Abuses by King John caused a revolt by nobles
who compelled him to execute this recognition of rights for both noblemen and
ordinary Englishmen. It established the principle that no one, including the
king or a lawmaker, is above the law.
The Magna Carta
(The Great Charter)
Preamble: John, by the grace of God,
king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and count of
Anjou, to the archbishop, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justiciaries,
foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his bailiffs and liege
subjects, greetings. Know that, having regard to God and for the salvation of
our soul, and those of all our ancestors and heirs, and unto the honor of God
and the advancement of his holy Church and for the rectifying of our realm, we
have granted as underwritten by advice of our venerable fathers, Stephen,
archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England and cardinal of the holy Roman
Church, Henry, archbishop of Dublin, William of London, Peter of Winchester,
Jocelyn of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh of Lincoln, Walter of Worcester, William
of Coventry, Benedict of Rochester, bishops; of Master Pandulf, subdeacon and
member of the household of our lord the Pope, of brother Aymeric (master of the
Knights of the Temple in England), and of the illustrious men William Marshal,
earl of Pembroke, William, earl of Salisbury, William, earl of Warenne, William,
earl of Arundel, Alan of Galloway (constable of Scotland), Waren Fitz Gerold,
Peter Fitz Herbert, Hubert De Burgh (seneschal of Poitou), Hugh de Neville,
Matthew Fitz Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip d'Aubigny, Robert of
Roppesley, John Marshal, John Fitz Hugh, and others, our liegemen.
1. In the first place we have granted to God,
and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever that the
English Church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her
liberties inviolate; and we will that it 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 confirm and 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 forever. We have also granted to all freemen of our
kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had
and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs forever.
2. If any of our earls or barons, or others
holding of us in chief by military service shall have died, and at the time of
his death his heir shall be full of age and owe "relief", he shall
have his inheritance by the old relief, to wit, the heir or heirs of an earl,
for the whole barony of an earl by £100; the heir or heirs of a baron, £100
for a whole barony; the heir or heirs of a knight, 100s, at most, and whoever
owes less let him give less, according to the ancient custom of fees.
3. If, however, the heir of any one of the
aforesaid has been under age and in wardship, let him have his inheritance
without relief and without fine when he comes of age.
4. The guardian of the land of an heir who is
thus under age, shall take from the land of the heir nothing but reasonable
produce, reasonable customs, and reasonable services, and that without
destruction or waste of men or goods; and if we have committed the wardship of
the lands of any such minor to the sheriff, or to any other who is responsible
to us for its issues, and he has made destruction or waster of what he holds in
wardship, we will take of him amends, and the land shall be committed to two
lawful and discreet men of that fee, who shall be responsible for the issues to
us or to him to whom we shall assign 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, who shall be responsible to us in like manner as
5. The guardian, moreover, so long as he has
the wardship of the land, shall keep up the houses, parks, fishponds, stanks,
mills, and other things pertaining to the land, out of the issues of the same
land; and he shall restore to the heir, when he has come to full age, all his
land, stocked with ploughs and wainage, according as the season of husbandry
shall require, and the issues of the land can reasonable bear.
6. Heirs shall be married without
disparagement, yet so that before the marriage takes place the nearest in blood
to that heir shall have notice.
7. A widow, after the death of her husband,
shall forthwith and without difficulty have her marriage portion and
inheritance; nor shall she give anything for her dower, or for her marriage
portion, or for the inheritance which her husband and she held on the day of the
death of that husband; and she may remain in the house of her husband for forty
days after his death, within which time her dower shall be assigned to her.
8. No widow shall be compelled to marry, so
long as she prefers to live without a husband; provided always that she gives
security not to marry without our consent, if she holds of us, or without the
consent of the lord of whom she holds, if she holds of another.
9. Neither we nor our bailiffs will seize any
land or rent for any debt, as long as the chattels of the debtor are sufficient
to repay the debt; nor shall the sureties of the debtor be distrained so long as
the principal debtor is able to satisfy the debt; and if the principal debtor
shall fail to pay the debt, having nothing wherewith to pay it, then the
sureties shall answer for the debt; and let them have the lands and rents of the
debtor, if they desire them, 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 as against the said sureties.
