominent in the rebellion against King John at the end of his reign, or that their interests should have been represented by a clause in Magna Carta forbidding the king to treat escheats in ways different from those used by their previous lords.

Referenced in

From the Tower, John sends a coded message to his queen (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XLIV

Homines qui manent extra forestam non veniant de cetero coram justiciariis nostra de foresta per communes summonitiones, nisi sint in placito, vel pleggii alicujus vel aliquorum, qui attachiati ssint pro foresta.

44

Men who reside outside the forest are not in future to come before our forest justices upon common summonses, unless they are involved in pleadings, or are the pledges of a person or persons who have been attached for forest business.

Audio commentary


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Original Latin

XLV

Nos non faciemus justiciarios, constabularios, vicecomites, vel ballivos, nisi de talibus qui sciant legem regni et eam bene velint observare.

45

We will not appoint justices, constables, sheriffs or bailiffs except from such as know the law of the kingdom and are willing to keep it well.

Audio commentary


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Original Latin

XLVI

Omnes barones qui fundaverunt abbatias, unde habent cartas regum Angliae, vel antiquam tenuram, habeant earum custodiam cum vacaverint, sicut habere debent.

46

All barons who have founded abbeys for which they have charters of the kings of England, or ancient tenure, are to have the custody of them when they are vacant, as they should have.

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 46 was concerned to protect the rights of barons who were patrons of monasteries founded by their ancestors. These were valued for reasons spiritual and secular, both for the prayers they offered and for their being places of family burial over several generations, and because the churches attached to them could be used to provide livings for the clerks of a patron, who could also expect to have temporary custody of them after the death of an abbot or prior, and a role in the choice of his successor. The king had all these rights in monasteries of royal foundation, and in those founded by others when circumstances – for instance when he exercised rights of wardship after a lord died leaving a minor as his heir – brought them into his hands. There is also some evidence that Henry II and his sons claimed a patron’s rights over all monasteries which were abbeys – in other words the most important ones. Evidence is scarce for King John’s usurping a patron’s rights at a time of vacancy, but sufficient to show that it could happen (gaps in the records may well conceal other cases). At Kenilworth Priory, for instance, a disputed election gave John the opportunity to install a prior of his own, and to take the revenues of the monastery for several years, without the least reference to the patron, Henry de Clinton, who subsequently rebelled against the king. Barons and knights set a high value on their rights in monasteries associated with their families. A wiser king than John would have known better than to infringe them so blatantly.


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Original Latin

XLVII

Omnes forestae quae afforestatae sunt tempore nostro, statim deafforestentur; et ita fiat de ripariis quae per nos tempore nostro positae sunt in defenso.

47

All the forests which have been afforested during our reign are to be disafforested immediately, and the same is to be done with regard to rivers which have been fenced off by us in our time.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

King John’s Lost Language of Cranes (Features of the Month)

King John’s Lost Language of Cranes (Features of the Month)


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Original Latin

XLVIII

Omnes malae consuetudines de forestis et warennis, et de forestariis et warennariis, vicecomitibus, et eorum ministris, ripariis et earum custodibus, statim inquirantur in quolibet comitatu per duodecim milites juratos de eodem comitatu, qui debent eligi per probos homines ejusdem comitatus, et infra quadraginta dies post inquisitionem factam, penitus, ita quod numquam revocentur, deleantur per eosdem, ita quod nos hoc sciamus prius, vel justiciarius noster, si in Anglia non fuerimus.

48

All the evil customs relating to forests and warrens, foresters and warreners, sheriffs and their officers, rivers and their keepers, are to be immediately investigated in each county by twelve sworn knights of the same county, who should be chosen by upright men of the same county, and within forty days of the investigation being made, they are to be completely abolished by them, never to be revived, as long as we, or our justiciar if we are not in England, know about it beforehand.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

New Letter of the Twenty-Five (Features of the Month)

New Letter of the Twenty-Five (Features of the Month)

King John’s Lost Language of Cranes (Features of the Month)

Clause 60 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

Conference at Oxford (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

XLIX

Omnes obsides et cartas statim reddemus quae liberatae fuerunt nobis ab Anglicis in securitatem pacis vel fidelis servitii.

