The Magna Carta Project

II. Matthew Paris’s text in his Chronica Majora.

by Professor David Carpenter

The editor of the Chronica Majora for the Rolls Series, H.R. Luard, worked very hard, and on the whole successfully, to show the different layers of Paris’s text of Magna Carta, employing both footnotes and italic type.1 The original text, between folios 38-41 of Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS 16, is a wonder to behold. Paris initially, as we have said, had simply copied Wendover’s version of the 1215 Charter, divided into two halves by the Forest Charter. He thus repeated Wendover’s omission, through homoeoteleuton, in chapter 4.  Around 1250, however, Paris engaged for the first time with what was probably a full text of the 1215 Charter, probably in its authorized version. Whether this had long been at St Albans or had only recently been acquired we do not know.  

Having engaged in this way, Paris decided to revise his previous Wendover text. He did this in two main ways.2 First he added in the margins or at the foot of folios passages missing from Wendover, so for example the names of the counsellors in the preamble and the need, in chapter 6, for the kin to be informed of marriages planned for heirs. (He did not, however, correct the omission in chapter 4). More radically, he also washed out a whole section of text copied from Wendover. This began at the start of chapter 8, on widows, at the foot of folio 38v’s first column and then embraced  the whole of its second column down to its last word, ‘capiat’, in chapter 28. In the place of the removed text from 1217, Paris inserted chapters from this section of the 1215 Charter, which had hitherto been missing. He did this, however, with the 1217 text at his side because where it was significantly different from the 1215 text he followed the 1217 version. Thus he has the 1217 version of chapter 18 in which the judges are to visit the counties only once a year not four times, and to hear the assizes with the knights of the county rather than knights elected in the county court. Paris also retained Wendover’s text of chapter 20, on amercements, including the ending with ‘de visneto comitatus’. However, probably by reference to his 1215 text, he saw that Wendover had missed out ‘earls’ from the start of the next chapter. Paris, therefore, put this right by now beginning the chapter ‘Comites et barones’. Clearly Paris was in the business of adding but not subtracting. The additions now meant that Paris’s version included the important 1215 chapters on the Jews, scutages and aids, and the county farms (chapters 9, 10, 12, 14, 15 and 25).  

After this inserted section, Paris largely retained Wendover’s 1217 text, although adding at the foot of a column chapter 42 (on free entry into and exit from the country), which had been omitted after 1215. Thereafter he left Wendover’s text entirely alone, which meant he did not include the chapters on the inquiry into local government, officials knowing the law of the kingdom, the forest, the dismissal of the kinsmen of Gerard d’Athée and foreign mercenaries, and  the redress of past grievances including those of the Welsh and the King of Scots. It may be that Paris felt some of these chapters were covered in the Forest Charter or (in the case of d’Athée and the mercenaries) the security clause, for both of which he retained Wendover’s text. Perhaps he thought the chapters on the redress of grievances had only temporary significance. I think it more likely, however, that he had simply been deterred by the difficulties of altering the manuscript. The missing chapters do appear in two other Paris related copies, namely III and IV, below.        


Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, ed. H.R. Luard, 7 vols. (Rolls Series, 1872-83), ii, pp.589-98, 602-4.


For his changes, see J.C. Holt, ‘The St Albans Chroniclers and Magna Carta’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, fifth series, 14 (1964), pp.67-88, reprinted in his collected essays, Magna Carta and Medieval Government (London, 1095), pp.266-87, at pp.281-2.

The Copies of Magna Carta