10. If one who has borrowed from the Jews any
sum, great or small, die before that loan be repaid, the debt shall not bear
interest while the heir is under age, of whomsoever he may hold; and if the debt
fall into our hands, we will not take anything except the principal sum
contained in the bond.
11. And if anyone die indebted to the Jews, his
wife shall have her dower and pay nothing of that debt; and if any children of
the deceased are left under age, necessaries shall be provided for them in
keeping with the holding of the deceased; 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 due to others than Jews.
12. No scutage not aid shall be imposed on our
kingdom, unless by common counsel of our kingdom, except for ransoming our
person, for making our eldest son a knight, and for once marrying our eldest
daughter; and for these there shall not be levied more than a reasonable aid. In
like manner it shall be done concerning aids from the city of London.
13. And the city of London shall have all it
ancient liberties and free customs, as well by land as by water; furthermore, we
decree and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall have
all their liberties and free customs.
14. And for obtaining the common counsel of the
kingdom anent the assessing of an aid (except in the three cases aforesaid) or
of a scutage, we will cause to be summoned the archbishops, bishops, abbots,
earls, and greater barons, severally by our letters; and we will moveover cause
to be summoned generally, through our sheriffs and bailiffs, and others who hold
of us in chief, for a fixed date, namely, after the expiry of at least forty
days, and at a fixed place; and in all letters of such summons we will specify
the reason of the summons. And when the summons has thus been made, the business
shall proceed on the day appointed, according to the counsel of such as are
present, although not all who were summoned have come.
15. We will not for the future grant to anyone
license to take an aid from his own free tenants, except to ransom his person,
to make his eldest son a knight, and once to marry his eldest daughter; and on
each of these occasions there shall be levied only a reasonable aid.
16. No one shall be distrained for performance
of greater service for a knight's fee, or for any other free tenement, than is
17. Common pleas shall not follow our court,
but shall be held in some fixed place.
18. Inquests of novel disseisin, of mort
d'ancestor, and of darrein presentment shall not be held elsewhere than in their
own county courts, and that in manner following; We, or, if we should be out of
the realm, our chief justiciar, will send two justiciaries through every county
four times a year, who shall alone with four knights of the county chosen by the
county, hold the said assizes in the county court, on the day and in the place
of meeting of that court.
19. And if any of the said assizes cannot be
taken on the day of the county court, let there remain of the knights and
freeholders, who were present at the county court on that day, as many as may be
required for the efficient making of judgments, according as the business be
more or less.
20. A freeman shall not be amerced for a slight
offense, except in accordance with the degree of the offense; and for a grave
offense he shall be amerced in accordance with the gravity of the offense, yet
saving always his "contentment"; and a merchant in the same way,
saving his "merchandise"; and a villein shall be amerced in the same
way, saving his "wainage" if they have fallen into our mercy: and none
of the aforesaid amercements shall be imposed except by the oath of honest men
of the neighborhood.
21. Earls and barons shall not be amerced
except through their peers, and only in accordance with the degree of the
22. A clerk shall not be amerced in respect of
his lay holding except after the manner of the others aforesaid; further, he
shall not be amerced in accordance with the extent of his ecclesiastical
23. No village or individual shall be compelled
to make bridges at river banks, except those who from of old were legally bound
to do so.
24. No sheriff, constable, coroners, or others
of our bailiffs, shall hold pleas of our Crown.
25. All counties, hundred, wapentakes, and
trithings (except our demesne manors) shall remain at the old rents, and without
any additional payment.
26. If anyone holding of us a lay fief shall
die, and our sheriff or bailiff shall exhibit our letters patent of summons for
a debt which the deceased owed us, it shall be lawful for our sheriff or bailiff
to attach and enroll the chattels 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 thence removed until the debt which is evident shall be
fully paid to us; and the residue shall be left to the executors to fulfill the
will of the deceased; and if there be nothing due from him to us, all the
chattels shall go to the deceased, saving to his wife and children their
27. If any freeman shall die intestate, his
chattels shall be distributed by the 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 provisions from anyone without immediately tendering money
therefor, unless he can have postponement thereof by permission of the seller.
29. No constable shall compel any knight to
give money in lieu of castle-guard, when he is willing to perform it in his own
person, or (if he himself cannot 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 relieved from guard in proportion to the time during which
he has been on service because of us.
30. No sheriff or bailiff of ours, or other
person, shall take the horses or carts of any freeman for transport duty,
against the will of the said freeman.
31. Neither we nor our bailiffs shall take, for
our castles or for any other work of ours, wood which is not ours, against the
will of the owner of that wood.
32. We will not retain beyond one year and one
day, the lands those who have been convicted of felony, and the lands shall
thereafter be handed over to the lords of the fiefs.
33. All kydells for the future shall be removed
altogether from Thames and Medway, and throughout all England, except upon the
34. The writ which is called praecipe shall not
for the future be issued to anyone, regarding any tenement whereby a freeman may
lose his court.
35. Let there be one measure of wine throughout
our whole realm; and one measure of ale; and one measure of corn, to wit,
"the London quarter"; and one width of cloth (whether dyed, or russet,
or "halberget"), to wit, two ells within the selvedges; of weights
also let it be as of measures.
36. Nothing in future shall be given or taken
for a writ of inquisition of life or limbs, but freely it shall be granted, and
37. If anyone holds of us by fee-farm, either
by socage or by burage, or of any other land by knight's service, we will not
(by reason of that fee-farm, socage, or burgage), have the wardship of the heir,
or of such land of his as if of the fief of that other; nor shall we have
wardship of that fee-farm, socage, or burgage, unless such fee-farm owes
knight's service. We will not by reason of any small serjeancy which anyone may
hold of us by the service of rendering to us knives, arrows, or the like, have
wardship of his heir or of the land which he holds of another lord by knight's
38. No bailiff for the future shall, upon his
own unsupported complaint, put anyone to his "law", without credible
witnesses brought for this purposes.
39. No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or
disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send
upon him, except by the lawful judgment 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 or justice.
41. All merchants shall have safe and secure
exit from England, and entry to England, with the right to tarry there and to
move about as well by land as by water, for buying and selling by the ancient
and right customs, quit from all evil tolls, except (in time of war) such
merchants as are of the land at war with us. And if such are found in our land
at the beginning of the war, they shall be detained, without injury to their
bodies or goods, until information be received by us, or by our chief justiciar,
how the merchants of our land found 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 anyone
(excepting always those imprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the
kingdom, and natives of any country at war with us, and merchants, who shall be
treated as if above provided) to leave our kingdom and to return, safe and
secure by land and water, except for a short period in time of war, on grounds
of public policy- reserving always the allegiance due to us.
43. If anyone holding of some escheat (such as
the honor of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other escheats
which are in our hands and are baronies) shall die, his heir shall give no other
relief, and perform no other service to us than he would have done to the baron
if that barony had been in the baron's hand; and we shall hold it in the same
manner in which the baron held it.
44. Men who dwell without the forest need not
henceforth come before our justiciaries of the forest upon a general summons,
unless they are in plea, or sureties of one or more, who are attached for the
45. We will appoint as justices, constables,
sheriffs, or bailiffs only such as know the law of the realm and mean to observe
46. All barons who have founded abbeys,
concerning which they hold charters from 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 be disafforsted; and a similar course shall be followed
with regard to river banks that have been placed "in defense" by us in
48. All evil customs connected with forests and
warrens, foresters and warreners, sheriffs and their officers, river banks and
their wardens, shall immediately by inquired into in each county by twelve sworn
knights of the same county chosen by the honest men of the same county, and
shall, within forty days 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 by Englishmen, as sureties of the peace of faithful
50. We will entirely remove from their
bailiwicks, the relations of Gerard of Athee (so that in future they shall have
no bailiwick in England); namely, Engelard of Cigogne, Peter, Guy, and Andrew of
Chanceaux, Guy of Cigogne, Geoffrey of Martigny with his brothers, Philip Mark
with his brothers and his nephew Geoffrey, and the whole brood of the same.
51. As soon as peace is restored, we will
banish from the kingdom all foreign born knights, crossbowmen, serjeants, and
mercenary soldiers who have come with horses and arms to the kingdom's hurt.
52. If anyone has been dispossessed or removed
by us, without the legal judgment 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, then let it be decided by the five and twenty barons of
whom mention is made below in the clause for securing the peace. Moreover, for
all those possessions, from which anyone has, without the lawful judgment of his
peers, been disseised or removed, by our father, King Henry, or by our brother,
King Richard, and which we retain in our hand (or which as possessed by others,
to whom we are bound to warrant them) we shall have respite until the usual term
of crusaders; excepting those things about which a plea has been raised, or an
inquest made by our order, before our taking of the cross; but as soon as we
return from the expedition, we will immediately grant full justice therein.
53. We shall have, moreover, the same respite
and in the same manner in rendering justice concerning the disafforestation or
retention of those forests which Henry our father and Richard our broter
afforested, and concerning the wardship of lands which are of the fief of
another (namely, such wardships as we have hitherto had by reason of a fief
which anyone held of us by knight's service), and concerning abbeys founded on
other fiefs than our own, in which the lord of the fee claims to have right; and
when we have returned, or if we desist from our expedition, we will immediately
grant full justice to all who complain of such things.
54. No one shall be arrested or imprisoned upon
the appeal of a woman, for the death of any other than her husband.
55. All fines made with us unjustly and against
the law of the land, and all amercements, imposed unjustly and against the law
of the land, shall be entirely remitted, or else it shall be done concerning
them according to the decision of the five and twenty barons whom mention is
made below in the clause for securing the pease, or according to the judgment of
the majority of the same, along with the aforesaid Stephen, archbishop of
Canterbury, if he can be present, and such others as he may wish to bring with
him for this purpose, and if 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 barons are in a similar suit, they shall be removed as
far as concerns this particular judgment, others being substituted in their
places after having been selected by the rest of the same five and twenty for
this purpose only, and after having been sworn.
56. If we have disseised or removed Welshmen
from lands or liberties, or other things, without the legal judgment of their
peers in England or in Wales, they shall be immediately restored to them; and if
a dispute arise over this, then let it be decided in the marches by the judgment
of their peers; for the tenements in England according to the law of England,
for tenements in Wales according to the law of Wales, and for tenements in the
marches according to the law of the marches. Welshmen shall do the same to us
57. Further, for all those possessions from
which any Welshman has, without the lawful judgment of his peers, been disseised
or removed by King Henry our father, or King Richard our brother, and which we
retain in our hand (or which are possessed by others, and which we ought to
warrant), we will have respite until the usual term of crusaders; excepting
those things about which a plea 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), we will immediately grant full justice in accordance with
the laws of the Welsh and in relation to the foresaid regions.
58. We will immediately give up the son of
Llywelyn and all the hostages of Wales, and the charters delivered to us as
security for the peace.
59. We will do towards Alexander, king of
Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and his hostages, and concerning his
franchises, and his right, in the same manner as we shall do towards our owher
barons of England, unless it ought to be otherwise according to the charters
which we hold from William his father, formerly king of Scots; and this shall be
according to the judgment of his peers in our court.
60. Moreover, all these aforesaid customs and
liberties, the observances of which we have granted in our kingdom as far as
pertains to us towards our men, shall be observed b all of our kingdom, as well
clergy as laymen, as far as pertains to them towards their men.
