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Magna Carta (1215) The Great Charter

·        The Text of the Charter - History 

·        Preamble 

·        Articles 1.   17.   18.   19.   20.   22.   24.   30.   31. 
33.   35.   36.   38.   39.   40.  45.  61.   63.


            The Great Charter (1215) The Magna Carta  


            John, by the grace of God, king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, count of Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justiciars, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants and all his officials1 and faithful subjects' greeting. Know that we, out of reverence for God and for the salvation of our soul and those of all our ancestors and heirs, for the Honour of God and the advancement of Holy Church and the reform of our Kingdom, on the advice of our reverend 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 and Benedict of Rochester bishops, of Mater Pandulf subdeacon and member of the household of the lord pope, of brother Aimeric master of the Knights of the Temple in England and of the noblemen William the Marshal earl of Pembroke, William earl of Salisbury, William earl of Warenne, William earl of Arundle, Alan of Galloway constable of Scotland, Warin son of Gerild, Peter son of Herbert, Hubert de Burgh seneschal of Poitou, Hugh de Neville, Matthew son of Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip d'Aubigny, Robert of Ropsley, John Marshal, John son of Hugh and others, our faithful subjects2

                        1 Officials (ballivi)— A bellivus was a minor local official responsible to the sheriff
                of the county, but as here, the word is often used in a more general sense.


                        2 Faithful subjects (fideles)— those bound by an oath of loyalty, in this context
                probably the freemen of the country.


Editor’s Note: Only those Articles pertaining to today’s constitutional guarantees under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1867 to 1997, the Constitution of the United States of America and other relevant statutes are reproduced herein Ed.

            Article 1.  


1.         In the first place we have granted to God and by this our present charter have confirmed, for us and our heirs forever, that the English Church shall be free,3 and shall have its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired; and it is our will that it be thus observed, which is evident from the fact that, before the quarrel between us and our barons began, we willingly and spontaneously conceded and confirmed by our charter, and got confirmed by the lord pope Innocent III, freedom of elections, which is held most important and very essential to the English Church; the which we shall observe and wish our heirs to observe in good faith forever. We have also granted to all the freemen1 of our kingdom, for ourselves and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written below, to be had and held by them and their heirs from us and our heirs. 

 3 Free— here particularly liberty to obey the canon law of the Western Church which, amongst other things, insisted on ecclesiastical elections being free from lay pressure. Criminal Code of Canada, Section 176


 1 Freeman— those of free status in the eyes of the law (i.e. not villains) and as such having certain rights denied to villeins, such as access to the Kings courts in certain actions, freedom to move about and marry and exemption from certain onerous duties.

            Article 17.


17.       Common pleas1 shall not follow our court but shall be held in some fixed place.


 1 Common Pleas— suits between subject and subject regarding real property
i.e. at this time principally land, buildings and titles. 

            Article 18.


18.       Inquests2 of Novel Disseisin3 of Mort d'Ancestor,4 and of Darrein Presentiment5 shall not be held elsewhere than in the court of the county in which they arise, and in this manner:— we, or, if we are out of the realm, our chief justiciar,6 shall send two judges through each county four times a year who, with four knights of each county elected by the county [court] shall hold the said assises8 in the county on the day and in the place of meeting of [that] county court.


 2 Inquests— formal inquiries made by the sheriff acting on a royal writ whereby a local jury was summoned to testify as to the facts in a particular matter. In the three particular types of problem now cited (see the three following notes) the jury had to establish which party was previously in possession, not which had the rightful title in the dispute. In all cases the plaintiff was given possession if the verdict was in his favour.


 3 Novel Disseisin— an inquest into an alleged recent eviction of a tenant from his free tenement.


 4 Mort d'Ancestor— an inquest as to whether an heir had been prevented from taking possession of some property he should have inherited.


 5 Darrein Presentiment— an inquest to establish who presented the incumbent to a benefice whose patronage was in dispute, on the last occasion that it was vacant.


 6 Justiciar  here the chief (capitalis) justiciar, an official who acted as regent during the frequent absences from England of the early Angevin kings. 

            Article 19. 


19.       And if [all] the said assises cannot be taken on the day of the county court, as many as may be necessary of the knights9 and freeholders present at the county court on that day shall remain, by whom sufficient judgments shall be made, according to the amount of the business.


 9 Knights— originally a mounted soldier, here a well-to-do landowner, below baronial rank. 


            Article 20. 


20.       A freeman shall not be amerced10 for a small offence, except in accordance with the degree of the offence and for a grave offence he shall be amerced according to its gravity, without imperilling his status; and a merchant, similarly, without imperilling his stock-in-trade; and similarly, a villein shall be amerced always without loss of wainage1 — if their liability is to us. And none of the aforesaid amercements shall be imposed except by the sworn evidence of worthy men of the neighborhood.