49

We will immediately surrender all hostages and charters which have been handed over to us by Englishmen as security for peace or loyal service.

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Commentary for general audience

The giving and taking of hostages – living pledges that the person giving them would fulfil obligations towards, or refrain from hostile acts against, whoever received them – was generally regarded as an acceptable practice on the part of European rulers in the years around 1200. Richard I had had to find a total of sixty-seven hostages for the payment of his ransom in 1194. Clause 49 did not forbid King John to take hostages in future, but in its wording it pin-pointed what was most objectionable in his exploitation of them, that he took hostages and also charters – written documents promising faithful service on pain of perpetual forfeiture of lands – from his own subjects, and did so in large numbers. That he did so reflected his own suspicious personality, and his inability to govern except through threats and fear. He took hostages at all times in his reign, sometimes holding them for several years, when they might be detained in castles, monasteries and towns, or even in the keeping of the queen. Contemporary law distinguished hostages from prisoners, but both might be kept in chains, while hostages lived under threat to life and limb. This especially applied to those from countries outside England’s borders – John notoriously had some thirty Welsh hostages hanged in 1212. That year’s conspiracy against the king’s life led to a quantum leap in hostage-taking, creating whole networks of intimidation which extended throughout the kingdom – a development which explains the inclusion of Clause 49 in Magna Carta. Some hostages were then released, but the outbreak of civil war later in 1215 saw John revert to his previous practices, and rebels who surrendered in the last months of the reign were regularly required to pay a fine and give hostages, together with a charter pledging future loyalty. Such constraints were still needed by the minority government at the start of Henry III’s reign, but were soon dispensed with, and were very seldom revived thereafter.


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Original Latin

L

Nos amovebimus penitus de balliis parentes Gerardi Athyes, quod de cetero nullam habeant balliam in Anglia; Engelardum de Cygony, Petrum et Gyonem et Andream de Cancellis, Gyonem de Cygony, Galfridum de Martinni et fratres ejus, Philippum Marc, et fratres ejus, et Galfridum nepotem ejus, et totam sequelam eorumdem.

50

We will remove entirely the kinsmen of Gerard d’Athée from their bailiwicks, so that in future they may hold no bailiwick in England, [namely] Engelard de Cigogné, Peter, Guy and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc, his brothers, and Geoffrey his nephew, and the whole of their brood.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

John moves toward the March (The Itinerary of King John)

Conference at Oxford (The Itinerary of King John)

Conference at Oxford (The Itinerary of King John)

John spends Christmas at Nottingham (The Itinerary of King John)

Tournaments, Ladies and Bears (The Itinerary of King John)

Tournaments, Ladies and Bears (The Itinerary of King John)

John prepares his exfil (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

LI

Et statim post pacis reformationem amovebimus de regno omnes alienigenas milites, balistarios, servientes, stipendarios, qui venerint cum equis et armis ad nocumentum regni.

51

And immediately after the restoration of peace we will remove from the kingdom all foreign knights, crossbowmen, serjeants and mercenaries, who have come with horses and arms to the detriment of the kingdom.

Audio commentary


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Original Latin

LII

Si quis fuerit dissaisitus vel elongatus per nos sine legali judicio parium suorum, de terris, castellis, libertatibus, vel jure suo, statim ea ei restituemus; et si contentio super hoc orta fuerit, tunc inde fiat per judicium viginti quinque baronum, de quibus fit mentio inferius in securitate pacis: de omnibus autem illis de quibus aliquis disseisitus fuerit vel elongatus sine legali judicio parium suorum, per Henricum regem patrem nostrum vel per Ricardum regem fratrem nostrum, quae in manu nostra habemus, vel quae alii tenent, quae nos oporteat warantizare, respectum habebimus usque ad communem terminum crucesignatorum; exceptis illis de quibus placitum motum fuit vel inquisitio facta per praeceptum nostrum, ante susceptionem crucis nostrae: cum autem redierimus de peregrinatione nostra, vel si forte remanserimus a peregrinatione nostra, statim inde pleman justiciam exhibebimus.

