The Magna Carta Project

The Confirmation of the 1225 Magna Carta in 1265

by David Carpenter

The circumstances and documentary evidence for the confirmation of Magna Carta during Simon de Montfort’s great parliament in 1265 have been fully examined  by Sophie Ambler.1 It was on 14 February 1265 that the king’s adherence to Magna Carta was proclaimed in the chapter house of Westminster Abbey.  At the end of the parliament, the full text of the 1225 Charter was sent to all the counties in an inspeximus, witnessed by Montfort and his leading supporters, and dated to 13 or 14 March. This was the first official circulation of the text since 1225.  Henry's failure to circulate it earlier, most notably at the time of the great confirmation of 1253,  was one reason for the unpopularity of his rule in the shires.  


No engrossments of these March letters are known to survive, but three copies with the full text of the Charter have so far come to light.2 These are in a statute book, probably written before 1297 (British Library, Harley 489, fos.4-10v), a Reading abbey cartulary (British Library, Harley 1708, fos.7-9v)3 and the Register of Richard Swinfield, bishop of Hereford from 1282 to 1317 (Herefordshire Record Office AL 19/2, fos.105-106).4  In addition, in two statute books there are copies, probably in the same hand, of the 1225 text where, after  the first three witnesses, there comes the statement that the Charter has  'given' on the 15 February in the forty-ninth year of the king's reign, so 15 February 1265. Since this is the day after the proclamation of the king's adherence to the Charter in the Westminster chapter house, these may derive, as Sophie Ambler has suggested, from a draft made with the intention of immediate issue, although, in fact, as we have seen, nothing was issued  until  the end of the parliament in March.5


If these copies of the Charter can be trusted, and I think they can,  they reveal that two significant changes were made to the official text.6 The first of these was the reduction of the baronial relief from £100 to 100 marks. The latter sum appears in the text Edward I issued of the Charter in 1297, and it has been thought the change was introduced then.7 But in fact, as these copies show, the 100 marks were there already in 1265. The second change seems never to have been noticed at all, namely the earl owing his relief not 'de baronia comitis integra', as in 1225,  but 'de comitatu integro'.  This is then found in 1297 and in all subsequent iterations of the Charter.


As we have seen, the 100 mark relief for a barony and the earl's relief being 'de comitatu integro' are found in numerous unofficial copies of the Charter. Since most of these are post 1265,  they may have derived from the changes introduced in that year. On the other hand, the idea that the baronial relief should be a 100 marks was an old one. It appears in Wendover's version of the 1225 Charter and in two other early copies,  Rawlinson 641 (above pp.20-2)  and British Library Add. MS. 25005 (above pp.68-9).  It is possible, therefore, it was included in drafts made at Runnymede. The way the text of the Charter dealt separately with the relief of the earl and baron suggests as much. The variant 'de comitatu integro' is also found in at least one copy of the 1215 Charter made before 1265 and certainly containing draft material going back to Runnymede.8 So 'de comitatu integro' may well have been in the air then as well.


The benefit to the baron in the reduction of his relief from £100 to 100 marks (£66 134s. 4d.) is obvious. There was also, arguably, a benefit to the earl in the changes made on his account.  Henry II, as Nicholas Vincent has shown, had never accepted that the title of earl was in itself hereditary and John had acted very much in that spirit.9  The 1215 Charter seems to make a concession to the king’s view, and has the earl succeeding not to an earldom but to the ‘barony of an earl’.  In the 1265 text, by contrast, the earl succeeds to his whole earldom, which surely means both to the title and also to the attendant estates.  A relief owed ‘de comitatu integro’ was both for the title of earl and  ‘de baronia comitis integra’. It was at least debatable  whether that was true the other way round.


It may be that the introduction in 1265 was simply due to the initiative of a clerk, either confused as to the genuine text or  knowingly making improvements.  On the other hand,  one cannot rule out the possibility that the  changes were made quite deliberately by Montfort and his ministers.  Montfort himself and his only certain comital ally, Robert de Vere earl of Oxford, would have welcomed the new wording over earldoms, just as Montfort’s baronial supporters would have welcomed the reduction in the baronial relief.


S.T. Ambler, 'Magna Carta: its confirmation at Simon de Montfort's parliament of 1265', English Historical Review, 130 (2015), pp.801-30.


  Other copies have the inspeximus without the full text.


  In the copy here of the 1225 Charter,  against the clause saying the provisions on wardships are to apply to ecclesiastical vacancies (f.7), there is a marginal comment as follows:  'istud bene invenietur in rotulis cancellarie anno regni regis henrici tricesimo secundo'. A writ of the king is then transcribed. It is dated 18 July 1248 and instructs Roger of Thirkleby and the itinerant justices at Reading to allow the abbey to have the estreats of the amercements imposed on their men, as opposed to sending the estreats to the exchequer. The writ is indeed on the chancery rolls (Close Rolls 1247-51, 65) but the text transcribed must have come from the original. Evidently Reading had checked to see it was also on the rolls. For the cartulary, see Davis, Breay, Harrison and Smith, no.802.


The entry in the Swinfield register was first noticed by Ian Bass. I am grateful to Rhys Griffith of the Herefordshire Archive Service and Rosalind Caird of Hereford Cathedral for sending images of the copy. 


  The statute books are late thirteenth, early fourteenth centuries: Oxford Bodleian Add. Ch. C 188, fos.1-4 (I am grateful to Katherine Har for images of this copy) and Oxford, Christ Church MS 103, fos.5-7v (see A Descriptive Catalogue of Western Manuscripts to 1600 in Christ Church, Oxford, ed. R. Hanna, D. Rundle and J.J. Griffiths (Oxford, 2017), pp.234-40).  The chapters are numbered 1 to 36. In both the concession of liberties to the church in chapter 1 is made to the Virgin Mary and all the saints as well as to God. After chapter 18 on the treatment of debts of those deceased, both add in chapter 27 from the Charter of 1215 about those dying intestate.   


The copy of the text in the Harley 489 statute book is particularly believable since it comes from the letter sent to Somerset and Dorset, and has a complete preamble, and a full  list of witnesses to both the 1225  Magna Carta and the 1265 inspeximus. The Hereford letter  does not specify the county to which it was addressed and Sophie Ambler suggests to me it might have reached Hereford through Swinfield’s predecessor, Thomas de Cantilupe, bishop from 1275 to 1282. Cantilupe was chancellor in 1265, and the inspeximus of Magna Carta was given by his hand.


  Reynolds, 'Magna Carta 1297 and the legal use of literacy', pp.233-44.


  The Book of Robert de Swaffham, above pp.26-7.


  N. Vincent, 'Did Henry II have a policy towards the earls', in C. Given-Wilson, A. Kettle and L. Scales, eds., War, Government and Aristocracy in the British Isles 1100-1500: Essays in Honour of Michael Prestwich (Woodbridge, 2008), p.5; Carpenter, Magna Carta, pp.140, 191, 222, 344-5.

The Copies of Magna Carta