The Magna Carta Project

The St Albans Abbey Versions of Magna Carta and their Derivatives

The various versions of the Charters of John and Henry III found in the works of the St Albans chroniclers Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris are the subject of an   article by 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.  (My references come from Magna Carta and Medieval Government).   Wendover, in his Flores Historiarum, did not copy out a ‘clean’ text of the 1215 Magna Carta. Instead his text, written between 1225 and 1235, although issued in John’s name, combined elements from 1215 with elements from Henry III’s Charter of 1217.  The elements from 1215 included a variant version of the security clause, which almost certainly derived from a rejected draft. Wendover also produced a copy of Henry III’s Forest Charter of 1217/1225, which has it issued in the name of King John. Until Blackstone finally revealed the truth in 1759, this misled a generation of historians into thinking that the Forest Charter went back to 1215. Matthew Paris, Wendover’s successor, in his Chronica Majora (the text here probably dates from the 1240s), initially copied out Wendover’s hybrid version of the 1215 Charter. Around 1250, he became aware of what seems to have been a full text of the 1215 Charter.1 As a result he went back and made radical changes to the text in the Chronica Majora, trying to add in what Wendover had missed out. Paris’s efforts reflect his interest in the Charter and his desire to give full information about it. He did not, however, eliminate all the material from the Charter of 1217 and so his text remained a hybrid of 1215 and 1217. Around the same time as he was revising the text in the Chronica Majora, Paris also prepared a short chronicle, which was given to the St Albans’ cell at Tynemouth. This reflects Paris’s new Chronica Majora text but is not identical to it. Another purported version of the 1215 Charter, likewise reflecting but not identical to the new Chronica Majora text, is that found in the chronicle written by John of Wallingford. Wallingford was the ‘infirmarius’ of St Albans and a friend of Paris, and his chronicle is an abridgement of Paris’s work, although with some additional material. Wallingford subsequently moved to the St Albans cell of Wymondham in Norfolk, where he died in 1258. His version became the source for the text of the 1215 Charter copied into a chronicle composed at Norwich cathedral priory.  

1

  R. Vaughan, Matthew Paris (Cambridge, 1958), p.60; 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 p.286.

The Copies of Magna Carta