The Magna Carta Project

I. Roger of Wendover’s Magna Carta

by Professor David Carpenter

The text of Wendover’s Magna Carta, unaltered by Paris, is only found in the two much later copies of Wendover’s Flores Historiarum, namely Bodleian Library Douce MS 264 (dating from about 1300) and BL Cotton MS Otho B v (from about 1350). These provide the printed text in The Flowers of History by Roger of Wendover, ed. H.G. Hewlett, 3 vols. (Rolls Series, 1886-9), ii, pp.118-27, 132-4.   

Wendover’s text omits the names of John’s counsellors in the preamble. However, their names do appear in full (if in two places in a different order) in the immediately preceding narrative, where Wendover explained who was on the king’s side at Runnymede. It looks as though Wendover had a text of the Charter with their names, but has lifted them out of the Charter and used them earlier.

In chapter 1, on the church, Wendover’s text has John stating that he had granted the charter conceding free elections ‘ante discordiam inter nos et barones nostros manifeste motam’. The ‘manifeste’ is not found in the authorized versions of the Charter.

After chapter 1, Wendover’s text reads ‘Concessimus etiam omnibus liberis hominibus nostris regni Anglie’ rather than ‘regni nostri’.

Wendover’s chapter 2 has the baronial relief at 100 marks. One might wonder whether this is an alteration made by the later copyists but it was evidently there in the text copied by Paris, for he too has 100 marks. It seems in this chapter that Wendover was still copying a text of the 1215 Charter because he reads ‘heres suus’ whereas from 1217 the Charter read ‘heres eius’.     

After chapter two Wendover, with some small variations and omissions, now follows the text of the 1217 Charter down to its chapter 46, the saving clause just before the end, after which Wendover has ‘Hiis testibus etc’. He managed to miss out the last section of chapter 4 by homoeoteleuton. He also attached ‘comites’, reading it as ‘comitatus’, to the end of chapter 20 rather than the start of chapter 21: ‘de visneto comitatus’. As a result the next chapter on the amercement of earls and barons has no earls and starts ‘Et barones...’  This mistake is also found above in ‘3: Huntington G’, no. V.

Having got down to ‘hiis testibus etc.’, Wendover  gives the text of John’s purported Charter of the Forest, in what is in effect a hybrid version of the Forest Charters of 1217 and 1225. Holt also thought that Wendover’s text of Magna Carta itself was a hybrid of 1217 and 1225, but this is less than clear, and it may just be the text of 1217.1

Having set out the Charter of the Forest (without any dating clause), Wendover has a heading ‘De viginti quinque baronibus qui constituti sunt a rege emendatores legum predictorum’. He then transcribes, with some minor omissions and changes in word order, the final part of the 1215 Charter from the start of the security clause down to the dating clause at the end.

The most significant variations are as follows.

In what is conventionally numbered chapter 62, after John has remitted his rancour and ill will, Wendover inserts this passage

‘Et ad melius distringendum nos, quattuor castellani, de Norhamtona scilicet, de Kenilleworthe, de Notingham, et Scardeburc, erunt jurati predictis viginti quinque baronibus, quod facient de castris predictis quod ipsi preceperint et mandaverint, vel major pars eorum; et tales semper castellani ponantur in illis castris qui fideles sint et qui nolint transgredi juramentum suum.’  

There then follows a version of chapter 50 on the kinsmen of Gerard d’Athée. This version both has additional names and is combined with the following chapter, 51, on the dismissal of foreign soldiers. The chapter thus begins

‘Et nos amovebimus omnes alienigenas de terra nostra, parentes omnes Girardi de Athies....’

This contrasts with the start of the chapter in Magna Carta

‘Nos amovebimus penitus de balliis parentes Gerardi de Athyes...’

It is more akin to chapter 51:

‘Et statim post pacis reformacionem amovebimus omnes alienigenas milites...’

In the list of names, Wendover adds after Gio de Cigogné ‘uxorem predicti Girardi et cum omnibus liberis suis’. At the end of the chapter, it adds ‘Falconem’, so including Falkes de Bréauté, a man much loathed by St Albans. It then continues:

‘et Flandrenses omnes et ruptarios, que sunt ad nocumentum regni’

This is derived from the conclusion of chapter 51:

‘omnes alienigenas milites, balistarios, servientes, stipendiarios, qui venerint cum equis et armis ad nocumentum regni.’

I agree with Holt (p.275) in thinking that Wendover cannot have possessed a whole text of the 1215 Charter. True, he seems to have edited what he did have, taking out the names of John’s counsellors from the preamble and using them in the  immediately preceding chapter. Had he possessed a complete text he might well have sought to improve it by adding in new sections from the Charter of 1217, for example chapter 42 on the holding of local courts. But it seems inconceivable that he would also have cut out, had he known of them, some of the ‘best bits’ of the 1215 Charter, for example the chapters on debts to the Jews, scutage and aid, and the county farms. That Paris later sought to put these chapters back in makes the point. What Wendover did have was the preamble, chapters 1 and 2, a version of chapters 50 and 51, which he inserted into the security clause, and the security clause itself down to the end of the Charter. Evidently, then, the Charter circulated not just as a complete document but also in individual fragments. Quite probably these were derived from drafts of the sections concerned. That seems almost certain when it comes to Wendover’s passage giving the twenty-five barons power over four strategic castles. This was not something Wendover could have made up. That he himself edited chapters 50 and 51 is more possible, especially when it came to including Falkes’s name. But would Wendover have added in Gerard’s wife and children?2 Interestingly (as Luard noted) the word ‘ruptarii’, which appears in Wendover but not in the official text of chapter 51, is found in the Articles of the Barons’ version of the chapter.3


See Holt, ‘The St Albans Chroniclers’, p.268 and note 7. Holt gives four instances where he believes the 1225 text is followed. The most significant of these is the inclusion of ‘et pueris suis’ omitted, he says, in 1217 from what became chapter 18 of the 1225 Charter. It is indeed omitted from one of the four surviving engrossments (Bodleian Library MS. Ch. Gloucs. 8), hence the text in Statutes of the Realm (Record Commission, 1810), i, p.18. But ‘et pueris suis’ appears in the other three engrossments. The other instances Holt gives amount to no more than variations in tense and case which might have occurred whatever the source. Wendover’s saving clause is certainly in the position it occupies in the Charter of 1217 not that of 1225.




  For his wife see N. Vincent, ‘Who’s who in Magna Carta clause 50?’, in La Médiéviste et la monographie familiale: sources, méthodes et problématiqes, ed. M. Aurell (Brepols, 2004), p.237 note 10. Vincent (p.239) suggests that all those named in the chapter were Gerard’s sons, legitimate and otherwise.


  Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, ed. H.R. Luard, 7 vols. (Rolls Series, 1872-83), ii, p.604 note 1. This was chapter 42 of the Articles of the Barons.

The Copies of Magna Carta