52

If anyone has been disseised or dispossessed by us, without lawful judgment of his peers, of lands, castles, liberties, or of his right, we will restore them to him immediately. And if dispute should arise concerning this, then it is to be dealt with by judgment of the twenty-five barons named below in the security for peace. But concerning all those things of which anyone was disseised or dispossessed, without lawful judgment of his peers, by King Henry our father or King Richard our brother, which we have in our hand, or which others hold and which we ought to warrant, we will have respite during the usual crusader’s term [of exemption], except for those matters over which a plea was begun or an inquest held on our orders before our taking of the cross. But when we have returned from our crusade, or if perchance we have stayed at home without going on crusade, we will then at once do full justice in such cases.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for general audience

The large Clause 52 provided for the restoration to their previous owners of lands of which they had been dispossessed – `disseised’ – by King John, his father or his elder brother. In doing so it was in effect retrospectively implementing Clause 39, in which disseisin was one of the actions against his free subjects which the king renounced for the future. The length of Clause 52 was largely due to the complications arising from John’s having taken the cross on 4 March 1215, and his claim to the right allowed to crusaders to be exempted from legal proceedings while they were absent on crusade. Eventually it was decided that his own disseisins must be remedied at once, but that those of Henry II and Richard I should wait until his return. That still left much needing attention. Disseisins could be effected by stealth, or by the manipulation of the processes of the exchequer or of the courts, but they were most often carried out by force. John had been dispossessing men of their estates from the beginning of his reign, often temporarily but sometimes for extended periods. The conspiracy of 1212 had led to many disseisins, and the same was also true of the outbreak of rebellion immediately before Magna Carta was negotiated, when sweeping orders for the seizure of lands created much confusion.

It was clearly anticipated that John would resist at least some of the efforts which would be made to recover estates he had confiscated. When that happened the twenty-five barons responsible for enforcing Magna Carta as a whole were to give judgment. It is not clear how often they were called to do so. There is some evidence that they were active in this way, but it is also possible that John sometimes anticipated their decisions and had lands handed back before he could be instructed to do so. In other instances he certainly dug his heels in, for instance that of Knaresborough Castle, which had come into his hands as the pledge for a huge fine offered, but never paid, by Nicholas de Stuteville. Although the twenty-five eventually ordered the castle’s surrender to William, he could not recover it. His case was typical in that although the orders and claims made in the weeks after Runnymede show that the potential beneficiaries of Clause 52 came from all levels of free society, it was the wealthy and powerful who had been most often targeted by John. Nor had they only lost lands, for as the Clause records, they were also entitled to recover rights – like Eustace de Vesci’s freedom to hunt with dogs on his home territory in Northumberland – and castles, an essential asset for any self-respecting magnate. Some barons, indeed, seem to have claimed more than they were entitled to, either in lands or in castles; William de Mowbray’s bid to obtain York Castle, by reference to the findings of an inquest which had almost certainly never taken place, was a particularly egregious example. Like Clause 52 itself, Mowbray’s attempt to exploit a moment of royal weakness for personal advantage underlines the extent to which relations between king and barons broke down during John’s reign.

Referenced in

Clause 55 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

Clause 55 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

Clause 60 (The 1215 Magna Carta)


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Original Latin

LIII

Eundem autem respectum habebimus, et eodem modo, de justicia exhibenda de forestis deafforestandis vel remansuris forestis, quas Henricus pater noster vel Ricardus frater noster afforestaverunt, et de custodiis terrarum quae sunt de alieno feodo, cujusmodi custodias hucusque habuimus occasione feodi quod aliquis de nobis tenuit per servitium militare, et de abbatiis quae fundatae fuerint in feodo alterius quam nostro, in quibus dominus feodi dixerit se jus habere; et cum redierimus, vel si remanserimus a peregrinatione nostra, super hiis conquerentibus plenam justiciam statim exhibebimus.

