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 secondary school students

The treatment of crown debtors was always apt to vary under the Angevin kings, but on the whole they seem to have been handled more leniently by Henry II and Richard I than they were by John, who in 1201 issued an ordinance laying down much stricter conditions for the recovery of money owed to the king. In particular, the lands of debtors, as well as their moveable goods, now became liable to seizure, thereby placing their social rank, in an age in which this was indissolubly bound up with landownership, at risk along with their material resources. The men who stood surety for the payment of debts were treated with the same rigour, and since these could be very numerous – in some cases hundreds of people guaranteed the payment of a single large sum – a growing number of people came to be threatened with the loss of their status and assets. The ever-widening pressure exerted by the exchequer, though effective in the short term, was greatly resented, probably the more so because it was inconsistently applied, with much depending on the king’s personal decisions, perhaps even on his likes or dislikes for the people involved. Due process of law might be observed, but without necessarily being applied to everyone caught up in the workings of the exchequer. Clause 9, while perhaps only spelling out what was already regarded as acceptable practice, attempted to bring order and routine to this situation., by ensuring that the chattels of debtors were targeted before their estates, by preventing steps being taken against pledges until every effort had been made to raise the money owed from the principal debtors, and by providing the means for sureties who had been obliged to pay on behalf of the principals to recover their outlay from the latter.

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 secondary school students

Clause 10 was primarily concerned to mitigate the effects on under-age heirs and children of indebtedness to Jews on the part of deceased parents.  English Jews stood in a unique relationship with the king, who gave them the protection they needed against the hostility felt for them in society at large, as a result of their religious practice and also of their activities as money-lenders.  Unlike Christians, Jews were permitted to lend money at interest, and did so at high rates – usually forty-three per cent per annum.  Royal protection was given at a price, however, in that the resources of Jews were liable to what could be heavy taxation, while debts to them frequently passed into the hands of the king, who could then collect them as if they were owed to himself.  Because they lived principally by money-lending, Jews had no option but to pass on the effects of such exactions to those with whom they dealt.

Henry II and Richard I made relatively limited use of their powers over Jews, but John exploited them to the utmost, especially in the second half of his reign.  He imposed a massive tallage – an arbitrary levy – on them in 1210, enforcing payment by brutal methods which clearly shocked contemporary chroniclers, and made every effort to secure the payment of the many Jewish debts which had come into his possession.  He also put his executive powers at the disposal of Jews who were trying to recover their debts, in return for ten per cent of the money owed.  By 1212 John’s exploitation of Jewish resources had become so deeply resented that the king himself offered to ease up on it, but his financial needs soon led to a renewal of pressure, on Jews and their debtors alike.  There is in fact very little precise evidence for the practices which Clause 10 was intended to prevent, but given the abundant record of John’s extraction of money from debtors to Jews, it is highly likely it met a genuine need.  That the Charter did not do more to restrain the crown in its exploitation of its effective control over Jews may have been due to an understanding that Jewish financial skills, and in particular their ability to provide cash to those who needed it, were essential to the country’s economic life, and also to a feeling on the part of the barons that the king’s particular relationship with English Jews was something they were only entitled to interfere with in a strictly limited way.

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 secondary school students

Clause 11, as it finally appeared in Magna Carta (some important alterations had first to be made to it), was primarily concerned to mitigate the effects on dependents, whether these were widows or under-age children, of indebtedness to Jews on the part of deceased husbands and parents.  English Jews stood in a unique relationship with the king, who gave them the protection they needed against the hostility felt for them in society at large, as a result of their religious practice and also of their activities as money-lenders.  Unlike Christians, Jews were permitted to lend money at interest, and did so at high rates – usually forty-three per cent per annum.  Royal protection was given at a price, however, in that the resources of Jews were liable to what could be heavy taxation, while debts to them frequently passed into the hands of the king, who could then collect them as if they were owed to himself.  Because they lived principally by money-lending, Jews had no option but to pass on the effects of such exactions to those with whom they dealt.

Henry II and Richard I made relatively limited use of their powers over Jews, but John exploited them to the utmost, especially in the second half of his reign.  He imposed a massive tallage – an arbitrary levy – on them in 1210, enforcing payment by brutal methods which clearly shocked contemporary chroniclers, and made every effort to secure the payment of the many Jewish debts which had come into his possession.  He also put his executive powers at the disposal of Jews who were trying to recover their debts, in return for ten per cent of the money owed.  By 1212 John’s exploitation of Jewish resources had become so deeply resented that the king himself offered to ease up on it, but his financial needs soon led to a renewal of pressure, on Jews and their debtors alike.  There is in fact very little precise evidence for the practices which Clause 11 of Magna Carta were intended to prevent, but references to widows having to pay to the king, sometimes over many years, debts which had originally been owed to Jews, and to widows protecting their dowers against royal demands which had similarly originated in Jewish debts, suggest that this clause met genuine needs.  That the Charter did not do more to restrain the crown in its exploitation of its effective control over Jews may have been due to an understanding that Jewish financial skills, and in particular their ability to provide cash to those who needed it, were essential to the country’s economic life, and also to a feeling on the part of the barons that the king’s particular relationship with English Jews was something they were only entitled to interfere with in a strictly limited way.

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 secondary school students

John’s levying of taxes, which took a variety of forms, was a principal source of resentment against his government.  In Clause 12 the barons tried to set firm limits on the demands he could make on his subjects, by insisting that two of the most important instruments of fiscal oppression, namely aids and scutages, should only be taken with their own consent, since they claimed to represent the kingdom as a whole.  It was linked to Clause 14, which specified how such consent was to be obtained, and also with Clause 16, directed against John’s practice of requiring more in the way of services, which could include scutage, than he was in fact owed.  Clause 12 had the weakness, however, that it effectively conflated quite different taxes.  An aid, as its name suggests, represented the financial support which a lord was entitled to require from his free tenants; in certain circumstances (to an increasing extent those specified in the Clause) payment was regarded as obligatory, but otherwise it was accepted that it should only be taken with the consent of those who paid it.  But scutage was a straightforward imposition, taken by the king at rates and at times of his own choosing, in place of the military service which he was otherwise entitled to demand from those who held their lands directly from him.  Before 1215 it was never claimed that those from whom scutage was exacted should be consulted about it, still less that their consent was needed before it could be collected.

The barons may well have deliberately confused the terms used to define two different taxes, but they would have been encouraged in this by the fact that words like `aid’ were seldom used with much precision, and King John’s government, like that of his two predecessors, had in any case often used the same expression to describe more than one levy, referring to a scutage as an aid, or vice versa, and taking the latter with or without consent, according to circumstances.  In linking aids and scutages, the barons were only following the king’s example.  John’s intermittent appeals to the public good as justification for taking a tax – in 1207 the defence of the kingdom was invoked as grounds for the thirteenth of moveables, the heaviest tax of the whole reign - could similarly be used against him, by magnates who thought themselves no less qualified to uphold the interests of all the king’s subjects, and not just their own.  But the aftermath suggests that the linking of aids and scutages could not be sustained.  In 1216 Clause 12 was set aside for further discussion, and the reissues of Magna Carta in 1217 and later referred only to scutage.  Perhaps it was thought unnecessary to make provision for aids, since the basic principle of Clause 12, that taxation should not be imposed without consent, quickly came to be generally accepted.

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 secondary school students

In 1215 London demonstrated its political weight as never before. Its citizens already claimed a role in the choosing of English kings, at any rate when the succession to the throne was uncertain. Now, by admitting the rebellious barons within their walls, they gave the latter an access of strength which made their demands for reform irresistible. Londonand the other English towns had been kept under tight control by the Angevin kings. The capital had indeed obtained a grant of self-government – its `commune’ – when Richard I was absent on crusade, and this was afterwards accepted both by Richard himself on his return and by John shortly after his accession. But although John several times declared his good will towards the city, his words were seldom matched by his actions, for he made heavy financial demands upon London, as, indeed, he did on other cities and towns, and kept it under control as far as he could. Resenting the king’s exactions, the Londoners allied themselves with the barons in 1215. The city’s importance to the alliance against John is shown not only by the clauses, led by no. 13, which were devoted to securing its interests in Magna Carta, but also by the fact that its mayor was chosen to be one of the committee of twenty-five men responsible for seeing that the Charter was observed, and for taking action against the king if it was not. To outward appearances Clause 13 was only a general statement that the rights and privileges of London and other towns should be maintained, but in that statement lay much of its importance, in that for the first time it made a public declaration that the interests of urban communities were to be maintained, in the same way that those of bishops and lay lords were.

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.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for secondary school students

Clause 14 complements Clause 12, which had laid down that the taxes known as aids and scutages were only to be imposed `by the common counsel of our kingdom’.  Clause 14 specified how that counsel was to be given and by whom.  In the last resort, all tenants-in-chief – those who held their lands directly from the crown, whether laymen or ecclesiastics – were to be summoned (which does not necessarily mean that they all came), having been notified well in advance of the date, place and business to be discussed.  Summonses were of two kinds, as was probably traditional.  The secular and ecclesiastical magnates, whose presence was doubtless regarded as essential, were to be summoned individually, while lesser men were informed through public announcements by royal officials, probably in the county courts.  If lesser landholders and knights then chose not to go, they would still be able to lobby their superiors to act on their behalf.

In demanding that they be consulted in this way, the barons were making a highly critical assessment of King John’s style of government.  Although he sometimes held formal, pre-arranged assemblies at which taxation and other administrative measures were discussed, he greatly preferred to make decisions after informal consultations with a limited number of agents, courtiers and cronies, who are easily recognizable because they were repeatedly named as being in attendance on him – in 1211 the chronicler Roger of Wendover listed thirty-two such men as being the king’s `evil counsellors’.  Moreover John was forever on the move, so that even his formal council meetings tended to be short, seldom more than a day or two, so allowing little time for detailed discussions.  Announcements of government measures, including taxes, often referred to the number of important people involved in preparing them, but these cannot be trusted – the archbishop of York, described in 1207 as heading the magnates who had assented to the thirteenth on moveables, the heaviest tax of the whole reign, is recorded elsewhere as leading the opposition to it!  All the evidence suggests that John preferred to keep the magnates at arm’s length, in matters of government and also socially, so that even those who remained loyal to him, like the great William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, can seldom have felt comfortable in their dealings with him.  Excluded from the king’s counsels and company, the barons responded by demanding for themselves the role in affairs of state to which they felt they were entitled.  Clause 14 was probably dropped from the later re-issues of Magna Carta because it became unnecessary, since later kings, unlike John, usually appreciated the importance of being on good terms with their most important subjects.  


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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.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for secondary school students

In the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, the king became the ultimate lord of all the land in England, and in that capacity was entitled to demand services, especially military ones, from those to whom he or his predecessors had granted lordships and estates.  By around 1200 such services, involving attendance in the royal host with horses, weapons and armed followers, were still sometimes required, but it was increasingly common practice for the king to commute them for money, in the form of payments known as scutage (from the Latin word scutum, meaning a shield), which could then be put towards the cost of hiring mercenaries.  Under King John, eleven scutages were imposed in a reign lasting sixteen years, at rates consistently higher than had been demanded by Henry II and Richard I.  John also forced such payments from men who owed non-military services, and should therefore have been exempt, and compelled a number of crown debtors to settle their obligations by agreeing to fund bodies of knights whose wages could be expected to cost more than the payment of their debts would have done.  The impact of these money-raising practices was felt throughout English society, since each level sought to recover its outlay from the one beneath.  Clause 16 recognised this, when it applied its stipulation to all free tenements, and not just to knights’ fees, and in doing so granted the same protection to sub-tenants against their lords that it gave to tenants-in-chief (those who held their lands directly from the crown) in their dealings with the king.

Equally contentious was the issue of service overseas, above all in campaigns which John hoped would win back the French lands which he had lost in 1204.  Participation in foreign ventures (except crusades) was never popular, and a number of barons, both lay and ecclesiastical, at various times claimed exemption from it.  The justice of their case was doubtful, however; John could have argued that precedent was against them, and added, perhaps, that he was expected to preserve his rights and possessions and recover any he had lost.  He could also have asserted, against those who disputed the lawfulness of his demands for service at home, that as king he was ultimately responsible for the defence of the realm, and obliged to take steps to ensure its protection against external attack – as indeed he did, in 1205 and 1213.  These conflicting claims, with the king’s duties set against what were increasingly seen as his excessive, and in many cases actually unlawful, demands for money and services, were almost impossible to reconcile, with the result that Clause 16 of Magna Carta had to be composed in unspecific terms, giving it the appearance of a protest at least as much as a programme for reform.


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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.

Audio commentary


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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.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for secondary school students

In the context of Magna Carta, amercements were monetary penalties imposed for offences against the king’s peace or interests, above all in the royal courts, and they had become both a major source of royal revenue and perhaps the commonest way for the central government to make its presence felt throughout the realm, at every level of society.   Clause 20 was unique in giving protection not only to the free men to whom the Charter was granted but also to villeins.  Admittedly this was primarily for the benefit of the latter’s lords, who would suffer if the men who worked their lands were ruined by the king’s demands, but the provision still constitutes striking evidence of the penetrative power of King John’s government, extending to every level of society.  By 1215 the rates at which amercements were levied were becoming increasingly standardised, while the principle set out in Clause 20, that they should be proportionate to the offence for which they were imposed, had been nominally accepted since at least the beginning of the twelfth century, but this did not prevent the king or his agents from sometimes exacting very large sums, which might take years to pay and could be ruinous to those from whom they were demanded.  King John’s financial needs were such that he came to exploit his power to amerce his subjects to the utmost.

Some heavy amercements were imposed in the earlier years of his reign, but this was only a foretaste of the exactions to come, above all in 1210, when a nationwide visitation in high summer by royal justices (conventionally referred to as `autumnal justices’) imposed substantial penalties upon leading men in every county visited, so large that even when their victims were pardoned part of their debts, as happened in a number of cases, the sums that remained to be paid were still much larger-than-average amercements.  To make matters worse, the offences for which these men were punished, as recorded, were very ill-defined – usually just `trespass’, for which the usual penalty was 6s. 8d. or 10s. but here often cost offenders 100 marks or £100.  Unsurprisingly, these exactions were deeply resented, and many of the men amerced in 1210 rebelled five years later.  There were occasional signs that John was aware of the hostility his exactions aroused, but he did little to scale them back until Clause 20 forced controls upon him.  It restated the principle of proportionality, and also demanded the observance of a practice which had certainly been in use over fifty years earlier but may have been ignored more recently, that amercements should be assessed by neighbours rather than by the king’s officers.  No doubt it was believed that this would result in lower demands, more appropriate to the offence and also to the offender’s ability to pay.  

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.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for secondary school students

Clause 21 was the apparently unplanned follow-up to Clause 20 – it has no equivalent among the Articles of the Barons.  Clause 20 had laid down how amercements (monetary penalties, most often imposed in courts) were to be dealt with where the mass of the population was concerned – they were to be proportionate to the offence, and assessed by the transgressor’s neighbours.  Clause 21, concerning itself with the wealthiest and most powerful of the king’s subjects, retained its predecessor’s stress on proportionality, but entrusted the task of assessment not to an offender’s neighbours but to his social equals.  In doing so it marked an important stage in the emergence of the magnates as a separate stratum in English society.  In the years around 1200 this process was still incomplete.  The titles of earls had yet to become fixed, while barons could be either the fellow-magnates of the earls or just tenants-in-chief, men holding lands – any lands, not necessarily large estates – directly from the crown, or possibly royal servants.  For all such men, earls and barons (however defined), the punishment of their offences was traditionally reserved to the crown, which sometimes meant an amercement imposed by the king himself but more often entailed one assessed in the exchequer, an institution which could be relied upon to uphold royal interests.

Although the amercements imposed on magnates were not necessarily exorbitant, they could still be substantial, especially in the later years of John’s reign, and the same was true of some of the fines they were obliged to pay – although they were nominally negotiated settlements, fines could be effectively penal, above all when they were demanded as a way of recovering the king’s favour, lost for some often undefined transgression.  In Clause 21 the magnates not only demanded fairer treatment than they were receiving from either the king or the strongly royalist exchequer, they also wanted such treatment to reflect their own distinct status in the realm, at a time when they were coming to be separated from the lower ranks of landowning society – although the process was still incomplete, by 1215 a baron was increasingly likely to be a major landowner with a substantial following.  However, they failed to specify how the assessment appropriate to their rank was to be made, and as a result lost most of the advantages Clause 21 was intended to secure for them.  The leading officials of the exchequer were also known as barons, and by the 1230s were once more assessing amercements imposed upon magnates, on the grounds that they enjoyed the same baronial status. This was not at all what the drafters of Magna Carta intended.  

