The Magna Carta Project

I. Bodleian Library Oxford MS Lat. Hist. a. 1 (P).

by Professor David Carpenter

This is a single sheet copy of Magna Carta written on a long roll of parchment approximately 122 mm times 635 mm.1  One side is covered fully with 152 lines of text. The other side has only 66 lines. Teresa Webber kindly comments on the hand as follows. ‘The hand looks very English, recognizably related to the distinctively English variety of mid twelfth-century book hand, but with the usual variant forms incorporated in less formal versions of the hand and especially when used for documentary purposes. Close dating is very difficult, but there is nothing to preclude a date of production close to 1215, but equally a date anywhere in the first half of the thirteenth century is possible. It is unlikely to be later than that (e.g. the lack of use, as far as I have spotted, of a diacritical mark over i – the oblique strokes that at first sight look like diacritical marks over i are instead decorative strokes attached to the leading edge of the headstroke of t – and the still rather broad proportions of letters). If pushed, I would date it earlier within that half century than later, but I am unable to localize its place of production more closely.’

On the dorse, the document is described as containing privileges conferred by John ‘Re di Inghilterra’ on the kingdom ‘di Inghilterra’. Underneath, the concluding dating clause there is written ‘1298 16 Guigno’, which would appear to be a reference to the Charter (in this copy) having been given on 16 June, ‘1298’, if it refers to the year of the Charter’s concession, being just is a mistake. Lower down on the dorse, there appears (in Vincent’s transcription) ‘1298 papa Innon’ 3a’ and underneath that ‘16 Guigno’. Vincent judges the hand of these annotations to be seventeenth/eighteenth century, which suggests the roll was in Italy then. It may, of course, have reached Italy much earlier but the number of variant readings, including mistakes, make it unlikely that this was any kind of official text sent to Innocent III.

The chief variants are as follows.

In the list of John’s counselors, ‘Stephani Cantuariensis’ lacks the ‘Stephani’ and appears to have instead ‘Scilicet’. The ‘comes’ after William Marshal is nominative not genitive – ‘comes’ not ‘comitis’. Instead of ‘Petri filii Hereberti, Huberti de Burgo seneschalli Pictavie’, the text reads ‘Petro filii Herberti, de Burgh, Hug’ senesch’ Pictavie’.

For other examples of mistakes connected with the name of Hubert de Burgh, see below 3 Huntington, no. II; 3 Huntington (‘G’), no. IV.

In chapter 2, about relief, the passage ‘heres vel heredes baronis de baronia integra per centum libras’ is omitted, and at the end in ‘secundum antiquam consuetudinem feodorum’, ‘relevium’ is found in place of ‘consuetudinem’. 

Chapter 3 starts ‘Si vero’ rather than ‘si autem’. The scribe originally wrote ‘habeat terram’ but then immediately underlined ‘terram’ for deletion and went on correctly ‘hereditatem suam’. He was not always careless, therefore.

In Chapter 10, instead of ‘debitum not usuret’ the text reads ‘non surget’.

In Chapter 12, instead of ‘Nullum scutagium vel auxilium ponatur in regno nostro nisi per commune consilium regni nostri’, the text reads ‘Nullum scutagium vel auxilium ponatur in regno meo nisi per consilium nostrum’. It would seem that ‘per commune consilium regni nostri’ has been omitted here since the copy still has chapter 14 on how to obtain it. For another example of ‘consilium nostrum’, see below ‘3: Huntington G’, no.V.

The use of the first person singular in this chapter – ‘in regno meo’ - appears again later in the copy. It is also found – ‘meus’ – throughout the Unknown Charter and sometimes in royal letters, for example ‘negocium meum’ in RLP, p.130.  

In chapter 19, instead of ‘per quos possint iudicia sufficienter fieri’, the text reads ‘per quos possint iudicia (discerni) sufficienter fieri’, the ‘discerni’ I have put here in brackets being crossed out.2 It is difficult to believe the scribe has just made up ‘discerni’. More likely, he was copying from a text where ‘discerni’ appeared – so ‘judgements can be determined’. The scribe then saw that it had been marked for erasure and ‘sufficienter fieri’ substituted.  Chapter 19 was created at Runnymede, for it is not in the Articles of the Barons and there must have been discussion about its wording. This makes it possible that the text is derived here from a draft.  

In the authorized version, chapter 20 reads ‘ villanus eodem modo amercietur salvo wainagio suo si inciderint in misericordiam nostram; et nulla predictarum misericordiarum ponatur nisi per sacramentum proborum hominum de visneto.’ In this text, however, there is a full stop after ‘suo’ and the passage continues with an emphatic capital ‘S’ ‘Si aliquis inciderit in misericordiam nostram  nulla predictarum misericordiarum...’.  This gives a different twist to the chapter and means the protection given to villeins is no longer qualified.

In chapter 35 it is ‘regnum meum’ not ‘nostrum’.

In chapter 37, ‘illius feudi firme vel socagii vel burgagii’ is crossed out because the scribe’s eye had skipped on and he had written it too soon.

In chapter 41, merchants are to have ‘salvum exitum’ from England as opposed to ‘salvum et securum exire’.

In chapter 48, the authorized version states that the evil customs revealed by the inquiry of the twelve knights in each county are to be ‘penitus ita quod numquam revocentur deleantur per eosdem’. The Bodleian text reads ‘penitus emendentur ita quod numquam revocentur per eosdem’. The ‘emendentur’ here would seem to come from the Articles of the Barons  (chapter 39) where the evil customs are to be ‘emendentur’ by the twelve knights in each county.     

In chapter 52, ‘per henricum regem patrem meum vel Ricardum regem fratrem meum’ is crossed out because the scribe’s eye has skipped on and he has written it too soon. When it re-appears ‘meus’ is again used, whereas it is ‘noster’ in the authorized texts.

At the start of chapter 63, the text has ‘regno meo’ rather than ‘regno nostro’.

The date is ‘xvi die Junii’.  At the end of the giving clause there is ‘valete’.

Given that the hand of this Bodeian copy is compatible with 1215, there must be a possibility that it represents an actual text written up at Runnymede on 16 June from draft materials.  


  See N. Vincent, The Magna Carta (Sotheby’s New York, 2007), p. 74.



  I would like to thank Daniel Hadas for helping me interpret ‘discerni’.

The Copies of Magna Carta