53

We will have the same respite, and in the same fashion, for doing justice concerning the disafforestation or retention of forests which Henry our father or Richard our brother afforested, and concerning wardships of lands which are part of another fee, wardships which up till now we have had by reason of a fee which someone held of us by knight tenure, and concerning abbeys which were founded on a fee other than our own, in which the lord of the fee has claimed his right. And when we have returned, or if we stay at home without going on our crusade, we will at once do full justice to those complaining of these things.

Audio commentary


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Original Latin

LIV

Nullus capiatur nec imprisonetur propter appellum foeminae de morte alterius quam viri sui.

54

No man is to be arrested or imprisoned on account of a woman’s appeal for the death of anyone other than her own husband.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

Tournaments, Ladies and Bears (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

LV

Omnes fines qui injuste et contra legem terrae facti sunt nobiscum, et omnia amerciamenta facta injuste et contra legem terrae, omnino condonentur, vel fiat inde per judicium viginti quinque baronum de quibus fit mentio inferius in securitate pacis, vel per judicium majoris partis eorumdem, una cum praedicto Stephano Cantuariensi archiepiscopo, si interesse poterit, et aliis quos secum ad hoc vocare voluerit: et si interesse non poterit, nihilominus procedat negotium sine eo, ita quod, si aliquis vel aliqui de praedictis viginti et quinque baronibus fuerint in simili querela, amoveantur quantum ad hoc judicium, et alii loco eorum per residuos de eisdem viginti quinque, tantum ad hoc faciendum electi et jurati substituantur.

55

All fines which have been made with us unjustly and against the law of the land, and all amercements made unjustly and against the law of the land, are to be completely remitted, or dealt with by judgment of the twenty-five barons named below in the security for peace, or by judgment of the greater part of them, together with Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, if he can attend, and others whom he may wish to convoke to act with him in this. And if he cannot attend, let the business nonetheless proceed without him. On condition, however, that if one or some of the aforesaid twenty-five barons are involved in such a plea, they are to be removed in respect of this judgment, and others chosen and sworn by the rest of the twenty-five to act in their place in this case only.

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Commentary for general audience

Clause 55 resembled Clause 52 in being intended to provide retrospective implementation of a number of Magna Carta’s earlier provisions, in this case those placing limits on the king’s ability to impose financial penalties. In ordering that these were to be pardoned or referred to the judgment of the twenty-five barons who were to oversee the implementation of the Charter, the Clause followed No. 37 among the Articles of the Barons, but it also differed in some important respects from it. Article 37 had placed no chronological limits on its coverage, but where fines were concerned it restricted itself specifically to those made for dowers, marriages and inheritances. Clause 55, however, was to be applicable to all fines and amercements that had been made `unjustly and against the law of the land’, while confining itself to those made in the reign of King John. Fines and amercements were nominally different. An amercement was a penalty for an offence, imposed by the lord or superior of the person condemned to pay it, whereas a fine was theoretically a negotiated payment intended to settle a dispute or obtain a favour. But when the dispute was with an overbearing monarch, or the favour was the ending of harassment or the remission of anger, it became hard to distinguish the resulting fine from an amercement, and in fact under John the two became ever more alike, with fines taking on an increasingly penal character.

