The Magna Carta Project

Magna Carta 1216

by David Carpenter

Only one engrossment of  the Magna Carta issued by Henry III in November 1216  is known to survive, that preserved at Durham cathedral.1  Five copies are so far known. Two of these are single sheets in the Archives Nationales in Paris. In what follows, I will show that one of these Paris copies  was derived from the other. There are also three copies, clearly taken from a single source, in two different cartularies of York Minster. We also have the text of a copy of the Magna Carta sent to Ireland in February 1217.  In their fundamentals all these copies are the same and agree with the Durham engrossment.  However, they share minor divergences from Durham  and must, therefore, derive from a different exemplar.


The two copies in the Archives Nationales in Paris: Paris, Archives Nationales,  J 655 Angleterre, nos.11 and 31.

It has long been known that two single sheet copies of the Magna Carta Henry III issued in November 1216 are preserved in the Archives Nationales in Paris.2  Both Paris texts are  copies rather than engrossments since neither bears any sign of having been sealed.  One (no.31) indeed lacks the preamble setting out the king’s titles and explaining on whose advice he is acting. It thus starts with  chapter 1 on the church. The other copy (no.11),  although it has the full text of the Charter, is written in a  more cursive and less formal hand than that found in the Durham engrossment. Both copies, in terms of their hands (which are different), are compatible with their being written in or soon after 1216. Since it is likely that they have  always been part of the French royal archive, they may well have been taken to France by Prince Louis when he left England in 1217.3  No.11 was a star exhibit in the British Library Magna Carta exhibition.4


The copy with the full text (no.11) was printed in Layettes du Trésor des Chartes, ed. A. Teulet and others, 5 vols. (Paris, 1863-1909), I, no.1194. A note at the end says that the text of no 31 is identical to that of no.11 save in lacking the preamble. This, however, is not entirely true. In 2015, thanks to the good offices of Jean-François Moufflet of the Archives,  Elisabeth Lalou and myself were able to examine the two copies side by side and collate them. One striking point quickly emerged. In what is conventionally numbered chapter 7 in the printed texts of the Charter,  a widow is to be allowed to stay in the house of her husband for forty days ‘infra quos ei assignetur dos sua’.5  No.11, however, by mistake omits here the word ‘dos’. The omission is concealed in the Layettes text since the editors have silently put ‘dos’ in. Now, when the scribe of no.31 came to this point in the Charter, he too omitted ‘dos’, only then to realise his mistake and insert it above the line.  There could be no clearer proof that he was copying from no.11. There is nothing in the rest of no.31 to contradict this conclusion. It follows no.11 closely even when no. 11’s readings are found in neither the single surviving engrossment at Durham nor in the copy of the Charter sent to Ireland. Thus in chapter 11, both have ‘de eo’ rather than ‘inde’ while in chapter  34  they have ‘redire’ rather than ‘venire’. Right at the end both place the ‘anno’ before ‘primo’ rather than ‘regni’. There is, however, one curious divergence. No.11 has the charter ‘given’ at ‘Bristoll’’, as have the Durham engrossment and the other copies.  But here no.31 seems to break into French and has the charter given at ‘Britou’. 6


If the two charters in the Archives were in Louis’ possession, how had they got there? Why also was a second copy made? One possibility here, suggested to me by Louise Wilkinson, is that the agent was Elyas of Dereham. In 1216 Elyas was  deep in Louis’ counsels.7  Having played a major part in the distribution of the 1215 Charter, he must have been intensely interested in how the Charter was now being revised, and correspondingly keen to obtain a copy. If he intended to circulate the new version within Louis’ party, a back up copy  was obviously  desirable.  At the least Louis would  know what the Henricians were now putting on offer. Perhaps  he would also be persuaded to issue his own version of the Charter. But if Elyas hoped that, he was doomed to disappointment, for there is no evidence that Louis ever did so.


The three copies of the 1216 Charter in York Minster cartularies: York, Minster Library and Archives,  L2/2a, ‘Domesday Book’, fos.11r-13r; L2/1 Magnum Registrum Album, fos.276v-9r and 325r-8r.8

The copies here are nearly identical and clearly derive from a common source, presumably an engrossment of the Charter kept at the Minster. The two copies in the Magnum Registrum Album are in the same hand. 9  The textual similarities with the Paris and Irish copies and divergences from the Durham engrossment are noted below.


The 1216 Charter sent to Ireland as copied into the Red Book of the Irish Exchequer.

In February 1217 Henry III informed his faithful men in Ireland that he wished them to enjoy the same liberties recently conceded in England by both his father and himself. Accordingly, he was sending them those liberties drawn up in a ‘scriptum’ and sealed by the legate, Guala, and the regent, William Marshal.10  The engrossment of the 1216 Charter  referred to here does not survive, but  it was copied, probably in the reign of Henry III, into a volume known as ‘The Red Book of the Irish Exchequer’.11 As is well known, ‘The Red Book’ was destroyed by fire in 1922 but fortunately the text of the Charter, as found there, had earlier been collated with the only known engrossment (at Durham) in Statutes of the Realm, i, pp. 14-16. It had also been printed in full in Thomas Leland’s, The History of Ireland, i (Dublin, 1814), pp. 355-69.12  


The most striking feature of the text is the way it had been adapted for Ireland. The Charter thus speaks of the ‘Hybernica ecclesia’ (chapter 1), the city of Dublin’s liberties (chapter 10), fish weirs being removed  from all the Liffey and all Ireland (26), measures to be those of Dublin (28), and merchants to have entry to and exit from ‘Hybernia’ (34). The engrossment  also omitted the chapter on Wales.  H.G. Richardson suggested that these changes were later interpolations and what was sent to Ireland was simply a  straight engrossment of the English Charter.13 He gave, however, no very convincing  reasons for this view.14 If the Charter was important enough to be sent to Ireland, it was surely important enough for it to be made relevant.15 The initiative behind the Charter must surely have come from the regent, William Marshal, given his great stake in Ireland. He would have seen the Charter as safeguarding his own position and that of his heirs against both his Irish enemies and any future revival of John’s style of kingship. On 2 December 1216, a royal letter in the Marshal’s favour was sent to the justiciar of Ireland, Geoffrey Marsh.  Amongst other things, it commanded the justiciar to give ships free entry to and exit from both the port of Waterford and the land of the Marshal ‘per rectas et debitas consuetudines’.  Chapter 34 of the Irish Charter likewise gave free entry to and exit from Ireland ‘per antiquas et rectas consuetudines’.


I now set out how the Paris, York and Irish copies differ in common from the Durham engrossment.


In the preamble, they omit the name of Roger of Clifford between the names of Walter of Clifford and Robert de Mortimer.

In chapter 1, they  refer to the free men ‘de regno nostro’ not ‘regni nostri’.

In chapter 3, the lord is  to have ‘custodiam ipsius’ not ‘custodiam eius’.

In chapter 5, the reading is ‘vivaria’ not ‘vivarios’.

In chapter 7, they omit ‘pro’ before ‘maritagio’, and both include ‘vidua’ after ‘maneat’.    

In chapter 9, both omit ‘vero’ before ‘vel ballivi’.

In chapter 9, at the end, ‘esse’ follows ‘quietum’ rather than precedes it.

In chapter 10, ‘burgi’ follows ‘ville’ rather than  precedes it.

In chapter 13, there is ‘et’ before ‘de ultima presentacione’ and before ‘in die et loco’.

In chapter 15, ‘ipsius’ is missing before ‘delicti’.

In chapter 18, there is ‘debent’ not ‘debet’.

In chapter 21, there is ‘vel’ before ‘respectum’, not ‘aut’. 

In chapter 25, there is ‘illorum’ not ‘eorum’.

In chapter 28, there is no ‘et’ before ‘russettorum’.

In chapter 32, there is ‘vel’ before ‘dissaisiatur’ not ‘aut’.

