MAGNA CARTA, or the Great Charter, the name of the famous charter of liberties granted at Runnimede in June 1215 by King John to the English people. Although in later ages its importance was enormously magnified, it differs only in degree, not in kind, from other charters granted by the Norman and early Plantagenet kings. Its greater length, however, still more the exceptional circumstances attending its birth, gave to it a position absolutely unique in the minds of later generations of Englishmen. This feeling was fostered by its many confirmations, and in subsequent ages, especially during the time of the struggle between the Stewart kings and the parliament, it was regarded as something sacrosanct, embodying the very ideal'of English liberties, which to some extent had been lost, but which must be regained. Its provisions, real and imaginary, formed the standard towards which Englishmen must strive.
The causes which led to the grant of Magna Carta are described in the article on English History. Briefly, they are to be found in the conditions of the time; the increasing insularity of the English barons, now no longer the holders of estates in Normandy; the substitution of an unpopular for a popular king, an active spur to the rising forces of discontent; and the unprecedented demands for money demands followed, not by honour, but by dishonour, to the arms of England abroad. So much for the general causes. The actual crisis may be said to begin with the quarrel between John and Pope Innocent III. regarding the appointment of a new archbishop to the see of Canterbury. This was settled in May 1213, and in the new prelate, the papal nominee, Stephen Langton, who landed in England and absolved the king in the following July, the baronial party found an able and powerful ally. But before this event John had instituted a great inquiry, the inquest of service of June 1212, for the purpose of finding out how much he could exact from each of his vassals, a measure which naturally excited some alarm; and then, fearing a baronial rising, he had abandoned his proposed expedition into Wales, had taken hostages from the most prominent of his foes, and had sought safety in London.
His absolution followed, and then he took courage. Turning once more his attention to the recovery of Normandy, he asked the barons for assistance for this undertaking; in reply they, or a section of them, refused, and instead of crossing the seas the king marched northwards with the intention of taking vengeance on his disobedient vassals, who were chiefly barons of the north of England. Langton followed his sovereign to Northampton and persuaded him, at least for the present, to refrain from any serious measures of revenge. Before this interview a national council had met at St Albans at the beginning of August 1213, and this Vas followed by another council, held in St Paul's church, London, later in the same month it was doubtless summoned by the archbishop, and was attended by many of the higher clergy and a certain number of the barons. Addressing the gathering, Langton referred to the laws of Edward the Confessor as " good laws," which the king ought to observe, and then mentioned the charter granted by Henry I. on his accession as a standard of good government. This event has such an important bearing on the issue of Magna Carta that it is not inappropriate to quote the actual words used by Matthew Paris in describing the incident. The chronicler represents the archbishop as saying " Inventa est quoque nunc carta quaedam Henrici primi regis Angliae per quam, si volueritis, libertates diu amissas poteritis ad statum pristinum revocare." Those present decided to contend to the death for their "long-lost liberties," and with this the meeting came to an end. Nothing, however, was done during the remainder of the year, and John, feeling his position had grown stronger, went abroad early in 1214, and remained for some months in France. With his mercenaries behind him he met with some small successes in his fight for Normandy, but on the 2yth of July he and his ally, the emperor Otto IV., met with a crushing.
defeat at Bouvines at the hands of Philip Augustus, and even the king himself was compelled to recognise that his hopes of recovering Normandy were at an end.
