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Medieval Sourcebook:
Magna Carta 1215


This is another document that needs little introduction. While Johnclaimed the royal prerogatives of his ancestors, his spiritual and temporallords sought an efficient administration of the laws to prevent the anarchy ofStephen's reign from happening again.

John, by the grace of God, king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandyand Aquitaine, and count of Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls,barons, justiciars, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all hisbailiffs and liege subjects, greeting. Know that, having regard to God and forthe salvation of our soul, and those of all our ancestors and heirs, and untothe honor of God and the advancement of holy church, and for the reform of ourrealm, by advice of our venerable fathers, Stephen archbishopof Canterbury,primate of all England and cardinal of the holy Roman Church, Henry archbishopof Dublin, William of London, Peter of Winchester, Jocelyn of Bath andGlastonbury, Hugh of Lincoln, Walter of Worcester, William of Coventry,Benedict of Rochester, bishops; of master Pandulf, subdeacon and member of thehousehold of our lord the Pope, of brother Aymeric (master of the Knights ofthe Temple in England), and of the illustrious men William Marshall earl ofPembroke, William earl of Salisbury, William earl of Warenne, William earl ofArundel, Alan of Galloway (constable of Scotland), Waren Fitz Gerald, PeterFits Herbert, Hubert de Burgh (seneschal of Poitou), Hugh de Neville, MatthewFitz Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip d'Aubigny, Robert ofRoppesley, John Marshall, John Fitz Hugh, and others, our liegemen.

1. In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charterconfirmed for us and our heirs for ever that the English church shall be free,and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate; and we will thatit be thus observed; which is apparent from this that the freedom of elections,which is reckoned most important and very essential to the English church, we,of our pure and unconstrained will, did grant, and did by our charter confirmand did obtain the ratification of the same from our lord, Pope Innocent III.,before the quarrel arose between us and our barons: and this we will observe,and our will is that it be observed in good faith by our heirs for ever. Wehave also granted to all freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs for ever,all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, ofus and our heirs for ever.

2. If any of our earls or barons, or others holding of us in chief by militaryservice shall have died, and at the time of his death his heir shall be of fullage and owe "relief" he shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancientrelief, namely the heir or heirs of an earl, 100 pounds for a whole earl'sbarony; the heir or heirs of a baron, 100 pounds for a whole barony; the heiror heirs of a knight, 100 shillings at most for a whole knight's fee; andwhoever owes less let him give less, according to the ancient custom offiefs.

3. If, however, the heir of any of the aforesaid has been under age and inwardship, let him have his inheritance without relief and without fine when hecomes of age.

4. The guardian of the land of an heir who is thus under age, shall take fromthe land of the heir nothing but reasonably produce, reasonable customs, andreasonable services, and that without destruction or waste of men or goods; andif we have committed the wardship of the lands of any such minor to thesheriff, or to any other who is responsible to us for its issues, and he hasmade destruction or waste of what he holds in wardship, we will take of himamends, and the land shall be committed to two lawful and discreet men of thatfee, who shall be responsible for the issues to us or to him to whom we shallassign them; and if we have given or sold the wardship of any such land to anyone and he has therein made destruction or waste, he shall lose that wardship,and it shall be transferred to two lawful and discreet men of that fief, whoshall be responsible to us in like manner as aforesaid.

5. The guardian, moreover, so long as he has the wardship of the land, shallkeep up the houses, parks, fishponds, stanks, mills, and other thingspertaining to the land, out of the issues of the same land; and he shallrestore to the heir, when he has come to full age, all his land, stocked withploughs and "waynage," according as the season of husbandry shall require, andthe issues of the land can reasonably bear.

6. Heirs shall be married without disparagement, yet so that before themarriage takes place the nearest in blood to that heir shall have notice.

7. A widow, after the death of her husband, shall forthwith and withoutdifficulty have her marriage portion and inheritance; nor shall she giveanything for her dower, or for her marriage portion, or for the inheritancewhich her husband and she held on the day of the death of that husband; and shemay remain in the house of her husband for fourty days after his death, withinwhich time her dower shall be assigned to her.

8. No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she prefers to livewithout a husband; provided always that she gives security not to marry withoutour consent, if she holds of us, or without the consent of the lord of whom sheholds, if she holds of another.