61. Since, moveover, for God and the amendment
of our kingdom and for the better allaying of the quarrel that has arisen
between us and our barons, we have granted all these concessions, desirous that
they should enjoy them in complete and firm endurance forever, we give and grant
to them the underwritten security, namely, that the barons choose five and
twenty barons of the kingdom, whomsoever they will, who shall be bound with all
their might, to observe and hold, and cause to be observed, the peace and
liberties we have granted and confirmed to them by this our present Charter, so
that if we, or our justiciar, or our bailiffs or any one of our officers, shall
in anything be at fault towards anyone, or shall have broken any one of the
articles of this peace or of this security, and the offense be notified to four
barons of the foresaid five and twenty, the said four barons shall repair to us
(or our justiciar, if we are out of the realm) and, laying the transgression
before us, petition to have that transgression redressed without delay. And if
we shall not have corrected the transgression (or, in the event of our being out
of the realm, 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 we
should be out of the realm), the four barons aforesaid shall refer that matter
to the rest of the five and twenty barons, and those five and twenty barons
shall, together with the community of the whole realm, distrain and distress us
in all possible ways, namely, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, and in
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; and when
redress has been obtained, they shall resume their old relations towards us. And
let whoever in the country desires it, swear to obey the orders of the said five
and twenty barons for the execution of all the aforesaid matters, and along with
them, to molest us to the utmost of his power; and we publicly and freely grant
leave to everyone who wishes to swear, and we shall never forbid anyone to
swear. All those, moveover, in the land who of themselves and of their own
accord are unwilling to swear to the twenty five to help them in constraining
and molesting us, we shall by our command compel the same to swear to the effect
foresaid. And if any one of the five and twenty barons shall have died or
departed from the land, or be incapacitated in any other manner which would
prevent the foresaid provisions being carried out, those of the said twenty five
barons who are left shall choose another in his place according to their own
judgment, and he shall be sworn in the same way as the others. Further, in all
matters, the execution of which is entrusted,to these twenty five barons, if
perchance these twenty five are present and disagree about anything, or if some
of them, after being summoned, are unwilling or unable to be present, that which
the majority of those present ordain or command shall be held as fixed and
established, exactly as if the whole twenty five had concurred in this; and the
said twenty five shall swear that they will faithfully observe all that is
aforesaid, and cause it to be observed with all their might. And we shall
procure nothing from anyone, directly or indirectly, whereby any part of these
concessions and liberties might be revoked or diminished; and if any such things
has been procured, let it be void and null, and we shall never use it personally
or by another.
62. And all the will, hatreds, and bitterness
that have arisen between us and our men, clergy and lay, from the date of the
quarrel, we have completely remitted and pardoned to everyone. Moreover, all
trespasses occasioned by the said quarrel, from Easter in the sixteenth year of
our reign till the restoration 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 have caused to be made for them letters testimonial patent of the
lord Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, of the lord Henry, archbishop of Dublin,
of the bishops aforesaid, and of Master Pandulf as touching this security and
the concessions aforesaid.
63. Wherefore we will and firmly order that the
English Church be free, and that the men in our kingdom have and hold all the
aforesaid liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably, freely and
quietly, fully and wholly, for themselves and their heirs, of us and our heirs,
in all respects and in all places forever, as is aforesaid. An oath, moreover,
has been taken, as well on our part as on the art of the barons, that all these
conditions aforesaid shall be kept in good faith and without evil intent.
Given under our hand - the above named and many
others being witnesses - in the meadow which is called Runnymede, between
Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June, in the seventeenth year of
This is but one of three different translations
I found of the Magna Carta; it was originally done in Latin, probably by the
Archbishop, Stephen Langton. It was in force for only a few months, when it was
violated by the king. Just over a year later, with no resolution to the war, the
king died, being succeeded by his 9-year old son, Henry III. The Charter (Carta)
was reissued again, with some revisions, in 1216, 1217 and 1225. As near as I
can tell, the version presented here is the one that preceeded all of the
others; nearly all of it's provisions were soon superceded by other laws, and
none of it is effective today.
The two other versions I found each professed
to be the original, as well. The basic intent of each is the same.
Gerald Murphy (The Cleveland Free-Net - aa300)
Prepared by Nancy Troutman (The Cleveland
Free-Net - aa345). Distributed by the Cybercasting Services Division of the
National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN).
Permission is hereby given to download,
reprint, and/or otherwise redistribute this file, provided appropriate point of
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