Meanwhile in England, which was ruled by Peter des Roches as justiciar, the discontent had been increasing rather than diminishing, and its volume became much larger owing to an event of May 1214. Greatly needing money for his campaign, John ordered another scutagc to be taken from his tenants; this, moreover, was to be at the unprecedented rate of three marks on the knight's fee, not as on previous occasions of two marks, although this latter sum had hitherto been regarded as a very high rale. The northern barons refused to pay, and the gathering forces of resistance received a powerful stimulus when a little later came the news of the king's humiliation at Bouvines. Then in October the beaten monarch returned to England, no course open to him but to bow before the storm. In November he met some of his nobles at Bury St Edmunds, but as they still refused to pay the scutage no agreement was reached. At once they took another step towards the goal. With due solemnity (super majus allare) they swore to withdraw their allegiance from the king and to make war upon him, unless within a stated time he restored to them their rightful laws and liberties. While they were collecting troops in order to enforce their threats, John on his part tried to divide his enemies by a concession to the clerical section. By a charter, dated the zist of November 1214, he granted freedom of election to the church. However, this did not prevent the prelates from continuing to act to some extent with the barons, and early in January 1215 the malcontents asked the king to confirm the laws of Edward the Confessor and the other liberties of the kingdom. He evaded the request and secured a truce until Easter was passed. Energetically making use of this period of respite, he again issued the charter to the church, ordered his subjects to take a fresh oath of allegiance to him, and sent to the pope for aid; butjieither these precautions, nor his expedient of taking the cross, deterred the barons from returning to the attack. In April they met in arms at Stamford, and as soon as the truce had expired they inarched to Brackley, where they met the royal ministers and again presented their demands. These were carried to the king at Oxford, but angrily he refused to consider them. Then the storm burst. On the sth of May the barons formally renounced their allegiance to John, and appointed Robert Fitzwalter as their leader. They marched towards London, while John made another attempt to delay the crisis, or to divide his foes, by granting a charter to the citizens of London (May 9, 1215), and then by offering to submit the quarrel to a court of arbitrators under the presidency of the pope. But neither the one nor the other expedient availed him. Arbitration under such conditions was contemptuously rejected, and after the king had ordered the sheriffs to seize the lands and goods of t he revolting nobles, London opened its gates and peacefully welcomed the baronial army. Other towns showed also that their sympathies were with the insurgents, and John was forced to his knees. Promising to assent to their demands, he agreed to meet the barons, and the gathering was fixed for the 15th of June, and was to take place in a meadow between Staines and Windsor, called Runnimede.
At the famous conference, which lasted from Monday the isth to Tuesday the 2$rd of June, the hostile barons were present in large numbers; on the other hand John, who rode over each day from Windsor, was only attended by a few followers. At once the malcontents presented their demands in a document known popularly as the Articles of lite Barons, more strictly as Capitula quae barones petunt el dominus rex concedit. Doubtless this had been drawn up beforehand, and was brought by the baronial leaders to Runnimede ; possibly it was identical with the document presented to the royal ministers at Brackley a few weeks before. John accepted the Articles on the same day and at once the great seal was affixed to them. They are forty-eight in number, and on them Magna Carta was based, the work of converting them into a charter, which was regarded as a much more binding form of engagement, being taken in hand immediately. This duty occupied three days, negotiations between the two parties taking place over several disputed points, and it was completed by Friday the igth, when several copies of the charter were sealed. All then took an oath to keep its terms, and orders were sent to the sheriffs to publish it, and to see that its provisions were observed, two or three days being taken up with making and sending out copies for this purpose. It should be mentioned that, although the charter was evidently not sealed until the igth, the four existing copies of it are dated the isth, the day on which John accepted the articles.
The days between Friday the ipth and the following Tuesday, when the conference came to an end, were occupied in providing, as far as possible, for the due execution of the reforms promised by the king in Magna Carta. The document itself provided for an elected committee of twenty-five barons, whose duty was to compel John, by force if necessary, to keep his promises; but this was evidently regarded as insufficient, and the matter was dealt with in a supplementary treaty (Conventio facta inter regem Angliae et barones ejusdum regni). As a guarantee of his good faith the king surrendered the city of London to his foes, while the Tower was entrusted to the neutral keeping of the archbishop of Canterbury. John then asked the barons for a charter that they on their part would keep the peace. This was refused, and although some of the bishops entered a mild protest, the question was allowed to drop. Regarding another matter also, the extent of the royal forests, the prelates made a protest. John and his friends feared lest the inquiry promised into the extent of the hated forest areas would be carried out too rigorously, and that these would be seriously curtailed, if not abolished altogether. Consequently, the two archbishops and their colleagues declared that the articles in the charter which provided for this inquiry, and for a remedy against abuses of the forest laws by the king, must not be interpreted in too harsh a spirit. The customs necessary for the preservation of the forests must remain in force.