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.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for secondary school students

Clause 22 was an ecclesiastical accompaniment to Clause 20, intended to secure for the secular clergy – parish priests, and the canons of certain cathedrals – the same terms which the latter clause laid down for the assessment and payment of amercements – in modern terms, fines.  They were to be assessed by neighbours (for parsons this must have meant their better-off parishioners), and the sums demanded were not to be so great as to endanger their livelihoods.  For the clergy, protection against ruin was to be secured by forbidding the inclusion of their ecclesiastical benefices, which in this context meant the land on which their churches were built, and such other property as enabled them to fulfil their essential functions, among the resources on which their amercements were assessed. 

 

By the end of the twelfth century land held in return for purely spiritual services, essentially the offering of prayers, had in fact come to be subjected to secular exactions, but these were made through bishops and their subordinates, rather than by sheriffs or other royal officials.  But in the later years of John’s reign even this qualified protection was largely ignored, thanks to the king’s financial needs and the effects of his quarrel with the church over the appointment of Stephen Langton as archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 1206, which led to the imposition of an interdict on England in 1208, and then to John’s own excommunication a year later.  Large sums were taken from individual clerics, and also from whole dioceses, which became leaderless and defenceless when almost all the bishops left the country rather than serve an excommunicated king.  Most of them were then administered by heavy-handed lay officials who applied themselves assiduously to raising money from them on the king’s behalf.  In 1211 so-called `gifts’ from the northern clergy brought over £3000 into the royal coffers.  One of the justifications offered for this campaign of exploitation was that the clergy whose property was seized were no longer performing spiritual services in return for their benefices.  Clause 22 was intended to protect the secular clergy against financial oppression.  It also aspired to restore a distinction between secular and ecclesiastical property which had largely disappeared in the years immediately before 1215.    


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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.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for secondary school students

Although English kings had an undeniable right to demand bridge-building from their subjects as an aid to the defence of the realm, there is no reason to believe that this was the abuse against which Clause 23 was directed.  Rather it was concerned with the arbitrary extension of hunting – or more precisely, hawking, a sport which involved the pursuit mostly of river-birds with trained falcons – rights, and the resulting demands which were made on communities situated near rivers, to provide makeshift bridges, so that the king and his companions could cross from one bank to the other and keep up with their hawks as they flew in pursuit of their prey.  Henry II and his two successors were all keen falconers, so much so that by 1189 debts to the crown were often paid in birds as well as, or instead of, cash.  John was highly enthusiastic, and this would have made a greater impact because he spent much more time in England, and travelled more widely in it, accompanied by his hawks, than either of his predecessors.  Hawking was a seasonal sport, practised from autumn to spring, but it was subject to no geographical limits, and the records of John’s reign, supported from evidence from Henry III’s, shows that the king and his birds went out after ducks, herons and cranes in many parts of England, mostly in the midlands and south but also further north – in February 1213 he took nine cranes in Lincolnshire.

In 1208, if the chronicler Roger of Wendover is to be believed (admittedly he is not the most reliable of sources), John prohibited the taking of birds throughout the country, so giving himself a monopoly on hawking, and a limitless capacity for punishing violations of it.  Perhaps the story is unfounded, but is certain that officials were appointed to supervise rivers where the king went hawking, and that both communities and landowners were liable to punishment when they ignored or disobeyed orders to provide bridges, or otherwise prevented the king enjoying his sport.  By John’s reign the standard penalty for failing to provide bridges had apparently become fixed at five marks (£3. 6s. 8d.), a large sum which seems usually to have been imposed, and perhaps collected, on the spot.  Lords who had been commanded to order their tenants to make bridges, but failed to do so, also risked punishment.  Some communities were traditionally required to act in this way.  It was the arbitrary extension of this liability to other places, along with the penalties for its infringement, which had become intolerable, and which Clause 23 was intended to prevent.   

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.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for secondary school students

Pleas of the crown were above all the serious crimes – homicide, arson, rape and the like – over which the king possessed an exclusive jurisdiction.  In the years immediately after 1066 they were usually heard in the county court, presided over by the sheriff, but as the twelfth century progressed the latter’s powers were steadily whittled away, and in matters of law were largely entrusted instead to increasingly professional justices who were appointed at regular intervals by the central government to hold sessions in the shires – the so-called `eyres’.  New offices were created, moreover, above all that of the coroner, to take over powers which the sheriff had once exercised locally, and to answer to the crown for some of the profits of justice which might otherwise have disappeared into the pockets of the sheriff and his staff.  Inevitably this process was an uneven one, and although the sheriff’s jurisdiction where peace-keeping was concerned came to be largely confined to disorderly behaviour, he appears to have still been able to act against thieves into the early thirteenth century, while he was also sometimes tempted, or even required, to extend his powers in other ways at the expense of those he governed.  The sheriffs acted as judges, very possibly in every county, in judicial visitations which were held throughout England in the summer of 1210, and which appear to have been far more concerned to bring in revenue for the king than to administer justice, and some of them were also later found to have exploited their office by dealing with, and profiting from, matters which would normally have been reserved for justices in eyre, had the latter still been operational (no eyres were held in England between 1209 and 1218)  These acts of corruption and extortion on the part of sheriffs, together with their employment as financial agents masquerading as royal judges, were inevitably resented, and in Clause 24 resulted in a further, and sweeping, restraint being placed on their powers, and on those of all the other officials engaged in local government, one which took permanent effect.


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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 secondary school students

Dealing with what is owed to it by the heirs and dependents of the recently deceased is a test of the sensitivity, as well as the efficiency, of any government. Clause 26 suggests that King John’s government was much more efficient than sensitive, and was both aggressive and predatory in its pursuit of its claims. The barons responded by trying to prevent royal agents from taking more than was owed, by requiring that before anything was removed a formal summons should be issued setting out exactly what was owed, and that a full inventory should be taken of the dead man’s goods, which would help to ensure that anything taken in excess of the debt was later returned. In this way the clause pinpointed the two principal malpractices committed by the king’s men as they went about the task of debt-collection.

The clause also dealt with the disposal of such goods as were left when any debts had been cleared. By 1200 it was customary for these to be divided into three equal portions, of which the widow and children received one each, while the remaining third was placed in the hands of the dead man’s executors, who traditionally distributed it for the good of his soul, in alms or in gifts to the church. Securing the right to dispose of their goods in their testaments (nowadays usually referred to as wills) was something the barons had been trying to achieve for over a century before 1215. In a religious society, the saving of souls was a vital responsibility for the heirs and executors of the deceased, and anything that endangered it was likely to be resented and resisted. The barons did not dispute that debts to the king should be paid, but they objected to the often violent and dishonest methods used to achieve this, and to the way in which the king exploited his power at the expense of dead men’s dependents.


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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 secondary school students

Clause 27 accompanies and completes Clause 26. The latter was concerned with the implementation of testaments, disposing of moveable goods (wills were concerned with landed property) after debts to the king had been paid, while its successor dealt with the possessions of those who died intestate, without making a testament. It is significant that the involvement of the church is spelt out. By the early thirteenth century it had become customary for chattels to be divided into three equal parts at a man’s death, with one third apiece going to his widow and children, while the last was at his own disposal. He was expected, however, to distribute it for the good of his own soul, and his doing so was increasingly regarded as a religious duty, one which it was a grievous sin to omit. Like all sins, this one was the church’s concern, but perhaps because it affected earthly possessions it could give the crown an excuse for intervention, and there are signs under Henry II of attempts to treat intestacy as grounds for the confiscation of a dead man’s property. These petered out, however, except, by an unexpected paradox, in a few cases when the intestate was a bishop. The church’s control of intestacy was ultimately too firmly-established to be overcome, and even King John seems to have tried only very occasionally to have tried to claim an interest in unbequeathed goods. As a result, Clause 26 was dropped from the subsequent re-issues of Magna Carta, and intestacy remained the monopoly of ecclesiastical officials and courts.


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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.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for secondary school students

The reference to a constable places Clause 28 in a group of four clauses concerned with the way in which castles were garrisoned and supplied.  The king’s household enjoyed a long-standing right to commandeer the supplies it needed, above all in the form of food and drink, as it travelled round the country, against the promise of future repayment.  This right, known as purveyance, came to be extended to the king’s castles, of which there were many – King John controlled around seventy.  In an age when supplies of ready cash were limited, purveyance may have been unavoidable, but it was still deeply unpopular, not least because it was capable of being badly abused, by officials who might, for instance, remove goods but never pay for them, or threaten to take supplies and then invite bribes for not doing so.  Efforts were made to prevent such malpractices, but they seem to have enjoyed only limited success, not least because the processes of purveyance appear to have been inadequately supervised.  Its extension from the royal household to the king’s castles was bitterly resented, especially as those castles were fundamental to the maintenance of John’s exacting regime.  Except at times of sudden danger, for example immediately after the unexpected death of Richard I, the number of soldiers in them was seldom great, at least until the last years of the reign when there was a growing danger of civil war, but castles did not only contain soldiers.  Those in county towns, in particular, also contained the sheriff and his staff, prisoners, and any hostages which John had taken as a way of enforcing obedience – there were six hostages in Hereford Castle in 1215, for instance.  Cumulatively, castles held many men, and horses, and needed large stocks of food, drink and weapons for their maintenance.

The king’s castles gave forcible expression to his strength in the English counties, an expression which the use of purveyance intensified.  The build-up of garrisons after 1212 meant that still more supplies were needed for castles, and though purveyance was not the only means used to obtain them, it probably remained the most important one.  The barons, where they could, also took goods by purveyance to stock their own castles as they prepared to resist the king, and sometimes maintained large garrisons in them – that of Rochester Castle, besieged by John in the autumn of 1215, was said to have consisted of 140 knights, with their retinues.  Their demand that the king should pay cash down for stores for his castles was not only a means of preventing, or at any rate controlling, an abuse, it was also, in a document which contained several provisions calculated to reduce his revenues, a way of reducing his military strength.  But perhaps because purveyance was an ancient practice, the barons did not go so far as to forbid it altogether, and by conceding that goods could still be taken without immediate payment if their owner consented, they allowed this potentially abusive process 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 secondary school students

Clause 29, like Clause 28, was concerned with castles, not with supplies this time, but with their manning, and how that was organised and financed. It is complicated by the fact that it contains two provisions dealing with different issues, separated in the text by a change of voice. The first was concerned solely with the way castle-guard – essentially garrison duty – was performed, and was phrased in a way which could have made it applicable to all castles, not just royal ones. The second related explicitly to demands for castle-guard made on men who had also served in the royal army, and the constraints it imposed therefore concerned the king alone. In fact the king was probably the essential target of both parts of the clause, but the possibility that it was intended to have a wider application should be kept in mind.

Castle-guard, the duty of serving for specified periods (usually up to forty days) in a lord’s castle, was one of the services which a knight might have to perform at the command of his lord, whether the latter was the king or a baron. It was not required at many English castles (the Tower of London, for instance), which were instead manned by paid soldiers, and where it was demanded it had usually been commuted for cash by the end of the twelfth century. The money raised in this way could then be put towards the cost of hiring a mercenary. Castle-guard at Dover was owed from nearly 120 knights’ fees, mostly in Kent but also in at least six other counties. Calling on these widely distributed men, who were only liable to serve for about six weeks every year, was hardly the best way to provide a garrison for arguably the most important castle in England, and by 1215 it had come to be manned by paid soldiers who could remain in post indefinitely, as, indeed, they had to do – Dover Castle played a vital part in defending the realm in the civil war at the end of John’s reign, when it was under siege for months at a time. The rates at which castle-guard service was commuted for cash seem certain to have been increased in the years leading up to Magna Carta, partly because of a rise in the levels of soldiers’ pay and partly simply because the king needed more money. Clause 29’s stipulation that knights who were willing to perform this service in person should be allowed to do so was audacious in giving the tenant, not the king, the right to decide how a service owed by the former to the latter was to be performed. Its potential effects were two-fold. It deprived the king and his agents of a way of raising money. And it also threatened them with the possibility that the garrisons of some important castles would at least partly consist of soldiers whom they had not chosen and whose loyalty could not be guaranteed – well over a third of the tenants of Peterborough Abbey who owed castle-guard at Rockingham Castle, Northamptonshire, rebelled against King John in 1215/16.

The second part of Clause 29 addressed what was seen as a different though related abuse, the king’s practice of demanding castle-guard on top of military service in the army when he called out the latter. It was commonplace for knights to owe both castle-guard and host duty, but evidence which includes exemptions from castle-guard granted in 1214 to two men then in the king’s army in France suggests that John was in effect requiring such men to perform these two forms of service simultaneously, and compelling them either to commute for cash, at a doubtless extortionate rate, or to provide a substitute soldier for, the one they did not do. The second part of Clause 29 did not abolish dual services, but treated them as effectively two parts of a single service, perhaps limited to forty days altogether, so that after 1215 the time which was owed for garrison service was reduced in proportion to the time spent as a knight in the field.


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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 secondary school students

Clause 30 was essentially an attempt to place restrictions on one aspect of a traditional right of the crown known as purveyance, which enabled the king to take what he needed for his and his household’s maintenance and pay for it later. The scope of purveyance was greatly extended under Henry II and his sons, and Clause 30, along with Clauses 28 and 31, constituted an effort to bring it under control. Where Clause 30 was concerned, the commodity taken was transport, in the form of horses and carts, which the Angevin kings in general, and King John in particular, commandeered on a considerable scale. In fact the clause did not mention the king directly, only his officers. It is possible, depending on the interpretation of the phrase `anyone else’, that it also covered the officers of bishops and barons, but its primary target must have been the activities of King John and his agents, specifically as they affected the upper orders of society – the benefits of the clause were reserved for free men.

Horses largely replaced oxen as the principal means of haulage in England during the twelfth century. They were more expensive, but they made it possible for goods and people to move further and faster than previously. Under John, who spent far more time in England than either his father or elder brother, seizures of horses and carts facilitated the movements of troops, of money (in sacks containing £100 each – 24,000 silver pennies) and of the various departments of the royal court, and also of the king, as he rode tirelessly about the country, imposing himself on his subjects. Detail is scarce, but enough to show that was taken by way of transport (sometimes in the form of a doubtless compulsory `loan’) was by no means always paid for, either adequately or, in some cases, at all. When John quarrelled with the Cistercian abbots in 1212, one of his punishments for them was the requirement that they should provide him with `long’ carts and `very good’ horses. One abbot whose two carts were judged inadequate had them sent back to him, with a demand that he now provide the king with three.

In the years immediately before Magna Carta a substantial programme of restocking royal castles with food, drink and military equipment underlined the way in which John exploited other people’s horses and carts to maintain his rule, something which the civil war at the end of his reign, which was very largely one of sieges, only confirmed. Restricting the power of the king and his officials to take horses and carts thus constituted a way of reducing their power as well as of preventing an abuse. But Clause 30 did not go so far as to prohibit the seizure of horses and carts altogether, and though further restrictions were imposed in the re-issues of Magna Carta in 1216 and 1217, the basic practice continued.


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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 secondary school students

Like the previous clauses, but with none of their ambiguities, Clause 31 was directed against abuses of power by the king and his officers, and specifically against their seizures of timber for castles. Henry II and his sons were great builders of castles, which they saw as a mainstay of their rule. To an increasing extent they were mostly built of stone, but some wooden ones survived, for instance York, while stone castles still needed huge quantities of timber, for fittings and minor structures like storerooms, and also for firewood. The need was met from many sources. The king’s bailiffs took wood from forfeitures and escheats, and also from the lands of bishoprics when these fell vacant, and they exploited the royal forests, and placed strict limits on the right of people who possessed land within them to cut down trees on their own property. More generally, they appear also to have claimed that the king had the right to take wood for castles from nearby estates, whoever owned them (the clearest evidence for this comes from Scotland, but it probably records a practice copied from England).

An order of 1205, which in return for horses worth ten marks (£6, 13s. 4d.) freed a Norfolk landowner from having anything taken from his wood or park for the repair of Norwich Castle, by its very rarity demonstrates how valuable this practice was to the crown, and also how it could be a threat to the property of any landowner with estates near a royal castle, Direct evidence is in fact limited, but it seems clear that King John made heavy demands on the woods of his subjects, especially once he faced the threat of revolt and responded to it by strengthening his castles, while after civil war broke out not only did he continue to take timber, but he sometimes also ordered the destruction of the woods of his enemies. Clause 31 attests the resentment aroused by royal expropriations of timber, and (not for the only time) also shows his opponents acting to prevent an abuse in a way which would reduce the king’s military power as well. But it is noteworthy that the barons did not deny the king’s basic right in this respect and attempt to prevent his calling upon his subjects to supply his castles with wood, instead they laid down that he and his agents were to take what they needed only with the consent of those affected.

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.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for secondary school students

Clause 32 was directed against an abuse of the king’s authority at the expense of lords of freely-held land, when the latter’s tenants had committed one of the serious crimes known as felonies. By the late twelfth century, probably after much debate, it had become normal practice for a convicted felon’s chattels to be forfeited to the king, but for any free lands he or she had held to revert to their lord, but only after they had been retained by the king for a year and a day, and after everything on them, including the houses and trees, had been removed by his agents. Unsurprisingly, the temptation for the king to hold onto such lands beyond the prescribed period was strong. Henry II appears to have done so, in a case recorded from the late 1180s, and King John several times either acted thus, or threatened to do so. On a few occasions he contrived to manipulate forfeitures, so that even when they were returned to their lords, the latter were pressurised into granting them to agents of his own. But more often he simply exacted payments for the return of forfeited lands, sometimes after having inquests held which ensured that his own rights – not those of the lords – had been safeguarded. The sums involved varied, no doubt according to the extent of the property and the means of its lord. The earl of Devon was among those who paid, but many of those affected were seemingly insignificant landowners. The amount given could be as much as forty-five marks (£30), or as little as one mark (13s. 4d.), but in all cases the payment was being made for the reversion of property which its owners had every right to maintain should be theirs for nothing. As was often the case, John’s pursuit of money through such means was felt at every level of landowning society, and had the capacity to spread resentment widely. It also generated fear, since any lord might have a tenant who fell into evil courses for which he was hanged or outlawed, and his lands taken into the king’s hands. Clause 32 was the response to an abuse which many people had an immediate interest in preventing.  


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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 secondary school students

Most of the clauses of Magna Carta aimed to remedy abuses committed by the king and his agents.  Clause 33 is an exception, in that it demanded that the king use his powers for the benefit of his subjects, or at any rate a particular group of them, without suggesting that he was himself responsible for the grievance in question.  Indeed, both Richard I and John himself had already tried to resolve what proved to be a recurring problem.  The problem was the fish-weir, which was proliferating in the Thames, and probably in other rivers as well, to such an extent that it was becoming a serious hindrance to navigation, and so to trade.  There had been traps to catch fish in English waters for centuries, but a new form seems to have been introduced from the Continent in the late twelfth century, larger and heavier than its predecessors.  Made of poles and beams, and sometimes with a stone base, it was a substantial V-shaped structure, which worked by guiding fish that swam into its arms towards a net or basket at its centre.  London needed fish, both to feed its growing population and to meet the needs of those who observed the numerous fast-days of the Church by eating fish instead of meat.  But it needed to keep its waters clear as well, so that shipping could move safely up and down the Thames, and the new fish-traps clearly proved a serious obstacle.  The total removal of fish-weirs, from the Thames and Medway (downstream from London, on the northern shore of Kent), and also from all other rivers, was ordered in response.  A concluding phrase, excepting coastal fish-weirs from the prohibition, was probably added in recognition that such devices were less likely to hinder the movement of boats than weirs in rivers, but it may also have been intended to benefit the ecclesiastical and secular lords who were the likeliest owners of fish-traps which were set up along the shoreline.


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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 secondary school students

Successive English kings began trying to impose uniformity of weights and measures in the tenth century, and continued doing so at intervals up to the time of Magna Carta. Henry I decreed that the ell should be the length of his own forearm, Henry II issued ordinances (`assizes’) controlling the sale of corn, wine and bread, Richard I added regulations for the size and sale of cloth, and John attempted to fix the price of wine. Not all these enactments were equally successful – the last two were given up under pressure from merchants who found their terms too restricting – but Clause 35 shows that there was no objection in principle to such enactments. Rather it demonstrates that in some quarters – and especially inLondon, which was probably where a rather vague first draft was reshaped to give it its final form – they were actually welcomed, as likely to make trading less complicated and expensive.

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 secondary school students

Clause 36 represents a response to the developing use of jury trial to replace trial by combat as the usual means of deciding the guilt or innocence of men accused of felonies, that is, of serious crimes punishable by hanging or mutilation. To secure a jury, it was necessary to obtain a royal writ ordering that jurors be summoned to investigate the case. The justification for this course of action was commonly that the accusation had been made out of malice, an allegation which the jurors were ostensibly required to look into, though in fact they frequently simply convicted the suspect or, much more often, acquitted him. It took time, and a lot of experimentation, for this process to become settled, and in John’s reign there may have been more than one sort of writ in use, while the king and his justices charged varying prices – usually quite modest, but sometimes very high – for issuing a writ, and might sometimes refuse to provide one at all. The purpose of the clause was to ensure that nobody risking life and limb in a royal court was denied jury trial if he wanted it, and in that it appears to have been 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 secondary school students

The drafters of Magna Carta had a good deal of difficulty with Clause 37, which dealt with the issue of wardship, and especially with the crown’s pre-eminent right known as `prerogative wardship’.  Land tenures had become highly complicated by the early thirteenth century, with properties being frequently sub-divided and held on a variety of terms.  As well as knight service, there was also burgage tenure, found in towns, socage and fee-farm tenures, under which lands were essentially held for rent, and serjeanty tenure, which gave men lands in return for a variety of specified services – in some cases military, and close to knight service, in others administrative, and in yet others eccentric or even absurd.  But whatever the nature of the service, and however large or small the estate for which it was done, if the latter was held directly from the crown, then its holder was a tenant-in-chief, and if he died leaving an underage heir, then the custody not only of that land, but also of any other lands he had held of any other lords, became the king’s for as long as the heir’s minority lasted.  The king’s claims could thus be wide, and the fact that tenures were often ill-defined, and liable both to change and to confusion with one another, gave him many opportunities to make them wider still.

Evidence for the king’s abuse of his rights is in fact hard to pin down, though there are a number of cases in which it can be suspected.  In around 1190 the abbot of Bury St Edmunds expressed anxiety that land which was the subject of an inheritance dispute might come under royal control if the tenant `should marry a free woman with a holding of as much as one acre directly from the king’ – a neat encapsulation of the dangers which prerogative wardship posed to other lords.  In 1208 King John granted remission of its effects as a favour to William Marshal, while the widespread inquests held into tenures in 1212 may well have been intended, at least in part, to enable him to make the most of his rights in this respect.  The investigations were particularly concerned with knight service and serjeanties, but in some counties inquired about socage and fee-farm tenures as well.  Clause 37 itself doubtless reflected the fears such inquiries provoked, as well as the resentments aroused by the king’s exploitation of prerogative wardship.  It did not abolish the latter right (though there are signs in Clause 53 that there were barons who wanted to do this), but brought it under control, by compelling the king to abandon his claims to the wardship of lands held by knight service of other lords, in cases where those claims were based solely upon a non-military tenancy – in future they could only be valid when the deceased tenant-in-chief had held his land from the crown by knight service.

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 secondary school students

Clause 39, which is still on the statute book, is in effect a succinct criticism of the misuse of their powers by Henry II and his sons Richard I and John, and an attempt to subject those powers to legal constraints.  It was specifically applied only to free men, whose property and rights it was intended to protect against the actions of the king, it was not drawn up to defend serfs against mistreatment by their lords.  The English crown, which by contemporary standards had long been unusually powerful, had by around 1200 become able to exercise effective authority throughout the whole country.  It acknowledged that law was entitled to supremacy over power, but in practice all too often ignored this principle, being moved instead by will – in contemporary thought the polar opposite of law – or simply by malevolence or anger (these last were often entered as grounds for action in the government’s own records, and chroniclers, too, recorded numerous outbursts of royal rage, one of which was notoriously the cause of the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170).  Government was still essentially personal, and as a result it continued to reflect the domineering personalities of kings who expected obedience, were easily moved to wrath, and were in a position to impose themselves directly on every level of free society.

 

Clause 39 lists the methods which King John, even more than his two predecessors, used against those whom he wished to discipline or coerce, or whose money he wished to extract.  All were potentially lawful processes, means, indeed, of righting wrong or punishing crime when used in proper form, but acts of oppression when their primary purpose was to serve the interests, or just the pleasure, of the monarch.  The one most frequently employed was disseisin, the dispossession of landed property, which constituted a threat to the status as well as to the means of its victims, and must have been all the more feared, and resented, because when the king’s agents seized a man or woman’s estates they often took everything on it, goods and crops, as well.  In some cases disseisin could have been justified as the appropriate punishment for a serious offence, but in others the recorded grounds for it appear to have been slight – failures to pay debts on time, for instance, or trivial breaches of forest law.  In many cases no reason was given at all, suggesting that disseisin had become the government’s first recourse against offenders, whatever they had done.  The other actions listed were, as recorded, employed less often than disseisin, but their effects could be no less devastating, resulting in the loss of personal freedom for a person imprisoned, of all rights and property for anybody outlawed, of life itself for those executed (probably what was meant by `ruined’).  All entailed physical violence, of a kind with which Jews and members of the clergy were threatened, and which the former certainly suffered. 

 

John’s government was certainly fertile in menaces, issuing commands in language which was clearly intended to intimidate as well as to enforce obedience, and acting so often on impulse that it was apt to become confused about its own intentions and the reasons for its own deeds, which might have to be corrected afterwards.  The response to this style of government, so relentlessly, even recklessly, violent, was a growing demand for the safeguards provided by due process of law, one voiced in the months before Magna Carta by Archbishop Stephen Langton and even by the pope, and no doubt urgently sought by the rebellious barons and their followers, many of whom had suffered from the various forms of oppression listed in Clause 39.  What they sought was the subjection of royal power to the rule of law in terms with which they were familiar.  What they also helped to achieve, of no less importance, was the separation of law from government, of which it had hitherto been little more than one component among many.  

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 secondary school students

This famous clause is the shortest in the whole of Magna Carta – just nine Latin words, or thirteen in English. Brevity does not make for concise exposition, however, since the administration of justice was not only one of the most important functions of kingship, but was also well-nigh inseparable from government. The legal reforms of Henry II’s reign, moreover, greatly extended access to the royal courts, so that how the king did justice could potentially affect many more people than previously. Whereas Clause 39 seems to have been principally intended to protect the rights of the lower levels of free society, Clause 40 was primarily designed to safeguard those of barons and knights. The great men of the realm – essentially tenants-in-chief, holding their lands directly from the crown – had a particular need for such protection, since the processes resulting from Henry II’s reforms were at best only intermittently available to them. For the resolution of their disputes they usually had to turn directly to the king, in whose hands justice might at any time be a tool of patronage, a way of favouring friends and allies and hurting enemies, or simply a way of raising money.

The sources provide grounds for believing that this happened under both Henry II and Richard I, though they are often imprecise as to what was done and why. The survival of records is much fuller from John’s reign. What they reveal is by no means always discreditable to that monarch, for they show that he took a close interest in the courts, one of which, the court coram rege, may well have been created on his orders, and that he could be impartial, careful to act correctly, and sometimes even merciful, in his conduct of lawsuits. As with his two predecessors, the evidence is often capable of more than one interpretation, but that may simply show that individual cases were difficult ones, not necessarily that John gave judgment upon them in his own interests. There are a number of recorded cases, however, which show him in a different light, in which he could be partisan, willing to take money from either side, or even from both, and influenced in his judgments by financial, political and personal factors.

In 1210, for instance, John was recorded as having ordered his officials to refuse justice to the Cistercians, in revenge for their having refused him a grant of money, and he was no less vindictive in other cases. Ruald FitzAlan, the constable of Richmond, paid the king some £175 to be secured in his inheritance, but in 1208 still had to face a rival claim in a royal court, almost certainly because he had resisted the imposition of the tax of a thirteenth a year earlier. In a long-running dispute between the Shropshire baron Fulk FitzWarin and members of a Welsh family over the castle of Whittington, John accepted bids from both parties before finally deciding in Fulk’s favour. In other cases it is clear that the litigant who offered the most prevailed. A lengthy dispute between Robert de Courtenay and Alexander of Caldbeck over property in Cumberland was ended by a £200 proffer by Courtenay, whereupon Caldbeck abandoned his case, on the grounds that `the king does not wish that he should have it’. John did not always even try to appear impartial. In a dispute recorded both by the chronicler Matthew Paris and in court records between St Albans Abbey and Robert FitzWalter, a powerful baron with whom John’s relations were never good, over the former’s daughter-house of Binham Priory, the king was said to have expressed open satisfaction when FitzWalter put himself in the wrong by laying the priory under siege, and sent a force of knights to arrest him and his men.

Such cases as these – and there were many of them – do not show that King John’s administration of justice was invariably marred by partiality or corruption. But they do demonstrate that it could never be relied upon to be disinterested, uninfluenced by the external considerations which frequently affected the workings of Angevin government (still often a highly personal affair), and of justice along with it. There were signs, however, that by the time of John’s reign the concept of objective justice, as something existing in detachment from the central administration, was beginning to gain ground, and not least among the judges who presided in the royal courts. Very occasionally they resisted the king’s interference with their work, and after John’s death they did so more often. Clause 40 marked an important stage in the long-drawn-out process which separated law from government. Linked since 1225 to Clause 39, it is still on the statute book today.

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 secondary school students

Clause 41 was a large part of the price demanded by the city ofLondonfor supporting the barons against King John. Since the mid-1190s England’s foreign trade had been exploited by the crown as a source of revenue, through the imposition of a series of new customs duties, which raised a good deal of money, on top of the relatively light duties which were traditionally paid. The movements of foreign merchants, too, had been subjected to constant restriction and interference, dictated by the policy of Richard I, and then John, with regard to their countries of origin. When thecountyofFlanders, for instance, changed sides from being an ally ofEnglandagainst the king ofFranceto supporting the French against the English, its merchants were often discriminated against in English ports. London’s position at the centre of English trade made such policies highly unpopular with its leading citizens, and in 1215 they were able to demand, and obtain, a ban on new customs duties, and permission for merchants from overseas to trade freely withEngland. It was accepted that that freedom might have to be curtailed in wartime, but the action taken against foreign traders inEnglandwould depend on the way English merchants were treated in the countries with whichEnglandwas at war. The clause remained in force after 1215, and no new customs duties of any significance were imposed for another sixty years.

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 secondary school students

Clause 42 goes with Clause 41 in content as well as position. Clause 41 gave merchants the freedom to come and go as they wished, and Clause 42 extended that freedom to the rest of the king’s subjects. Basically similar limitations, mostly relating to wartime, were set out in both clauses. BecauseEnglandis an island, which in the thirteenth century had land borders only withWalesandScotland, it was easier for her kings to control the movements of those coming into and going out of their realm than it was for the rulers of most other countries. They can be seen doing so from at least the eleventh century. Those most affected were churchmen, whose allegiance to the pope inRomecould easily lead to their loyalty to the English king being called into question. Henry II’s dispute with Thomas Becket, and King John’s quarrel with the papacy over the appointment of Stephen Langton as archbishop ofCanterbury, both led to restrictions being placed on the movements of ecclesiastics, restrictions which could be applied to laymen as well. John was clearly regarded as having exercised his authority in this respect with undue forcefulness, but the powers at his disposal, though misused by him, must quickly (perhaps under the influence of the civil war of 1215-17) have come to be seen as ones which no government could responsibly surrender, for this clause did not appear in the later reissues of the Charter.


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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 secondary school students

For the tenants of any barony which came into the king’s hands for any length of time, either because their lord had forfeited his lands (rebellion was the likeliest cause of this) or because he had died without heirs, there was always the danger that they would be exposed to greater demands for money and services, as a result of their having now become tenants-in-chief, holding their lands directly from the crown. The four honours named in Clause 43 (Wallingford, Boulogne, Nottingham and Lancaster) were all important lordships, extending into several counties, and the same was often true both of other secular lordships which escheated to the king, and also of the ecclesiastical baronies which came under royal control, often for months and sometimes for years, when a bishop or abbot either died or was translated to another office. Henry II and Richard I were usually willing to treat escheats as their previous lords had done. They might use them as sources of ready cash, so that their revenues were paid directly to themselves rather than going into the exchequer, but the amounts raised stayed largely the same; indeed, some of the proceeds might be invested in the lordships involved, so as to make them more profitable.

In the early years of his reign King John continued to treat escheated baronies much as his father and brother had done, but he stepped up his demands as his financial needs grew. In part this was achieved through a greater attention to detail – a number of inquests were held to establish what the king’s rights and revenues should be, so that these could be fully exploited. Some escheats, too, were placed in the hands of specially-appointed officials, rather than being left under the control of sheriffs who had many other responsibilities. John’s excommunication in 1209 was followed by the intensive exploitation of bishoprics left vacant by prelates who would no longer serve him, and other ecclesiastical lordships, and also secular baronies, were increasingly treated in the same way. In a few cases an escheat was allowed to pay to be treated as it had been by its former lord, but most remained exposed to royal pressure. The honour of Lancaster seems to have been particularly hard hit by the king’s demands – all its knights, around eighty men, were recorded as having taken part in John’s Scottish campaign of 1209, at a time when the overall trend was for baronies to provide much less military service than was nominally due from them. Little of the money raised within escheats was now spent on them, it all went into the exchequer, or, in increasing amounts, into the king’s chamber. In 1213 John levied a scutage at the unprecedented rate of £2 per knight’s fee, but the men of two baronies and several of the bishoprics which were then in his hands were required to pay ten marks (£6. 13s. 4d.) per fee, more than three times as much. It is hardly surprising that several of the knights of Wallingford, for instance, should have joined the rebellion against King John, or that the men of escheated lordships should have demanded the protection against royal exploitation which Clause 43 provided.

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 secondary school students

Clause 46 is the only one in Magna Carta to be solely concerned with the ecclesiastical rights of laymen (there is also a phrase devoted to the same subject in Clause 53). The descendants of barons who founded religious houses inherited various rights in them, spiritual and secular. They could expect to benefit from their prayers, during their lives and after their deaths, when they were usually buried in them alongside their forebears. They could hope to be able to provide their clerks with livelihoods by appointing them to churches which had been granted to the monasteries of which they were patrons, and they also commonly had custody of those monasteries after the death of an abbot or prior, and had a role (its terms varied greatly) in the choice of his successor. The king enjoyed the same rights in monasteries founded by his predecessors, and also added to them from time to time, permanently when a baron’s lands reverted to him for lack of heirs or through forfeiture, temporarily when a baron died and his lands, with the rights attached to them, came into the king’s hands because the heir was a minor and consequently in his wardship. But this was not always enough for Henry II and his successors, and there is evidence that they regarded themselves as having superior rights over all monasteries described as abbeys, that is, the larger and wealthier houses. When the canons of Woodham Ferrers had their priory made an abbey by Richard I in 1190, their action was bitterly resented by the patron, Geoffrey FitzPeter, who saw it as significantly compromising his own interests there.

King John twice made grants of the crozier (`the pastoral staff’) in terms which suggest that he regarded patronal rights as his to dispose of. When a papal interdict was imposed on England in 1208, he responded with widespread confiscations of monastic property, which he often then placed in the hands of the patrons of the houses concerned, but as an act of royal grace, not as a matter of right. Evidence is scarce for his usurpation of patronal rights in specific cases (there are serious gaps in the records for the period 1208-13), but sufficient to show what could happen. At Kenilworth Priory a disputed election gave John an excuse to impose his own candidate as prior and receive the revenues of the house for several years, ignoring the rights of the patron completely. At Whitby Abbey those rights had come to be shared by two members of the Percy family, one of whom was a royal ward. This gave John the opportunity to exploit all the resources of the abbey, not just half of them, and to present to its churches when these fell vacant. And at Tewkesbury and Keynsham Abbeys, both founded by lords of the honour of Gloucester in the twelfth century, John withheld patronal rights when the lands of the honour were conveyed to Geoffrey de Mandeville, earl of Essex, following his marriage to Isabel of Gloucester, who happened to be the king’s own first wife. If in acting thus John showed that he understood the value of a patron’s rights in a monastery, he also displayed his own insensitivity concerning matters which could have significant emotional appeal as well as economic value. Clause 46 shows that the barons saw their rights in similar terms, and were determined to preserve them.


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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 secondary school students

At the time of Magna Carta taking hostages – living guarantees for the fulfilment of obligations – was widely regarded as an acceptable practice on the part of European rulers. Archbishop Stephen Langton himself declared that a king was entitled to take them from potential rebels, preferably their sons. Henry II and Richard I both took hostages when occasion demanded, and also sometimes gave them – in 1194 Richard was obliged to give a total of sixty-seven hostages when he negotiated his ransom and release from captivity. But John not only took hostages throughout his reign but did so in unprecedented numbers. His inability to trust his own subjects meant that he mostly took them as guarantees of loyalty, but they might also be given as security for the payment of debts. Many were children, with sons being preferred to daughters, while legitimate birth was often also required – the hostage had to be someone who mattered to the giver. Contemporary law distinguished hostages from prisoners, but both might be held in chains, from which release could be granted as a favour. Some hostages were maintained at the expense of the king, others at that of those who gave them, while one group of Welsh hostages may have lived by begging. They were often held in castles, but some were placed in monasteries (like the daughter of the piratical Eustace the Monk, who was entrusted to the nuns of Wilton Abbey), or handed over to towns, while the children of magnates might be kept at court.

Hostages stood in imminent danger if the person who gave them reneged on his or her obligations. The developing code of chivalric conduct conveyed doubts about the rightfulness of hostage-taking – William Marshal, who had himself come close to death as a hostage in Stephen’s reign, once pronounced it a shameful practice – but such reservations meant nothing to King John, or to any English lord who had dealings with the Scots, Irish and Welsh. In 1212 John notoriously had some thirty Welsh hostages hanged at Nottingham, while immediately afterwards the discovery of a conspiracy against his life led to a large-scale campaign of repression in which the taking of English hostages featured prominently. Many were taken from members of the nobility, but the king’s efforts to impose loyalty ramified far beyond their ranks, sometimes to whole communities (the men of the Channel Islands gave hostages, as did the townsmen of Dunwich), but more often to individual landowners. A number of the tenants in Essex of Robert FitzWalter, one of the foremost conspirators in 1212, were obliged to give hostages, who were then entrusted to neighbouring landowners who themselves had to give charters to the king in which each offered himself and his land as a guarantee of the hostage-giver’s faithful service in future. The keepers of hostages thus became effectively hostages themselves.

Such charters were increasingly used as an alternative, or supplement, to hostages, becoming increasingly stereotyped pledges of loyalty, on pain of perpetual forfeiture of lands. Clause 49 thus struck at practices which had become central to John’s style of government. Some hostages were released in the weeks immediately after Runnymede, though not all were, and when civil war broke out later in 1215 the king took them as whole-heartedly as before. Rebels coerced back into their allegiance were routinely required to give a fine, hostages and a charter. In the very early years of the following reign the minority government found that it could not dispense with such useful methods of enforcing obedience, but with the return of peace they were increasingly dispensed with. Clause 49 had not forbidden hostage-taking as such, but later governments found other ways of maintaining control over their subjects.


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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 secondary school students

Clause 52 was one of the longest in the 1215 Magna Carta. Expressing the determination of the barons to enforce retrospectively an important element in Clause 39 of the Charter, its basic issue was a simple one, the right of free landowners who had been deprived – `disseised’ – of estates, castles and rights by King John, or by his father, Henry II, and elder brother, Richard I, to recover what had been unlawfully taken from them. That the Clause differed in significant respects from no. 25 of the Articles of the Barons, on which it was based, was principally due to complications resulting from John’s having taken the cross on 4 March 1215, and from his claim that he was therefore entitled to the exemptions from legal processes which had come to be granted to crusaders. Eventually it was decided that he must restore immediately what he himself had had taken, but that seizures by his father and brother should await his return from the Holy Land, or alternatively, his decision not to go there.

The wording of Clause 52 makes it clear that the barons expected resistance from King John. When that happened, the twenty-five barons in whose hands the enforcement of the whole Charter was to be placed were to give judgment. There was likely to be much for them to do, since John had disseised men and women of their lands throughout his reign. His actions could have been justified on a variety of grounds, for instance a failure to pay debts owing to the crown, but often arose from political or personal considerations. Many disseisins followed the conspiracy of 1212 against John’s life, while in the weeks before Runnymede he had ordered the seizure in every county of the estates of those he now described as his enemies, creating a good deal of confusion in the process. Disseisins could be carried out through chicanery, for instance by manipulating the proceedings of the courts, but most were implemented by force. A number of orders for their rectification were given in the weeks following the negotiation of Magna Carta, and show that those affected had been free landholders of all ranks, but inevitably the claims of the magnates for repossession received most attention and are best recorded.

How far the twenty-five barons were involved in dealing with them is unclear – in some cases John may have pre-empted their intervention by ordering restitution himself – but it seems likely (not least because a number of them had themselves been disseised by the king) that they did play a part, perhaps a significant one, in restoring the king’s victims to their lands, and to the rights and castles to whose recovery they were also entitled. A number of castles were handed back, while Eustace de Vesci, one of the conspirators of 1212 and one of the twenty-five in 1215, regained hunting rights in Northumberland which King John, with characteristic petty-mindedness, had evidently withheld when Eustace recovered his lands in 1213. Other barons seized the opportunity presented by the king’s weakness to claim more than they had lost, or even what they had never held. William de Mowbray, a leading baron in Yorkshire, asserted his right to hold the king’s forest in that county and the royal castle in York, proffering as evidence the findings of an inquest which probably never took place. John successfully resisted Mowbray’s claim, as he also did that of Nicholas de Stuteville to Knaresborough Castle, which he had held since 1205 as pledge for Nicholas’s payment of a huge fine for the right to succeed to his family’s lands. The fine was never paid, and the castle was not given back, in defiance of a direct order by the twenty-five barons. The cases of York and Knaresborough, like Clause 52 itself, illustrate both John’s methods of government and the breakdown of relations between king and barons which resulted from them.

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.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for secondary school students

Most of the clauses in Magna Carta were concerned to forbid abuses of royal power and so prevent their continuance in the future; Clause 55 was one of a few concerned to rectify past misdeeds, in this instance the financial exactions known as amercements and fines. Ostensibly they were different. Amercements were penalties imposed by courts or institutions like the exchequer, whereas fines were settlements negotiated in order to end a dispute or obtain a favour. But under John’s rule fines became increasingly like amercements, not only in becoming ever larger but also in being effectively agreed to under duress, and so were imposed just as amercements were. Clause 55 differed in some significant respects from No. 37 of the Articles of the Barons on which it was based. The Article specified that the fines needing to be pardoned or renegotiated were those made to obtain dowers, marriages and inheritances. These were indeed assets for which many substantial fines were made, but there were also others, and Clause 55 recognised this by widening its scope to cover all fines and amercements, and thus the entire range of John’s financial demands. On the other hand (and unlike Clause 52, another retrospective clause), Clause 55 confined its remit to that king’s actions, and did not extend it back to those of his father and older brother.

The fines and amercements which under Clause 55 were to be either annulled or referred to the judgment of the twenty-five barons responsible for enforcing Magna Carta as a whole, were those made `unjustly and against the law of the land’, a phrase which probably meant that they had not been assessed by the peers, or at any rate the reputable neighbours, of those required to pay them. The drafters of the Clause may have had the penalties for breaches of the forest laws particularly in mind, since these were always both arbitrary and heavy. Nothing was said about the size of amercements and fines, only about the manner of their making, but it is hard to believe that size was not an important consideration behind the Clause, and above all where fines were concerned – amercements affected many more people, especially those imposed by royal justices itinerant, but the fines made by the wealthy and powerful brought much more money into the royal coffers.

All the Angevin kings levied large fines, and the last years of Richard I’s reign saw a marked increase in the sums involved. This upward trend continued and steepened under King John. Fines were increased not only in purely monetary terms but also by John’s practice of demanding additional payments in the form of hawks, dogs and horses, though these were almost invariably converted into cash – an ordinary horse, or palfrey, could add £3. 6s. 8d. to the bill, a warhorse as much as £20. Pressure to pay also intensified. Deadlines became tighter and were more rigorously enforced, so that those who failed to meet them might see their lands sequestrated and then devastated as the king’s agents set about raising the money owed. And the burden of payment was increasingly extended by the practice of demanding that a debtor find pledges, whose number sometimes ran into hundreds, who could not only guarantee that an obligation would be met but might also to be made responsible for meeting it – the pledges often paid a higher proportion of a debt than the principal did. The effect of such methods was to make the impact of fines with the king felt increasingly widely in landowning society, spreading an anxiety and fear which the sheer size of some of the fines made in the last years of John’s reign can have done nothing to alleviate. The king himself may have belatedly understood how much harm his financial measures were doing him, since in May 1215 he offered to refer two massive fines to the judgment of his own court – £6000 owed by Giles de Briouze, bishop of Hereford, for his family’s forfeited lands, and the huge fine, inordinate by any standards, of 20,000 marks (£13,333. 6s. 8d.) made by Geoffrey de Mandeville, earl of Essex, for the right to marry Isabella of Gloucester, the king’s first wife, and for possession of her lands. It is not known if in the weeks after Runnymede the twenty-five barons acted as prescribed to deal with fines and amercements, but Clause 55 did not form part of any of the later reissues of Magna Carta. Probably this was because other clauses prevented the abuses which that Clause had been intended to correct, just as later kings found other, usually less objectionable, methods of raising the money they needed.

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.

Audio commentary


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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.

Audio commentary

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Commentary for secondary school students

Clause 60 laid down that all lords – not just the barons with whom King John negotiated the content of Magna Carta – should observe the Charter’s stipulations in their dealings with those beneath them. That its beneficiaries would have been very largely free men (though villeins could have benefited from the observance of c. 20, restricting the imposition of amercements) reflects the way the repercussions of John’s rule, and especially his financial demands, had been felt throughout landowning society. Knights and the lords of manors below the level of the baronage had been affected by royal misrule and had supported the rebellion against the king, and in June 1215 they demanded a share of the concessions extracted from him. The magnates may have had some misgivings about this, as likely to undermine their control of their tenants. Added to this was the problem of enforcement, about which the Clause said nothing, and which was probably to be the responsibility of the king, thus giving him the opportunity to extend his authority through interference in relations between lords and tenants. It may have been to prevent this that a sentence was added to Clause 60 in the 1217 reissue of Magna Carta, `saving’ the rights of the barons.

Evidence is scarce for the kind of abuses on the part of lords which Magna Carta set out to rectify on the part of the king, not least because it took courage and determination for a tenant to sue or protest against his superior. There was certainly an awareness of the kinds of malpractice which a lord could perpetrate, as shown, for instance, in the charter issued by the Yorkshire baron Peter de Brus between 1207 and 1209, promising, among other concessions (and in terms very similar to Clause 20 of Magna Carta), that anyone amerced in his court would be punished in proportion to his offence and the seriousness of his offence. Presumably the tenants to whom Peter addressed his charter had demanded this. And there are also some recorded instances of abuses which Magna Carta aimed to prevent on the part of the king being inflicted by some of his leading subjects. Lords can be seen imprisoning their subordinates, demanding services and payments which they did not owe, and in particular depriving them of their lands. The constable of Richmond, having recovered lands held by his ancestors, promptly evicted the sitting tenants. Archbishop Hubert Walter – significantly, once he was safely dead – was said to have dispossessed so many men that the king had to ordered investigations into the primate’s actions. Those who recovered estates from which they had been ejected might return to find their property devastated.

King John repeatedly showed himself impulsive, aggressive and violent in his dealings with his subjects. His barons might do the same. The earl of Arundel seized a tenant’s lands in a moment of anger, the earl of Norfolk used force to keep a tenant out of his inheritance. Lay landowners bullied their ecclesiastical neighbours, often in efforts to recover lands and rights granted to monasteries by their fathers and grandfathers. The chronicle of the Yorkshire abbey of Meaux records a number of such campaigns of harassment. But monastic landlords could be no less aggressive and high-handed. Abbot Samson of Bury St Edmunds so built up his fishpond that his tenants’ orchards and gardens were flooded, but refused to listen to their complaints. But although it is possible to see why Clause 60 might have been needed, it does not seem to have been often invoked, though Henry III sometimes called upon his barons to observe it. Nevertheless its very existence may sometimes have acted as a restraint upon magnate misconduct, adding to its purely symbolic importance as a witness to the range and applicability 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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