 10 Amercement a fine imposed by a court of law.

 1 Wainage  the chattels on which the villein depended for his livelihood such as his farm implements, seed-corn and stock.


            Article 22. 


22.       No clerk shall be amerced in respect of his lay holding2, except in accordance with the above mentioned rules and not in accordance with the amount of his ecclesiastical benefice.

 2 Lay holding— property held by performing secular and not ecclesiastical duties.


            Article 24. 


24.       No sheriff, constable, coroner or other of our officials shall hold pleas of our Crown4.


 4 Pleas of our Crown grave criminal offences such as ambush, forcible entry,
neglect of summons to local military service.


            Article 30. 


30.       No sheriff or bailiff of ours or any one else shall take the horses or carts of any free man for transport work except with the agreement of the said freeman.


            Article 31.


31.       Neither we nor our bailiffs shall take other people's wood for castles3 or doing other work of ours, except with the agreement of the owner of that wood.


 3 Castles— before the reign of Henry II even major castles were mostly built of wood as were the less important buildings and auxiliary defences long after his time.


            Article 33. 


33.       For the future, all fishweirs5 shall be completely removed from the Thames and the Medway and thought all England, except those along the sea coast.

 5 Fishweirs— used in a general sense to cover all large, static contrivances for catching fish;
inevitably these might cause serious inconvenience to boats navigation in inland waters. 

            Article 35. 


35.       Let there be throughout our kingdom a single measure for wine and a single measure for ale and a single measure for corn, namely "the London quarter," and a single width of cloth (whether dyed, russet7 or halberjet8) namely two ells9 within the selvedges10 and let it be the same with weights and measures. 

7 Russet- a coarse, home-spun cloth much used by the peasantry. (Probably hemp-Ed.) 

8 Halberjet- probably a superior type of cloth. (Probably hemp-Ed.) 

9 Ell- a standard measure of length said to have been based on the length of the right arm of king Henry 1. 

10 Selvedges- the borders which were usually of a different weave from the body of the cloth.

            Article 36.  


36.       In future nothing shall be given or taken for the writ of inquiry concerning life and limbs, but it shall be given freely and not withheld.

            Article 38. 


38.       In future no official shall put anyone to trial merely on his own testimony, without reliable witnesses produced for this purpose.

            Article 39. 


39.       No freeman shall be arrested or imprisoned or deprived of his freehold or outlawed or banished or in any way ruined, nor will we take or order action against him, except by the lawful judgment of his equals and according to the law of the land.

            Article 40.  


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

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

            Article 61.  


61.       Since, moreover, we have conceded all the above things (from reverence) for God, for the reform of our kingdom and the better quieting of the discord that has sprung up between us and our barons, and since we wish these things to flourish unimpaired and unshaken for ever, we constitute and concede to them the following guarantee:- namely, that the barons shall choose any twenty-five barons of the kingdom they wish, who with all their might are to observe, maintain and secure the observance of the peace and rights which we have conceded and confirmed to them by this present charter of ours; in this manner, that if we or our chief Justiciar or our bailiffs or any of our servants in any way do wrong to anyone, or transgress any of the articles of peace or security, and the wrong doing has been demonstrated to four of the aforesaid twenty-five barons, those four barons shall come to us or our chief Justiciar, (if we are out of the kingdom), and laying before us the grievance, shall ask that we will have it redressed without delay. And if we, or our chief Justiciar (should we be out of the kingdom) do not redress the grievance within forty days of the time when it was brought to the notice of us or our chief Justiciar (should we be out of the kingdom), the aforesaid four barons shall refer the case to the rest of the twenty-five barons and those twenty-five barons with the whole community of the land shall distrain and distress us in every way they can, namely by taking of castles, estates and possessions, and in such other ways as they can, excepting (attack on) our person and those of our queen and of our children until, in their judgment, satisfaction has been secured; and when satisfaction has been secured let them behave towards us as they did before. And let anyone in the country who wishes to do so take an oath to obey the orders of the said twenty-five barons in the execution of all the aforesaid matters and with them to oppress us to the best of his ability, and we publicly and freely give permission for the taking the oath to anyone who wishes to take it, and we will never prohibit anyone from taking it. 

            Article 63.  

63.       Wherefore we wish and firmly order that the English Church shall be free, and the men in our kingdom shall have and hold all the aforesaid privileges, rights and concessions well and peacefully, freely and quietly, fully and completely for themselves and their heirs from us and our heirs in all things and places for ever as is aforesaid. Moreover an oath has been taken, as well on our part as on the part of the barons, that all these things aforesaid shall be observed in good faith and without any evil intention. As witness the above-mentioned and many others. Given under our hand in the meadow which is called Runnymede (Ronimed) between Windsor and Staines on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign. 

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