No securities, however, could bind John. Even before Magna Carta was signed he had set to work to destroy it, and he now turned to this task with renewed vigour. He appealed to the pope, and hoped to crush his enemies by the aid of foreign troops, while the barons prepared for war, and the prelates strove to keep the peace. Help came first from the spiritual arm. On the 24th of August 1215 Innocent III. published a bull which declared Magna Carta null and void. It had been extorted from the king by force (per vim et metum), and in the words of the bull the pope said " compositionem hujusmodi reprobamus penitus et damnamus." He followed this up by excommunicating the barons who had obtained it, and in the autumn of 1215 the inevitable war began. Capturing Rochester castle, John met with some other successes, and the disheartened barons invited Louis, son of Philip Augustus of France and afterwards king as Louis VIII., to take the English crown. In spite of the veto of the pope Louis accepted the invitation, landed in England in May 1216, and occupied London and Winchester, the fortune of war having in the meantime turned against John. The " ablest and most ruthless of the Angevins," as J. R. Green calls this king, had not, however, given up the struggle, and he was still in the field when he was taken ill, dying in Newark castle on the 19th of October 1216.
In its original form the text of Magna Carta was not divided into chapters, but in later times a division of this kind was adopted. This has since been retained by all commentators, the number of chapters being 63.
The preamble states that the king has granted the charter on the advice of various prelates and barons, some of whom, including the archbishop of Canterbury, the papal legate Pandulf, and William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, are mentioned by name.
Chapter I. declares that the English church shall be free and shall enjoy freedom of election. This follows the precedent set in the accession charter of Henry I. and in other early charters, although it had no place in the Articles of the Barons. On the present occasion it was evidently regarded as quite a formal and introductory matter, and the same remark applies to the general grant of liberties to all freemen and their heirs, with which the chapter concludes.
Then follows a series of chapters intended to restrain the king from raising money by the harsh and arbitrary methods adopted in the past. These chapters, however, only afforded protection to the tenants-in-chief of the crown, and it is clear from their prominent position that the framers of the charter regarded them as of paramount importance.
Chapter II. fixes the amount of the relief to be paid to the king by the heir of any of his vassals. Previously John, disregarding the custom of the past, had taken as much as he could extort. Henceforward he who inherits a barony must pay 100, he who inherits a knight's fee 100 shillings or less, and for smaller holdings less " according to the ancient custom of fiefs."
Chapters III. to VI. deal with the abuses of the king's privilege of acting as guardian of minors and their lands. Money must not be extorted from a ward when he receives his inheritance. The guardian or his servant must not take from the ward's property more than a reasonable amount for his expenses and the like ; on the contrary he must maintain the houses, estates and other belongings in a proper state of efficiency. A ward must be allowed a reasonable liberty in the matter of marriage. He or she must not, as had been so often the case in the past, be forced to marry some royal favourite, or some one who had paid a sum of money for the privilege.
Chapters VII. and VIII. are for the protection of the widows of tenants-in-chief. On the death of her husband a widow must receive her rightful inheritance, without delay or hindrance. Moreover she must not be compelled to marry, a proceeding sometimes adopted to get her lands into the possession of a royal minion.
Chapter IX. is intended to prevent the king from collecting the money owing to him in an oppressive manner.
Now for a short time the document leaves the great questions at issue between the king and the barons, and two chapters are devoted to protecting the people generally against the exactions of the Jews.
Chapter X. declares that money borrowed from the Jews shall not bear interest during a minority.
Chapter XI. provides for the repayment of borrowed money to the Jews, and also to other creditors. This, however, is only to be done after certain liabilities have been met out of the estate, including the services due to the lord of the land.
Having thus disposed of this matter, the grievances of the barons are again considered, the vexed question of scutage being dealt with.
Chapter XII. says that in future no scutage or aid, beyond the three recognized feudal aids, shall be levied except by the consent of the general council of the nation (commune concilium regni nostri), while the three recognized aids shall only be levied at a reasonable rate. In dealing with this matter the Articles of the Barons had declared that aids and tallages must not be taken from the citizens of London and of other places without the consent of the council. This provision was omitted from Magna Carta, except so far as it related to aids from the citizens of London. This chapter does not give the people the right to control taxation. It gives to the men interested a certain control over one form of taxation, and protects one class only from arbitrary exactions, and that class the most powerful and the most wealthy.
Chapter XIII. gives to the citizens of London all their ancient liberties and free customs.
Chapter XIV. provides for the assembly of the council when its consent is necessary for raising an aid or a scutage. Individual summonses must be sent to the prelates and greater barons, while the lesser barons will be called together through the sheriffs and bailiffs. At least forty days' notice of the meeting must be given, and the cause thereof specified. No chapter corresponding to this is found in the Articles and none was inserted in the reissues of Magna Carta. It is very interesting, but it does not constitute any marked advance in the history of parliament, as it merely expresses the customary method of summoning a council. It does not, as has been sometimes asserted, in any way establish a representative system, as this is understood to-day.
Chapter XV. extends the concessions obtained by the greater barons for themselves to the lesser landholders, the tenants of the tenants-in-chief.
Chapter XVI. declares that those who owe military service for their lands shall not be called upon to perform more than the due amount of such service.
We now come to an important series of articles which deal with abuses in the administration of justice. Henry II. made the royal courts of law a lucrative source of revenue, but he gave protection to suitors. Under his sons justice was equally, perhaps more, costly, while adequate protection was much harder to obtain. Here were many grievances, and the barons set to work to redress them.
Chapter XVII. declares that common pleas must henceforward be heard in a fixed place. This had already been to some extent the practice when this class of cases was heard ; it was now made the rule. From this time suitors in this court were not put to the expense and inconvenience of following the king from place to place.
Chapters XVIII. and XIX. deal with the three petty assizes, three kinds of cases regarding disputes about the possession of land. These must be heard in the county courts before two visiting justices and four knights of the shire. The hardship of attendance at the county courts was to some extent obviated.
Chapters XX. to XXII. regulate the amount of fines imposed for offences against the law. Property necessary for one's livelihood must not be taken. The fines must only be imposed by the oath of honest men of the neighbourhood. In the same way earls and barons must only be fined by their peers, and a similar privilege is extended to the clergy, who, moreover, were not to be fined in accordance with the value of their benefices, but only of their other property. It should be noticed that trial by one's peers, as understood in Magna Carta, is not confined to the nobility; in every class of society an accused man is punished in accordance with the verdict of his peers, or equals.
Chapter XXIII. asserts that persons shall not be compelled to make bridges, unless they are bound to do so by ancient custom. John had oppressed his subjects in this way before he visited a district for purposes of sport, and the hardship was a real one.
Chapter XXIV. declared that the sheriffs and other officers of the king must not hold the pleas of the crown. This was intended to remove an old and serious evil, as the sheriffs had earned a very bad reputation by their methods of administering justice.
Chapter XXV. also concerns the sheriffs. It prevents the king from increasing by their agency the amount of money annually due to him from the various counties and hundreds. The custom was for the king to get a fixed sum from the sheriff of each county, this being called the firma, comilatus, and for the sheriff to collect this as best he could. Henceforward this amount must not be raised.
Chapters XXVI. and XXVII. were intended to protect the property of deceased persons, and also to secure the full payment of debts due therefrom to the crown. Other creditors were also protected, and the property of an intestate must be distributed to his heirs under the supervision of the church.
Chapter XXVIII. strikes a blow at the custom of purveyance. Royal officials must pay for the corn and provisions which they take on behalf of the king.
Chapter XXIX. says knights must not be compelled to give money instead of performing castle-guard, if they are willing to perform this service. Castle-guard was the liability incumbent on the holders of some estates to serve in the garrison of the royal castles. The constables of these castles had adopted the custom of compelling these landholders to give money and not service, mercenaries being then hired to perform this.
Chapters XXX. and XXXI. forbid the royal officials to seize the horses or carts of freemen for transport duty, or to take wood for the king's buildings.
Chapter XXXII. says that the lands of convicted felons shall be handed over to the lords of such lands and not kept by the king beyond a year and a day. In cases of treason the king had a right to the forfeited lands, but he was not allowed to establish a similar right in cases of felony.