9. Neither we nor our bailiffs shall seize any land or rent for any debt, solong as the chattels of the debtor are sufficient to repay the debt; nor shallthe sureties of the debtor be distrained so long as the principal debtor isable to satisfy the debt; and if the principal debtor shall fail to pay thedebt, having nothing wherewith to pay it, then the sureties shall answer forthe debt; and let them have the lands and rents of the debtor, if they desirethem, until they are indemnified for the debt which they have paid for him,unless the principal debtor can show proof that he is discharged thereof asagainst the said sureties.

10. If one who has borrowed from the Jews any sum, great or small, die beforethat loan can be repaid, the debt shall not bear interest while the heir isunder age, of whomsoever he may hold; and if the debt fall into our hands, wewill not take anything except the principal sum contained in the bond.

11. And if any one die indebted to the Jews, his wife shall have her dower andpay nothing of that debt; and if any children of the deceased are left underage, necessaries shall be provided for them in keeping with the holding of thedeceased; and out of the residue the debt shall be paid, reserving, however,service due to feudal lords; in like manner let it be done touching debts dueto others than Jews.

12. No scutage nor aid shall be imposed on our kingdom, unless by commoncounsel of our kingdom, except for ransoming our person, for making our eldestson a knight, and for once marrying our eldest daughter; and for these thereshall not be levied more than a reasonable aid. In like manner it shall bedone concerning aids from the city of London.

13. And the city of London shall have all its ancient liberties and freecustoms, as well by land as by water; furthermore, we decree and grant that allother cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall have all their liberties andfree customs.

14. And for obtaining the common counsel of the kingdom anent the assessing ofan aid (except in the three cases aforesaid) or of a scutage, we will cause tobe summoned the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons,severally by our letters; and we will moreover cause to be summoned generally,through our sheriffs and bailiffs, all others who hold of us in chief, for afixed date, namely, after the expiry of at least forty days, and at a fixedplace; and in all letters of such summons we will specify the reason of thesummons. And when the summons has thus been made, the business shall proceedon the day appointed, according to the counsel of such as are present, althoughnot all who were summoned have come.

15. We will not for the future grant to any one license to take an aid fromhis own free tenants, except to ransom his body, to make his eldest son a knight, and once to marry his eldest daughter; and on each of these occasionsthere shall be levied only a reasonable aid.

16. No one shall be distrained for performance of greater service for aknight's fee, or for any other free tenement, than is due therefrom.

17. Common pleas shall not follow our court, but shall be held in some fixedplace.

18. Inquests of novel disseisin , of mort d'ancester ,and of darrein presentment , shall not be held elsewhere than intheir own county courts and that in manner following,--We, or, if we should beout of the realm, our chief justiciar, will send two justiciars through everycounty four times a year, who shall, along with four knights of the countychosen by the county, hold the said assize in the county court, on the day andin the place of meeting of that court.

19. And if any of the said assizes cannot be taken on the day of the countycourt, let there remain of the knights and freeholders, who were present at thecounty court on that day, as many as may be required for the efficient makingof judgments, according as the business be more or less.

20. A freeman shall not be amerced for a slight offense, except in accordancewith the degree of the offense; and for a grave offense he shall be amerced inaccordance with the gravity of the offense, yet saving always his"contenement;" and a merchant in the same way, saving his "merchandise;" and avillein shall be amerced in the same way, saving his "wainage"--if they havefallen into our mercy: and none of the aforesaid amercements shall be impsedexcept by the oath of honest men of the neighborhood.

21. Earls and barons shall not be amerced except through their peers, and onlyin accordance with the degree of the offense.

22. A clerk shall not be amerced in respect of his lay holding except afterthe manner of the others aforesaid; further, he shall not be amerced inaccordance with the extent of his ecclesiastical benefice.

23. No village or individual shall be compelled to make bridges atriver-banks, except those who from of old were legally bound to do so.

24. No sheriff, constable, coroners, or others of our bailiffs, shall holdpleas of our Crown.

25. All counties, hundreds, wapentakes, and trithings (except our demesnemanors) shall remain at old rents, and without any additional payment.

26. If any one holding of us a lay fief shall die, and our sheriff or bailiffshall exhibit our letters patent of summons for a debt which the deceased owedto us, it shall be lawful for our sheriff or bailiff to attach and cataloguechattels of the deceased, found upon the lay fief, to the value of that debt,at the sight of law-worthy men, provided always that nothing whatever be thenceremoved until the debt which is evident shall be fully paid to us; and theresidue shall be left to the executors to fulfil the will of the deceased; andif there be nothing due from him to us, all the chattels shall go to thedeceased, saving to his wife and children their reasonable shares.