The substance of the penalties with which Clause 55 was concerned was that they should have been made unjustly, not that they were excessive. Amercements for breaches of the forest laws were probably a major grievance, especially as they were often heavy (this was so under Henry II and Richard I as well as John), but it seems highly likely that inordinate fines were what the barons had particularly in mind. The level of fines rose steadily under the three Angevin kings, with the upward trend of Richard’s reign becoming ever steeper during John’s. There was a marked tendency for fines to be increased by the addition of supplementary payments which were recorded as consisting of hawks, dogs and horses, but which were usually paid in cash. The pressure to pay became greater, with time limits becoming shorter while the penalties for failing to meet them became more severe. And those who made a fine were increasingly liable to have to find pledges who could not only guarantee that the debt would be paid but also contribute towards its payment – pledges often gave more than the principal did. The burdens placed upon pledges inevitably had the effect of spreading the discontent aroused by John’s financial exactions throughout landowning society. The last years of his reign saw the imposition of some huge fines, culminating in the 20,000 marks (£13,333. 6s. 8d.) which Geoffrey de Mandeville, earl of Essex, undertook to pay for the right to marry Isabella of Gloucester, the king’s first wife, with possession of her lands. So obviously excessive was it that in May 1215 John himself offered to refer it to the judgment of his court. Whether the twenty-five barons ever presided over such proceedings is unknown. But that no equivalent to Clause 55 is to be found in reissues of Magna Carta after 1215 should not be understood to mean that they tried to enforce it and failed, but rather that one was no longer regarded as necessary. The clauses which it referred back to sufficed to prevent such abuses in future, so that John’s successors did not even try to raise the money they needed through massive amercements and fines.

Referenced in

Rochester week two, the siege of Norham and the return of Giles de Braose (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

LVI

Si nos dissaisivimus vel elongavimus Walenses de terris vel libertatibus vel rebus aliis, sine legali judicio parium suorum, in Anglia vel in Wallia, eis statim reddantur; et si contentio super hoc orta fuerit, tunc inde fiat in Marchia per judicium parium suorum, de tenementis Angliae secundum legem Angliae, de tenementis Walliae secundum legem Walliae, de tenementis Marchiae secundum legem Marchiae. Idem facient Walenses nobis et nostris.

56

If we have disseised or dispossessed Welshmen of lands or liberties or anything else, without lawful judgment of their peers, in England or in Wales, they are to be returned to them at once. And if a dispute arises about this, then it is to be dealt with on the March by judgment of their peers – for English tenements according to the law of England, for Welsh tenements according to the law of Wales, for tenements in the March according to the law of the March. And the Welsh are to do the same for us and our men.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

Clause 60 (The 1215 Magna Carta)


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Original Latin

LVII

De omnibus autem illis de quibus aliquis Walensium dissaisitus fuerit vel elongatus sine legali judicio parium suorum, per Henricum regem patrem nostrum vel Ricardum regem fratrem nostrum, quae nos in manu nostra habemus, vel quae alii tenent quae nos oporteat warantizare, respectum habebimus usque ad communem terminum crucesignatorum, illis exceptis de quibus placitum motum fuit vel inquisitio facta per praeceptum nostrum ante susceptionem crucis nostrae: cum autem redierimus, vel si forte remanserimus a peregrinatione nostra, statim eis inde plenam justiciam exhibebimus, secundum leges Walensium et partes praedictas.

57

With regard, however, to all those possessions of which any Welshman was disseised or dispossessed without lawful judgment of his peers by King Henry our father or King Richard our brother, and which we have in our hand, or which others hold and which we ought to warrant, we will have a respite during the usual term [of exemption] of crusaders, except for those matters over which a plea was begun or an inquest held on our order before our taking the cross. But when we have returned, or if perchance we have stayed at home without going on crusade, then we will at once do full justice according to the law of Wales and of the parts aforesaid.


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Original Latin

LVIII

Nos reddemus filium Lewelini statim, et omnes obsides de Wallia, et cartas quae nobis liberatae fuerunt in securitatem pacis.

58

We will at once surrender the son of Llywelyn and all hostages from Wales, and the charters which were handed over to us as security for peace.

Referenced in

Clause 60 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

John travels to Monmouth (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

LIX

Nos faciemus Alexandro regi Scottorum de sororibus suis, et obsidibus reddendis, et libertatibus suis, et jure suo, secundum formam in qua faciemus aliis baronibus nostris Angliae, nisi aliter esse debeat per cartas quas habemus de Willelmo patre ipsius, quondam rege Scottorum; et hoc erit per judicium parium suorum in curia nostra.

59

We will deal with Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and hostages, and his liberties and right, in the same manner in which we deal with our other barons of England, unless it should be otherwise under the charters which we have from his father William, former king of Scots. And this will be by judgment of his peers in our court.

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Original Latin

LX

Omnes autem istas consuetudines praedictas et libertates quas nos concessimus in regno nostro tenendas quantum ad nos pertinet erga nostros, omnes de regno nostro, tam clerici quam laici, observent quantum ad se pertinent erga suos.

60

Moreover, all the aforesaid customs and liberties, which we have granted to be maintained in our kingdom as far as we are concerned with regard to our own men, all the men of our kingdom, both clergy and laity, are also to observe as far as they are concerned them with regard to their own men.

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Commentary for general audience

Magna Carta was negotiated by the king and the magnates. Clause 60 extended its benefits beyond the latter, by requiring that all the lords in the kingdom, and not only the barons confronting John, should observe the provisions of the Charter in their dealings with those beneath them (that largely meant free men, but where it was applicable to villeins, as in the stipulations of Clause 20 relating to the assessment of amercements, then the unfree could gain as well). The Clause may have been included with some reluctance on the part of the barons, but the pressure upon them from their knightly followers probably made it impossible for them to exclude the latter from the Charter’s benefits. There were also possible advantages for the king in the Clause’s inclusion, in the opportunities it might create for royal interference in disputes between lords and tenants in disputes in which the Charter was invoked, and it may have been to avert that risk that a clause was added to reissues of Magna Carta from 1217 onwards, protecting baronial rights in terms which could have prevented the king’s intervention.

It is difficult to say how much protection free tenants needed against their lords, but there were certainly occasions when the latter can be seen acting oppressively at the former’s expense, or when safeguards were provided against their doing so. Imprisonment, extorting money, requiring more in the way of services than was owed, and especially depriving men and women of their lands without a court judgment – all were alleged against lords as they were against the king. Archbishop Hubert Walter and his brother were both said to have made free with other people’s estates. The earl of Arundel acted in anger to seize land, the earl of Norfolk used force to keep a tenant out of his property, in both cases behaving much as King John did. The great ecclesiastical lords, though they could also be victims of magnate unscrupulousness, were quite capable of acting wrongly themselves. Abbot Samson of Bury St Edmunds flooded his tenants’ gardens in order to improve his fishpond, and refused point-blank to provide a remedy. Clause 60 contained no provision for its own enforcement. After 1215 it seems to have been most often appealed to by the king, requiring his barons – as they may have feared he would in 1215 – of their responsibilities towards their tenants and subordinates. Impossible wholly to overlook, Clause 60 served as a reminder to the whole of free society of the scope and purpose of Magna Carta.


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Original Latin

Cum autem pro Deo, et ad emendationem regni nostri, et ad melius sopiendum discordiam inter nos et barones nostros ortam, haec omnia praedicta concesserimus, volentes ea integra et firma stabilitate gaudere in perpetuum, facimus et concedimus eis securitatem subscriptam; videlicet quod barones eligant viginti quinque barones de regno quos voluerint, qui debeant pro totis viribus suis observare, tenere, et facere observari, pacem et libertats quas ei concessimus, et hac praesenti carta confirmavimus, ita scilicet quod, si nos, vel justiciarius noster, vel ballivi nostri, vel aliquis de ministris nostris, in aliquo erga aliquem deliquerimus, vel aliquem articulorum pacis aut securitatis transgressi fuerimus, et delictum ostensum fuerit quatuor baronibus de praedictis viginti quinque baronibus, illi quatuor barones accedant ad nos vel ad justiciarium nostrum, si fuerimus extra regnum, proponentes nobis excessum: petent ut excessum illum sine dilatione faciamus emendari. Et si nos excessum non emendaverimus, vel, si fuerimus extra regnum, justiciarius noster non emendaverit infra tempus quadraginta dierum computandum a tempore quo monstratum fuerit nobis vel justiciario nostro si extra regnum fuerimus, praedicti quatuor barones referant causam illam ad residuos de viginti quinque baronibus, et illi viginti quinque barones cum communia totius terrae distringent et gravabunt nos modis omnibus quibus poterunt, scilicet per captionem castrorum, terrarum, possessionum, et aliis modis quibus poterunt, donec fuerit emendatum secundum arbitrium eorum, salva persona nostra et reginae nostrae et liberorum nostrorum; et cum fuerit emendatum intendent nobis sicut prius fecerunt. Et quicumque voluerit de terra juret quod ad praedicta omnia exsequenda parebit mandatis praedictorum viginti quinque baronum, et quod gravabit nos pro posse suo cum ipsis, et nos publice et libere damus licentiam jurandi cuilibet qui jurare voluerit, et nulli umquam jurare prohibebimus. Omnes autem illos de terra qui per se et sponte sua noluerint jurare viginti quinque baronibus, de distringendo et gravando nos cum eis, faciemus jurare eosdem de mandato nostro, sicut praedictum est. Et si aliquis de viginti quinque baronibus decesserit, vel a terra recesserit, vel aliquo alio modo impeditus fuerit, quo minus ista praedicta possent exsequi, qui residui fuerint de praedictis viginti quinque baronibus eligant alium loco ipsius, pro arbitrio suo, qui simili modo erit juratus quo et ceteri. In omnibus autem quae istis viginti quinque committuntur exsequenda, si forte ipsi viginti quinque praesentes fuerint, et inter se super re aliqua discordaverint, vel aliqui ex eis summoniti nolint vel nequeant interesse, ratum habeatur et firmum quod major pars eorum qui praesentes fuerint providerit, vel praeceperit, ac si omnes viginti quinque in hoc consensissent; et praedicti viginti quinque jurent quod omnia antedicta fideliter observabunt, et pro toto posse suo facient observari. Et nos nihil impetrabimus ab aliquo, per nos nec per alium, per quod aliqua istarum concessionum et libertatum revocetur vel minuatur; et, si aliquid tale impetratum fuerit irritum sit et inane et numquam eo utemur per nos nec per alium.

Moreover, since we have granted all these things aforesaid for the sake of God, and for the reform of our kingdom, and the better to still the discord arisen between us and our barons, wishing that these things be enjoyed with a whole and constant stability in perpetuity, we make and grant them the following security: to wit, that the barons are to choose twenty-five barons of the kingdom, whoever they wish, who should with all their strength observe, hold and cause to be observed the peace and liberties which we have granted them, and by this our present charter confirmed, so that if we, or our justiciar, or our bailiffs, or any of our officers shall in any way offend against anyone, or transgress against any of the articles of peace or security, and the offence has been shown to four of the aforesaid twenty-five barons, those four are to go to us, or to our justiciar if we shall be out of the kingdom, setting forth the transgression, and demand that we have it reformed without delay. And if we do not have the transgression rectified, or, if we are out of the kingdom, our justiciar has not done so, within the space of forty days, counting from the time it was shown to us, or to our justiciar if we were out of the kingdom, the four barons aforesaid are to refer the case to the rest of the twenty-five barons, and those twenty-five barons and the commune of the whole land will distrain and afflict us by every means possible, by taking castles, lands and possessions and in any other ways they can, until it is rectified in accordance with their judgment, albeit sparing our own person and the persons of our queen and children. And once the matter has been redressed let them submit to our authority as they did before. And whosoever of the land so wishes is to swear that as to executing all the above he will obey the orders of the twenty-five barons aforesaid, and that with them he will afflict us to the best of his ability, and we openly and freely give permission to swear to whoever wishes to do so, and we will never forbid anyone to swear. But all those of the land who are unwilling to swear individually and voluntarily to the twenty-five barons, to distrain and afflict us with them, we will make them swear by our order as aforesaid. And if any of the twenty-five barons dies, or departs from the land, or is prevented in any other way from being able to act as aforesaid, the remainder of the twenty-five are to choose another man in his place, as they see fit, who will be sworn in like manner as the rest. Moreover in everything which shall be entrusted to the twenty-five barons to carry out, if perchance the twenty-five are present and disagree among themselves over anything, or if any of them, being summoned, will not or cannot attend, what the majority of those who are present shall provide or instruct is to be deemed as determined and binding, as if all twenty-five had agreed to it. And the aforesaid twenty-five will swear that they will faithfully comply with all the aforesaid, and cause it to be upheld to the best of their ability. And we will seek to obtain nothing from anyone, in our own person or through someone else, whereby any of these grants or liberties may be revoked or diminished, and if any such thing be obtained, let it be void and invalid, and we will never make use of it, in our own person or through someone else.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