Chapter XXXIII. provided for the removal of kydells, or weirs v from all English rivers. This was intended to give greater freedom to inland navigation, the rivers being the main highways of trade.
Chapter XXXIV. limits the use of the writ known as Praecipe. This writ was one transferring cases concerning the ownership of property from the courts of the feudal lords to those of the king. This custom, which owes its origin to Henry II., meant a loss of revenue to the lords, whose victory in this matter, however, was a step backwards. It checked temporarily the process of centralizing the administration of justice.
Chapter XXXV. provides for the uniformity of weights and measures throughout the kingdom.
Chapter XXXVI. promises that in future writs of inquisition shall be granted freely without payment of any kind. This kind of writ allowed a man to refer the question of his guilt or innocence to the verdict of his neighbours instead of proving his innocence by the duel.
Chapter XXXVII. prevents the king from administering certain kinds of land when these fall into the possession of minors. In the past John had evidently stretched his authority and seized lands over which others had really the right of wardship.
Chapter XXXVIII. prevents a bailiff from compelling an accused man to submit to the ordeal without the approval of credible witnesses.
Chapter XXXIX. is more important and the English rendering of it may be given in full. " No freeman shall be arrested, or detained in prison, or deprived of his freehold, or outlawed, or banished, or in any way molested ; and we will not set forth against him, nor send against him, unless by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land." The object of this was clearly to restrain John from arbitrary proceedings against his free subjects. The principle of judgment by one's peers is asserted, and is obviously the privilege of every class of freemen, not of the greater lords alone.
Chapter XL. simply says, " To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice."
Chapters XLI. and XLII. give permission to merchants, both English and foreign, to enter and leave the kingdom, except in time of war. They are not to pay " evil tolls." The privilege is extended to all travellers, except the prisoner and the outlaw, and natives of a country with which England is at war.
Chapter XLI 1 1. is intended to compel the king to refrain from exacting greater dues from an escheated barony than were previously due from such barony.
Chapter XLIV. deals with the hated and oppressive forest laws. In future attendance at the forest courts is only obligatory on those who have business thereat.
Chapter XLV. says that the royal officials must know something of the law and must be desirous of keeping it.
Chapter XLVI. gives to the founders of religious houses the right of acting as guardians of such houses when they are without heads.
Chapters XLVII. and XLVIII. deal again with the great grievance of the royal forests. John undertakes to disforest all forests which have been made in his time, and also to give up such river banks as he has seized for his own use when engaged in sport. Twelve knights in each county are to make a thorough inquiry into all evil customs connected with the forests, and these are to be utterly abolished.
Chapter XLIX. provides for the restoration of hostages. John had been in the habit of taking the children of powerful subjects as pledges for the good behaviour of their parents.
Chapter L. says that certain royal minions, who are mentioned by name, are to be removed from their offices.
Chapter LI. says that as soon as peace is made all foreign mercenaries are to be banished.
Chapters LII. and LIII. are those in which the king promises to make amends for the injuries he has done to his barons in the past. He will restore lands and castles to those who have been deprived of them without the judgment of their peers; he will do the same concerning property unlawfully seized by Henry II. or Richard I. and now in his hands. In the latter case, however, he was allowed a respite until he returned from the projected crusade. He promises also to do right concerning forests, abbeys and the wardship of lands which belong lawfully to others.
' hapter LIV. prevents any one from being arrested on the appeal of a woman, except on a charge of causing the death of her husband. As a woman could not prove her case in the judicial combat, it was felt that the earlier practice gave her an unfair advantage.
Chapter LV. provides for the remission of unjust fines. The decision on these matters is to rest with the archbishop of Canterbury and the twenty-five barons appointed to see that the terms of the charter are carried out.
Chapters LVI. and LVII. deal with the grievances of Welshmen. Restoration of property is promised to them practically in the same way as to Englishmen. Welsh law is to be used in Wales, and in the marches the law of the marches is to be employed.
Chapter LVIII. promises that his hostages and his charters shall be restored to Llewellyn, prince of Wales.
Chapter LIX. promises a restoration of hostages to Alexander I. king of Scotland. Right is also to be done to him concerning the lands which he holds in England.
Chapter LX. is a general statement that the aforesaid customs and liberties are to be observed by all classes.
Chapter LXI. provides for the execution of the royal promises. A committee is to be formed of twenty-five barons. Then if the king or any of his servants do wrong and complaint is made to four of the twenty-five, they are to ask for redress. In the event of this not being granted within forty days the matter is to be referred to the twenty-five, who are empowered to seize the lands and property of the king, or to obtain justice in any other way possible. They must, however, spare the persons of the king, the queen and their children. Vacancies in the committee are to be filled by the barons themselves. The twenty-five barons were duly appointed, their names being given by Matthew Paris. This chronicler also reports that another committee of thirty-eight members was appointed to assist and control the twenty-five. S. R. Gardiner calls the scheme "a permanent organization for making war against the king." Chapter LXI I. is an expression of general forgiveness. Chapter LXIII. repeats the promise of freedom to the English church and of their rights and liberties to all.
Magna Carta is an elaboration of the accession charter of Henry I., and is based upon the Articles of the Barons. It is, however, very much longer than the former charter and somewhat longer than the Articles. Moreover, it differs in several particulars from the Articles, these differences being doubtless the outcome of deliberation and of compromise. For instance, the provisions in Magna Carta concerning the freedom of the church find no place in the Articles, while a comparison between the two documents suggests that in other ways also influences favourable to the church and the clergy were at work while the famous charter was being framed. When one reflects how active and prominent Langton and other prelates were at Runnimede the change is not surprising. Another difference between the two documents concerns the towns and the trading classes. Certain privileges granted to them in the Articles are not found in Magna Carta, although, it must be noted, this document bestows exceptionally favoured treatment on the citizens of London. The conclusion is that the friends of the towns and the traders were less in evidence at Runnimede than they were at the earlier meetings of the barons, but that the neighbouring Londoners were strong enough to secure a good price for their support.
Magna Carta throws much light on the condition of England in the early 13th century. By denouncing the evil deeds of John and the innovations practised by him, it shows what these were and how they were hated; how money had been raised, how forest areas had been extended, how minors and widows had been cheated and oppressed. By declaring, as it does, what were the laws and customs of a past age wherein justice prevailed, it shows what was the ideal of good government formed by John's prelates and barons. Magna Carta can hardly be said to have introduced any new ideas. As Pollock and Maitland (History of English Law) say " on the whole the charter contains little that is absolutely new. It is restorative." But although mature study has established the truth of this proposition it was not always so. Statesmen and commentators alike professed to find in Magna Carta a number of political ideas which belonged to a later age, and which had no place in the minds of its framers. It was regarded as having conferred upon the nation nothing less than the English constitution in its perfect and completed form. Sir Edward Coke finds in Magna Carta a full and proper legal answer to every exaction of the Stuart kings, and a remedy for every evil suffered at the time. Sir William Blackstone is almost equally admiring. Edmund Burke says " Magna Carta, if it did not give us originally the House of Commons, gave us at least a House of Commons of weight and consequence." Lord Chatham used words equally superlative. " Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights and the Bill of Rights form that code, which I call the Bible of the English Constitution." Modern historians, although less rhetorical, speak in the highest terms of the importance of Magna Carta, the view of most of them being summed up in the words of Dr Stubbs: " The whole of the constitutional history of England is a commentary on this charter."
Many regard Magna Carta as giving equal rights to all Englishmen. J. R. Green says " The rights which the barons claimed for themselves they claimed for the nation at large." As a matter of fact this statement is only true with large limitations. The villains, who formed the majority of the population, got very little from it; in fact the only clauses which protect them do so because they are property the property of their lords and therefore valuable. They get neither political nor civil rights under Magna Carta. The traders, too, get little, while preferential treatment is meted out to the clergy and the barons. Its benefits are confined to freemen, and of the benefits the lion's share fell to the larger landholders; the smaller landholders getting, it is true, some crumbs from the table. It did not establish freedom from arbitrary arrest, or the right of the representatives of the people to control taxation, or trial by jury, or other conceptions of a later generation.
The story of Magna Carta after the death of John is soon told. On the 1zth of November 1216 the regent William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, reissued the charter in the name of the young king Henry III. But important alterations were made. War was being waged against Louis of France, and the executive must not be hampered in the work of raising money; moreover the personal equation had disappeared, the barons did not need to protect themselves against John. Consequently the chapter limiting the power of the crown to raise scutages and aids without the consent of the council vanished, and with it the complementary one which determined the method of calling a council. Other provisions, the object of which had been to restrain John from demanding more money from various classes of his subjects, were also deleted, and the same fate befell such chapters as dealt with mere temporary matters. The most important of these was Chapter LXI., which provided for the appointment of 25 executors to compel John to observe the charter. The next year peace was made at Lambeth (Sept. n, 1217) between Henry III. and Louis and another reissue of the charter was promised. This promise was carried out, but two charters appeared, one being a revised issue of Magna Carta proper, and the other a separate charter dealing with the forests, all references to which were omitted from the more important document. The date of this issue appears to have been the 6th of November 1217. The issue of a separate forest charter at this time led subsequently to some confusion. Roger of Wendover asserts that John issued a separate charter of this kind when Magna Carta appeared. This statement was believed by subsequent writers until the time of Blackstone, who was the first to discover the mistake.
As issued in 1217 Magna Carta consists of 47 chapters only. It declares that henceforward scutages shall be taken according to the precedents of Henry II. 's reign. New provisions were introduced for the preservation of the peace unlawful castles were to be destroyed while others were directed towards making the administration of justice by the visiting justices less burdensome. With regard to the land and the services due therefrom a beginning was made of the policy which culminated in the statutes of Mortmain and of Quia Emptores. The sheriffs were ordered to publish the revised charter on the 22nd of February 1218. Then in February 1225 Henry III. again issued the two charters with only two slight alterations, and this is the final form taken by Magna Carta, this text being the one referred to by Coke and the other early commentators. Subsequently the charters were confirmed several times by Henry III. and by Edward I., the most important occasion being their confirmation by Edward at Ghent in November 1297. On this occasion some supplementary articles were added to the charter; these were intended to limit the taxing power of the crown.
There are at present in existence four copies of Magna Carta, sealed with the great seal of King John, and several unsealed copies. Of the four two are in the British Museum. Both came into the possession of the Museum with the valuable collection of papers which had belonged to Sir Robert Cotton, who had obtained possession of both. One was found in Dover castle about 1630. This was damaged by fire in 1731 ; the other is undamaged. The two other sealed copies belong to the cathedrals of Lincoln and of Salisbury. Both were written evidently in a less hurried fashion than those in the British Museum, and the one at Lincoln was regarded as the most perfect by the commissioners who were responsible for the appearance of the Statutes of the Realm in 1810. The British Museum also contains the original parchment of the Articles of the Barons. Magna Carta was first printed by Richard Pynson in 1499. This, however, was not the original text, which was neglected until the time of Blackstone, who printed the various issues of the charter in his book The Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest (1759). The earliest commentator of note was Sir Edward Coke, who published his Second Institute, which deals with Magna Carta, by order of the Long Parliament in 1642. Modern commentators, who also print the various texts of the charter, are Richard Thomson, An Historical Essay on the Magna Carta of King John (1829) ; C. Bemont, in his Charles des libertes anglaises (1892); and W. Stubbs in his Select Charters (1895). A more recent book and one embodying the results of the latest research is W. S. McKechnie, Magna Carla (1905). The text of Magna Carta is also printed in the Statutes of the Realm (1810-1828), and in T. Rymer's Foedera (1816-1869). In addition to Blackstone, Coke and these later writers, the following works may also be consulted: John Reeves, History of English Law (1783-1784); L. O. Pike, A Constitutional History of the House of Lords (1894); W. Stubbs, Constitutional History of England (1897); Sir F. Pollock and F. W. Maitland, The History of English Law (1895); W. S. Holdsworth, A History of English Law (1903), and Kate Norgate, John Lackland (1902). (A. W. H.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)