In chapter 36, at the end, there is ‘sint’ not ‘sunt’. 

In chapter 41, the first ‘nos’ is omitted.

In chapter 42, there is  ‘et’ before ‘redeundi’ not ‘vel’ and ‘id quod’ not ‘que’ before ‘ad communem’. 

In the dating clause, ‘Com’ Penbr’’ is omitted.


The correspondence between the Paris, York  and the Irish Charter, therefore,  suggests their  texts go back to some common source, one different from the text in the Durham engrossment.  This could have been either a draft or an engrossment of the Charter. There are, however, places where the  Irish copy, quite apart from its Irish adaptations, differs from both the Durham engrossment and the Paris and York copies. It  thus  omits  ‘omnibus’ from the first sentence of the Charter , ‘nostris’ after the second ‘heredibus’ in chapter 1,   ‘cum’ and ‘fiat’ from chapter 3,  ‘dignitatum’ from chapter 5, ‘sit’ after ‘paratus’  and ‘debiti’ after ‘solutione’ in chapter 9,  ‘nobis’ and ‘ipsius’  from the last sentence of chapter 20, and ‘homo’ from chapter 27. It also inserts ‘baronis’ after ‘baronia’ in chapter 2, has ‘reddet’ not ‘reddat’, ‘illam’ not ‘illas’ and ‘custodia’ not ‘custodiis’  in chapter 5,   ‘dilacione’ not ‘difficultate’ in chapter 7,  ‘faciat’ not ‘faciet’ in chapter 8, ‘nec’ not ‘nos non’ in chapter 30, ‘gruariis’ not ‘ripariis’ in chapter 36,  ‘barones’ not ‘homines’ in chapter 37, and ‘conservent’ not ‘observent’ in chapter 40. 


All this may be due to mistakes and alterations made by the scribe who copied the text into ‘The Red Book’.  Alternatively,  some of the differences could have been in the original engrossment, being either the work of  its scribe,  or present in the text which was being adapted. If the latter, it follows that while the Paris and Irish Charters had a common source, different from the Durham engrossment, the text used for the Irish Charter had been altered so that it differed in places from both the Paris and Durham  versions.  Of particular interest here is chapter 36. In the Irish Charter this  freed  from enclosure  not the ‘ripariis’ ‘river banks’ enclosed by King John, as in the Paris and Durham texts,   but the ‘gruariis’ ‘cranaries’.16  The point of the chapter, at least in part, was to free the river banks from all the restrictions and burdens entailed by the king's hawking, of which cranes were a much coveted target.  Hence the way the Dublin charter spoke of 'gruariis' rather than 'ripariis'.17  It seems unlikely that the copyist of the Charter into ‘The Red Book’ made this change. It was surely there in the original engrossment. And as the change had no particularly relevance to Ireland, it was probably there also  in the draft or engrossment which formed the basis for the Irish Charter.  If so, there were at least three different texts of the 1216 Charter in circulation even before one was adapted for use in Ireland.


A final word about the destination of the 1216 engrossments.  There is evidence to suggest that the great majority of the engrossments of the 1215 Charter went to cathedrals.18 Three of the four surviving originals, after all, were certainly  kept at cathedrals -  at Lincoln, Salisbury and Canterbury. (We do not yet know the home of the fourth). The fact that the only surviving engrossment of the 1216 Charter is at Durham, while  copies of the Charter are found in the fourteenth-century York Minster cartularies may indicate that the same procedure was followed in 1216. On the other hand, perhaps Durham obtained its engrossment  because  its bishop, Richard Marsh, was also the king’s chancellor. The minority government’s attitude was the reverse of King John’s. John had wished to conceal the details of the Charter, the minority government wished to proclaim them.  John was sticky  about issuing engrossments.  The minority government wished to spread  their new Charter  round the kingdom. The fact, as we have seen,  that different versions of the Charter were in circulation is testimony to their efforts.  If more originals had survived, doubtless more textual changes would be apparent, just as there are differences between all four surviving engrossments of the Charter of 1215. In distributing the Charter,  the minority government  must above all have targeted  leading rebels, hoping they would be tempted back into the king’s camp. If the engrossments, therefore,  went chiefly to the  rebel leaders it would also help explain why only one survives, the majority being not in cathedral homes but in the hands of barons.



It is fully described and illustrated in Vincent, Magna Carta: Origins and Legacy, 214-5. My own belief is that it is written in a very similar hand to that found in the Canterbury 1215 Magna Carta.


 Vincent, Magna Carta: Origins and Liberty, p.262 no.33.


  This is argued in J. W. Baldwin, ‘Master Stephen Langton, future archbishop of Canterbury: the Paris Schools and Magna Carta’, English Historical Review, p.123 (2008), pp.838-42.     


Breay and Harrison, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, pp.94-5.


  The printed texts all derive from the single surviving engrossment at Durham.


  On the whole, apart from the omission of ‘dos’, the scribe of no.11 worked carefully and corrected his errors. Thus when ‘ballivis’ is erroneously repeated in the first line, it is underlined for deletion. A rather botched correction has been made to indicate the age of majority is ‘xxi’ in chapter 3. What looks to have been ‘viribus’ in chapter 4 has been corrected to ‘hominibus’. A correction has been made to ‘clericus’ in chapter 17. A ‘vel’ has been corrected to ‘nec’ in chapter 30.


  For Elyas, see N. Vincent, ‘Master Elyas of Dereham (d.1245): A reassessemnt’, in The Church and Learning in Later medieval Society: Essays in Honour of R.B. Dobson, ed. C.M. Barron and J. Stratford (Harlaxton Medieval Studies, XI, 2002), pp. 128-59 and  A Hastings, Elyas of Dereham; Architect of Salisbury Cathedral (Much Wenlock, 1997). 


  For the Cartularies see Davis, Breay, Harrison and Smith, Medieval Cartularies, nos.1087, 1088. Both date to the reign of Edward III.


  Some obvious mistakes of omission in the  Magnum Registrum Album copy do not appear in the other copies.


  Patent Rolls 1216-25, p.31. I am most grateful to Peter Crooks for helping me with the Irish Charter.


See J.F. Ferguson, ‘A Calendar of the Contents of the Red Book of the Irish Exchequer’, Proceedings of the Transactions of the Kilkenny and South-East Ireland Archaeological Society, 3 (1854), pp.35-52, especially pp.36-8, 48.


  A facsimile of the first two folios of the copy is found in J.T. Gilbert, Facsimiles of the National MSS of Ireland, part III, (ii), plate I of which I was kindly sent an image by Peter Crooks. The hand looks to be of around 1300.  


  H.G. Richardson, ‘Magna Carta Hiberniae’, Irish Historical Studies, iii (1942), pp.31-3.


  Richardson was developing doubts first raised by R. Dudley Edwards, in 'Magna Carta Hiberniae', Essays and Studies Presented to Professor Eoin MacNeil', ed. J. Ryan (Dublin, 1940), pp.307-18.  Richardson thought the editing for Ireland was clumsy and incomplete, for example in the failure to excise the chapter mentioning various English honours. But this chapter had a wider significance dealing with escheats in the king’s hands. I cannot agree that the terms of the dispatch of the Charter to Ireland show it was the un-adapted English version, indeed quite the reverse.


  Peter Crooks points out to me a later order (in 1244) trying to enforce the measures and weights of Dublin throughout Ireland: CR 1242-7, pp.252-3.


  For some inexplicable reason this difference was missed in Statutes of the Realm  but is found in Leland’s transcription.


  For hawking and river banks see Henry Summerson's  commentary on chapter 23 of the 1215 Charter:


   Rowlands, ‘The text and distribution of the writ for the publication of Magna Carta, 1215’, pp.1422-31. 

Referenced in

Copies of Magna Carta in the Century After 1215 (The Copies of Magna Carta)

The Copies of Magna Carta