1. The Byland Abbey Magna Carta (The Copies of Magna Carta)

Magna Carta and Richard II's Reign (Features of the Month)

New Letter of the Twenty-Five (Features of the Month)

New Letter of the Twenty-Five (Features of the Month)

Clause 60 (The 1215 Magna Carta)

Magna Carta and Peace (The Itinerary of King John)


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Original Latin

Et omnes malas voluntates, indignationes, et rancores, ortos inter nos et homines nostros, clericos et laicos, a tempore discordiae, plene omnibus remisimus et condonavimus. Praeterea omnes trangressiones factas occasione ejusdem discordiae, a Pascha anno regni nostri sextodecimo usque ad pacem reformatam, plene remisimus omnibus, clericis et laicis, et quantum ad nos pertinet plene condonavimus. Et insuper fecimus eis litteras testimoniales patentes domini Stephani Cantuariensi archiepiscopi, domini Henrici Dublinensis archiepiscopi, et episcoporum praedictorum, et magistri Pandulfi, super securitate ista et concessionibus praefatis.

Quare volumus et firmiter praecipimus quod Anglicana ecclesia libera sit et quod homines in regno nostro habeant et teneant omnes praefatas libertates, jura, et concessiones, bene et in pace, libere et quiete, plene et integre, sibi et haeredibus suis, de nobis et haeredibus nostris, in omnibus rebus et locis, in perpetuum, sicut praedictum est. Juratum est autem tam ex parte nostra quam ex parte baronum, quod haec omnia supradicta bona fide et sine malo ingenio observabuntur. Testibus supradictis et multis aliis. Data per manum nostram in prato quod vocatur Ronimed, inter Windelsoram et Stanes, quinto decimo die Junii, anno regni nostri septimo decimo.

And we have fully remitted and pardoned everyone all the ill will, indignation and resentment which has arisen between us and our men, clergy and laity, in the time of discord. Moreover we have fully remitted to all men, clergy and laity, and in so far as we are concerned fully pardoned, all the trespasses committed as a result of that discord from Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign until the reestablishment of peace. And moreover we have had letters patent made by Lord Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Henry, archbishop of Dublin, the aforesaid bishops, and Master Pandulf, testifying to this security and the aforesaid grants.

Wherefore we wish and firmly command that the English church be free, and that the men in our kingdom have and hold all the liberties, rights and grants aforesaid, well and in peace, freely and quietly, for themselves and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and places, in perpetuity, as aforesaid. This has been sworn to both on our behalf and on that of the barons, that all these things named above will be observed in good faith and without evil intent. Witnesses as aforesaid, with many others. Given by our hand in the meadow called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign.

Audio commentary

Referenced in

Clause 60 (The 1215 Magna Carta)


Reflections

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Magna Carta 1215
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