27. If any freeman shall die intestate, his chattels shall be distributed bythe hands of his nearest kinsfolk and friends, under supervision of the church,saving to every one the debts which the deceased owed to him.

28. No constable or other bailiff of ours shall take corn or other provisionsfrom any one without immediately tendering money therefor, unless he can havepostponement thereof by permission of the seller.

29. No constable shall compel any knight to give money in lieu ofcastle-guard, when he is willing to perform it in his own person, or (if hecannot do it from any reasonable cause) then by another responsible man. Further, if we have led or sent him upon military service, he shall be relievedfrom guard in proportion to the time during which he has been on servicebecause of us.

30. No sheriff or bailiff of ours, or other person, shall take the horses orcarts of any freeman for transport duty, against the will of the saidfreeman.

31. Neither we nor our bailiffs shall take, for our castles or for any otherwork of ours, wood which is not ours, against the will of the owner of thatwood.

32. We will not retain beyond one year and one day, the lands of those whohave been convicted of felony, and the lands shall thereafter be handed over tothe lords of the fiefs.

33. All kiddles for the future shall be removed altogether from Thames andMedway, and throughout all England, except upon the seashore.

34. The writ which is called praecipe shall not for the future beissued to any one, regarding any tenement whereby a freeman may lose hiscourt.

35. Let there be one measure of wine throughout our whole realm; and onemeasure of ale; and one measure of corn, to wit, "the London quarter;" and onewidth of cloth (whether dyed, or russet, or "halberget"), to wit, two ellswithin the selvages; of weights also let it be as of measures.

36. Nothing in future shall be given or taken for a writ of inquisition oflife or limbs, but freely it shall be granted, and never denied.37. If any one holds of us by fee-farm, by socage, or by burgage, and holdsalso land of another lord by knight's service, we will not (by reason of thatfee-farm, socage, or burgage) have the wardship of the heir, or of such land ofhis as is of the fief of that other; nor shall we have wardship of thatfee-farm, socage, or burgage, unless such fee-farm owes knight's service. Wewill not by reason of any small serjeanty which any one may hold of us by theservice of rendering to us knives, arrows, or the like, have wardship of hisheir of of the land which he holds of another lord by knight's service.

38. No bailiff for the future shall, upon his own unsupported complaint, putany one to his "law," without credible witnesses brought for this purpose.

39. No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in anyway destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawfuljudgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

40. To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right orjustice.

41. All merchants shall have safe and secure exit from England, and entry toEngland, with the right to tarry there and to move about as well by land as bywater, for buying and selling by the ancient and right customs, quit from allevil tolls, except (in time of war) such merchants as are of the land at warwith us. And if such are found in our land at the beginning of teh war, theyshall be deltained, without injury to their bodies or goods, until informationbe received by us, or by our chief justiciar, how the merchants of our landfound in the land at war with us are treated; and if our men are safe there,the others shall be safe in our land.

42. It shall be lawful in future for any one (excepting always thoseimprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the kingdom, and nativesof any country at war with us, and merchants, who shall be treated as is aboveprovided) to leave our kingdom and to return, safe and secure by land andwater, except for a short period in time of war, on grounds of publicpolicy--reserving always the allegiance due to us.

43. If any one holding of some escheat (such as the honor of Wallingford,Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other escheats which are in our handsand are baronies) shall die, his heir shall give no other relief, and performno other service to us than he would have done to the baron, if that barony hadbeen in the baron's hand; and we shall hold it in the same manner in which thebaron held it.

44. Men who dwell without the forest need not henceforth come before ourjusticiars of the forest upon a general summons, except those who areimpleaded, or who have become sureties for any person or persons attached forforest offenses.

45. We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs only suchas know the law of the realm and mean to observe it well.

46. All barons who have founded abbeys, concerning which they hold chartersfrom the kings of England, or of which they have long-continued possession,shall have the wardship of them, when vacant, as they ought to have.

47. All forests that have been made such in our time shall forthwith bedisafforested; and a similar course shall be followed with regard toriver-banks that have been placed "in defense" by us in our time.

48. All evil customs connected with forests and warrens, foresters andwarreners, sheriffs and their officers, river-banks and their wardens, shallimmediately be inquired into in each county by twelve sworn knights of the samecounty chosen by the honest men of the same county, and shall, within fortydays of the said inquest, be utterly abolished, so as never to be restored,provided always that we previously have intimation thereof, or our justiciar,if we should not be in England.

49. We will immediately restore all hostages and charters delivered to us byEnglishmen, as sureties of the peace or of faithful service.

50. We will entirely remove from their bailiwicks, the relations of GerardAthee (so that in future they shall have no bailiwick in England); namely,Engelard of Cigogne, Peter, Guy, and Andrew of Chanceaux, Guy of Cigogne,Geofrrey of Martigny with his brothers, Philip Mark with his brothers and hisnephew Geoffrey, and the whole brood of the same.

51. As soon as peace is restored, we will banish from the kingdom allforeign-born knights, cross-bowmen, serjeants, and mercenary soldiers, who havecome with horses and arms to the kingdom's hurt.

52. If any one has been dispossessed or removed by us, without the legaljudgment of his peers, from his lands, castles, franchises, or from his right,we will immediately restore them to him; and if a dispute arise over this, thenlet it be decided by the five-and-twenty barons of whom mention is made belowin the clause for securing the peace. Moreover, for all those possessions,from which any one has, without the lawful judgment of his peers, beendisseised or removed, by our father, King Henry, or by our brother, KingRichard, and which we retain in our hand (or which are possessed by others, towhom we are bound to warrant them) we shall have respite until the usual termof crusaders; excepting those things about which a plea has been raised, or aninquest made by our order, before our taking of the cross; but as soon as wereturn from our expedition (or if perchance we desist from the expedition) wewill immediately grant full justice therein.

53. We shall have, moreover, the same respite and in the same manner inrendering justice concerning the disafforestation or retention of those forestswhich Henry our father and Richard our brother afforested, and concerningwardship of lands which are of the fief of another (namely, such wardships aswe have hitherto had by reason of a fief which any one held of us by knight'sservice), and concerning abbeys founded on other fiefs than our own, in whichthe lord of the fief claims to have right; and when we have returned, or if wedesist from our expedition, we will immediately grant full justice to all whocomplain of such things.

54. No one shall be arrested or imprisoned upon the appeal of a woman, for thedeath of any other than her husband.

55. All fines made with us unjustly and against the law of the land, and allamercements imposed unjustly and against the law of the land, shall be entirelyremitted, or else it shall be done concerning them according to the decision ofteh five-and-twenty barons of whom mention is made below in the clause forsecuring the peace, or according to the judgment of the majority of the same,along with the aforesaid Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, if he can bepresent, and such others as he may wish to bring with him for this purpose, andif he cannot be present the business shall nevertheless proceed without him,provided always that if any one or more of the aforesaid five-and-twenty baronsare in a similar suit, they shall be removed as far as concerns this particularjudgment, others being substituted in their places after having been selectedby the rest of the same five-and-twenty for this purpose only, and after havingbeen sworn.

56. If we have disseised or removed Welshmen from lands or liberties, or otherthings, without the legal judgment of their peers in England or in Wales, theyshall be immediately restored to them; and if a dispute arise over this, thenlet it be decided in the marches by the judgment of their peers; for tenementsin England according to the law of England, for tenements in Wales according tothe law of Wales, and for tenements in the marches according to the law of themarches. Welshmen shall do the same to us and ours.

57. Further, for all those possessions from which any Welshman has, withoutthe lawful judgment of his peers, been disseised or removed by King Henry ourfather or King Richard our brother, and which we retain in our hand (or whichare possessed by others, to whom we are bound to warrant them) we shall haverespite until the usual term of crusaders; excepting those things about which aplea has been raised or an inquest made by our order before we took the cross;but as soon as we return (or if perchance we desist from our expedition), wewill immediately grant full justice in accordance with the laws of the Welshand in relation to the foresaid regions.

58. We will immediately give up the son of Llywelyn and all the hostages ofWales, and the charters delivered to us as security for the peace.

59. We will do toward Alexander, King of Scots, concerning the return of hissisters and his hostages, and concerning his franchises, and his right, in thesame manner as we shall do toward our other barons of England, unless it oughtto be otherwise according to the charters which we hold from William hisfather, formerly King of Scots; and this shall be according to the judgment ofhis peers in our court.

60. Moreover, all these aforesaid customs and liberties, the observance ofwhich we have granted in our kingdom as far as pertains to us toward our men,shall be observed by all of our kingdom, as well clergy as laymen, as far aspertains to them toward their men.

61. Since, moreover, for God and the amendment of our kingdom and for thebetter allaying of the quarrel that has arisen between us and our barons, wehave granted all these concessions, desirous that they should enjoy them incomplete and firm endurance for ever, we give and grant to them theunderwritten security, namely, that the barons choose five-and-twenty barons ofthe kingdom, whomsoever they will, who shall be bound with all their might, toobserve and hold, and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties we havegranted and confirmed to them by this our present Charter, so that if we, orour justiciar, or our bailiffs or any one of our officers, shall in anything beat fault toward any one, or shall have broken any one of the articles of thepeace or of this security, and the offense be notified to four barons of theforesaid five-and-twenty, the said four barons shall repair to us (or ourjusticiar, if we are out of the realm) and, laying the transgression before us,petition to have that transgression redressed without delay. And if we shallnot have corrected the transgression (or, in the event of our being out of therealm, if our justiciar shall not have corrected it) within forty days,reckoning from the time it has been intimated to us (or to our justiciar, if weshould be out of the realm), the four barons aforesaid shall refer that matterto the rest of the five-and-twenty barons, and those five-and-twenty baronsshall, together with the community of the whole land, distrain and distress usin all possible ways, namely, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, andin any other way they can, until redress has been obtained as they deem fit,saving harmless our own person, and the persons of our queen and children; andwhen redress has been obtained, they shall resume their old relations towardus. And let whoever in the country desires it, swear to obey the orders of thesaid five-and-twenty barons for the execution of all the aforesaid matters, andalong with them, to molest us to the utmost of his power; and we publicly andfreely grant leave to every one who wishes to swear, and we shall never forbidany one to swear. All those, moreover, in the land who of themselves and oftheir own accord are unwilling to swear to the twenty-five to help them inconstraining and molesting us, we shall by our command compel the same to swearto the effect aforesaid. And if any one of the five-and-twenty barons shallhave died or departed from the land, or be incapacitated in any other mannerwhich would prevent the foresaid provisions being carried out, those of thesaid twenty-five barons who are left shall choose another in his placeaccording to their own judgment, and he shall be sworn in the same way as theothers. Further, in all matters, the execution of which is intrusted to thesetwenty-five barons, if perchance these twenty-five are present, that which themajority of those present ordain or command shall be held as fixed andestablished, exactly as if the whole twenty-five had concurred in this; and thesaid twenty-five shall swear that they will faithfully observe all that isaforesaid, and cause it to be observed with all their might. And we shallprocure nothing from any one, directly or indirectly, whereby any part of theseconcessions and liberties might be revoked or diminished; and if any such thinghas been procured, let it be void and null, and we shall never use itpersonally or by another.

62. And all the ill-will, hatreds, and bitterness that have arisen between usand our men, clergy and lay, from the date of the quarrel, we have completelyremitted and pardoned every one. Moreover, all trespasses occasioned by thesaid quarrel, from Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign till therestoration of peace, we have fully remitted to all, both clergy and laymen,and completely forgiven, as far as pertains to us. And, on this head, we havecaused to be made for them letters testimonial patent of the lord Stephen,archbishop of Canterbury, of the lord Henry, archbishop of Dublin, of thebishops aforesaid, and of Master Pandulf as touching this security and theconcessions aforesaid.

63. Wherefore it is our will, and we firmly enjoin, that the English Church befree, and that the men in our kingdom have and hold all the aforesaidliberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably, freely and quietly,fully and wholly, for themselves and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in allrespects and in all places for ever, as is aforesaid. An oath, moreover, hasbeen taken, as well on our part as on the part of the barons, that all theseconditions aforesaid shall be kept in good faith and without evil intent. Given under our hand--the above-named and many others being witnesses--in themeadow which is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenthday of June, in the seventeenth year of our reign.

 

 

Note:

translated in Albert Beebe White and Wallce Notestein, eds., Source Problems in English History (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1915).

 

Other works referred to in preparartion:

  • Elton, Geoffrey, The English (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1992).
  • Maitland, F. W., The Constitutional History of England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965).
  • Smith, Lacey Baldwin and Jean Reeder Smith, eds., The Past Speaks: Sources and Problems in English History, vol. 1 (Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath and Company, 1993).

Text prepared by Seth Seyfried of the University of Utah.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

(c)Paul Halsall Feb 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu