King John Affixes His Seal to the Magna Carta, an Inspiration for the US Constitution and Bill of Rights

“The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history . . . It was written in Magna Carta.”

–Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1941 Inaugural address

On June 15, 1215, in a field at Runnymede, King John affixed his seal to Magna Carta. Confronted by 40 rebellious barons, he consented to their demands in order to avert civil war. Just 10 weeks later, Pope Innocent III nullified the agreement, and England plunged into internal war.

Although Magna Carta failed to resolve the conflict between King John and his barons, it was reissued several times after his death. On display at the National Archives, courtesy of David M. Rubenstein, is one of four surviving originals of the 1297 Magna Carta. This version was entered into the official Statute Rolls of England.

Enduring Principles of Liberty

Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. It is concerned with many practical matters and specific grievances relevant to the feudal system under which they lived. The interests of the common man were hardly apparent in the minds of the men who brokered the agreement. But there are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day:

“No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

“To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice.”

Inspiration for Americans

During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (“no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”) is a direct descendent of Magna Carta’s guarantee of proceedings according to the “law of the land.”

Source: https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/magna-carta

Below comes from Encyclopedia Britanica…

Origin of the Magna Carta

With his conquest of England in 1066, William I secured for himself and his immediate successors a position of unprecedented power. He was able to dominate not only the country but also the barons who had helped him win it and the ecclesiastics who served the English church. He forced Pope Alexander II to be content with indirect control over the church in a land that the papacy hitherto had regarded as bound by the closest ties to Rome. William’s son Henry I—whose accession (1100) was challenged by his eldest brother, Robert, duke of Normandy—was compelled to make concessions to the nobles and clergy in the Charter of Liberties, a royal edict issued upon his coronation. His successor, Stephen (1135), whose hold on the throne was threatened by Henry I’s daughter Matilda, again issued a solemn charter (1136) with even more generous promises of good government in church and state. Matilda’s son Henry II also began his reign (1154) by issuing a solemn charter promising to restore and confirm the liberties and free customs that King Henry, his grandfather, had granted “to God and holy church and all his earls, barons and all his men.” There developed, in fact, through the 12th century a continuous tradition that the king’s coronation oath should be strengthened by written promises stamped with the king’s seal.

Although the volume of common law increased during that period, in particular during Henry II’s reign (which ended in 1189), no converse definition had been secured in regard to the financial liabilities of the baronage to the crown. The baronage also had no definition of the rights of justice that they held over their own subjects. As the Angevin administration became ever more firmly established with learned judges, able financiers, and trained clerks in its service, the baronage as a whole became ever more conscious of the weakness of its position in the face of the agents of the crown. Compounding discontent among the nobility were tax increases during Richard I’s reign (1189–99), which resulted from his Crusade, his ransom, and his war with France. John was confronted with those myriad challenges upon his rise to the throne in 1199. His position, already precarious, was made even weaker because of the rival claim of his nephew Arthur of Brittany and the determination of Philip II of France to end the English hold on Normandy.

Unlike his predecessors, John did not issue a general charter to his barons at the beginning of his reign. At Northampton, however, Archbishop of Canterbury Hubert Walter, royal adviser William Marshal, and justiciar Geoffrey Fitzpeter summoned the nobility and promised, on behalf of the king (who was still in France), that he would render to each his rights if they would keep faith and peace with him. As early as 1201, however, the earls were refusing to cross the English Channel in the king’s service unless he first promised them “their rights.” In 1205, in the face of a threat of invasion from France, the king was compelled to swear that he would preserve the rights of the kingdom unharmed. After the loss of Normandy in 1204, John was forced to rely on English resources alone, and the crown began to feel a new urgency in the matter of revenue collection. Royal demands for scutage (money paid in lieu of military service) became more frequent. The quarrel with Pope Innocent III over the election of Stephen Langton to the see of Canterbury resulted in a papal interdict (1208–13) and left the English church defenseless in the face of John’s financial demands. The excommunication of the king in 1209 deprived him of some of his ablest administrators. It is not surprising then that when peace with the church was made and Langton became archbishop of Canterbury, he emerged as a central figure in the baronial unrest. Indeed, it was Langton who advised that the demand for a solemn grant of liberties from the king be founded on the coronation charter of Henry I.

The Great Charter of 1215

A detailed account of the months preceding the sealing of the Magna Carta has been preserved by the historians of St. Albans abbey, where an initial draft of the charter was read in 1213. Many, although not all, of the documents issued immediately before the charter have survived either in the original or as official transcripts. From those records, it is clear that King John had already realized that he would have to grant free election to ecclesiastical offices and meet the barons’ general demands. It is equally clear that Langton and the most-influential earl, William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, had considerable difficulty in bringing the most-extreme members of the baronage to a frame of mind in which they would negotiate. Those nobles wanted to fight, although it is not clear what use they would have made of a military victory in 1215.

On June 15, 1215, the document known as the Articles of the Barons was at last agreed upon, and to it the king’s great seal was set. It became the text from which the draft of the charter was hammered out in the discussions at Runnymede (beside the River Thames, between Windsor and Staines, now in the county of Surrey), and the final version of the Magna Carta was accepted by the king and the barons on June 19. The charter was a compromise, but it also contained important clauses designed to bring about reforms in judicial and local administration.

Much explosive material is set out in the Magna Carta, which was sealed by King John “in the meadow called Ronimed between Windsor and Staines on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign.” The remarkable fact is not that war broke out between John and his barons in the following months but that the king had ever been brought to agree to the sealing of such a document at all. That the king genuinely wished to avoid civil war, that he was prepared to accede to reasonable demands for a statement of feudal law, and that he had a basic desire to give good government to his subjects are all strikingly shown by his submission to clauses that, in effect, authorized his subjects to declare war on their king.Clause 61 of the 1215 charter called upon the barons to choose 25 representatives from their number to serve as a “form of security” to ensure the preservation of the rights and liberties that had been enumerated. John’s dissatisfaction with that clause and its implementation was recorded by chronicler Matthew Paris, and historians since that time have questioned its genesis. Was clause 61 proposed by Langton as a method of progressing toward a limited monarchy, or did it come from the barons as a way of expressing their feudal right of formal defiance in the face of a lord who had broken a contract? Whatever its origin, that clause is of interest because it illustrates the way that the western European elite were talking and thinking about kingship in 1215. Although clause 61 was omitted from reissued versions of the charter, after the deposing of King Henry III during the Barons’ War (1264), it served as the model for an even harsher attempt to control the king.

Reissues of 1216, 1217, and 1225

King John died on October 18/19, 1216, while Louis of France (afterward Louis VIII), supported by rebellious English barons, was trying to gain control of England. One of the first acts of the council of John’s young successor, Henry III, was to reissue the Magna Carta on November 12 in the hope of recalling men to their allegiance to the rightful king. The charter of 1216 was considerably shorter than its predecessor—42 clauses versus 63 in the 1215 document—as the council had omitted clauses dealing with purely temporary and political matters as well as those that might limit its own power to raise money or forces to carry on the war. The church, while keeping a general promise of freedom, lost its specific guarantee of free election to office. Even in that moment of danger, the council did not forget one main purpose of the charter: to provide a definitive statement of feudal law. It tried to address points in doubt, such as specific matters of inheritance law and the precise year at which an heir should attain his majority (age 21). Instead of the “form of security,” the council stated that all omissions were postponed for future consideration. They were never replaced.

When the charter was reissued for the second time, in the autumn of 1217, the council had reconsidered it clause by clause. They made further verbal changes for the sake of clarity and accuracy. They modified the promise of assize justices’ visiting every shire four times a year to the more-practical suggestion of an annual visit. More difficult cases would be heard by the bench judges. A widow’s rights in issues of inheritance were more clearly set out. The vexed question of scutage, omitted altogether in 1216, was in 1217 glossed over by a promise to revert to the practice of Henry II. That the council in 1217 still wished to make the charter an authoritative statement of English law and practice is shown by the inclusion of three new clauses, each dealing with a question of the day: the possibility of a land owner’s giving away so much of his holdings that he could not perform his service to his lord from the remainder (clause 39); the conduct of the shire court and view of frankpledge, a mutual responsibility to keep the peace (clause 42); and a first attempt at mortmain legislation (clause 43). Section VII of the 1215 document was set aside in favour of a separate forest charter that dealt with the use and scope of royal land holdings. That attempt at compartmentalization demonstrates that the council was beginning to realize that a full statement of the law on a single important subject could not be compressed into a general charter of liberties, no matter how long that charter might be.In 1223 Pope Honorius III declared that Henry III was of age to make valid grants, and the young king reissued the Magna Carta two years later. That version reflected only minor changes from the 1217 document, and it seems probable that the council had concluded that maintaining the charter as an evolving code of law was impracticable.

Historical significance of the Magna Carta

By the time of the 1225 reissue, the Magna Carta had become more than a sober statement of the common law; it was a symbol in the battle against oppression. It had been read so many times in shire courts throughout the land that memorable phrases would be invoked in later documents, and whenever liberty seemed in danger, men spoke of the charter as their defense. The influence of the Magna Carta in England—and, later, in its colonies—had come not from the detailed expression of the feudal relationship between lord and subject but from the more-general clauses in which every generation could see its own protection. In England the Petition of Right in 1628 and the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 looked directly back to clause 39 of the 1215 charter, which read:

No free man shall be arrested or imprisoned or disseised or outlawed or exiled or in any way victimised, neither will we attack him or send anyone to attack him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

Indeed, this passage would serve as the foundational expression of the concept of due process in Anglo-American jurisprudence. In the 17th century, when England’s North American colonies were shaping their own fundamental laws, the words of the Magna Carta were worked into them. The basic rights embodied in the Constitution of the United States of America (1789) and the Bill of Rights (1791) echo the charter, and the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) can trace its ancestry to the Magna Carta as well.

The essential virtue of the Magna Carta, which has made it comparable in historical importance to the Twelve Tables of ancient Rome, lies not in any individual clause or group of clauses but in the solemn circumstances of its first granting and the comprehensive nature of that grant. Thus, the Magna Carta that is commonly remembered is the Magna Carta of King John, and the date that always has been commemorated as its granting is 1215. That many clauses were omitted from the charter as it finally appeared on the statute rolls and that new ones had been inserted and some original clauses redrafted have made no difference in the collective memory of this venerable document. Nevertheless, in trying to estimate the influence of the charter on constitutional development in England and elsewhere, it should be borne in mind that, while the drama has never faded from the field of Runnymede, the actual phrases studied by those who fought oppression in 17th-century England or 18th-century America came immediately from the 1217 charter.

Surviving copies of the Magna Carta

There still exist four original copies of the charter of 1215, two of them held by the cathedral churches in which they were originally deposited—Lincoln and Salisbury—and the other two in the British Library. The Lincoln charter was considered the most nearly perfect and was reproduced in the Statutes of the Realm in 1810. Lincoln also possesses the forest charter of 1225. Durham Cathedral holds the 1216, 1217, and 1225 versions of the Magna Carta as well as the forest charters of 1217 and 1225. The Wiltshire copy of the 1225 charter was deposited at Lacock Abbey and survives. The four extant “originals” of the 1215 Magna Carta were assembled in one place for the first time in February 2015 as part of a British Library commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the charter’s issue.

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 aforesaid.
  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 due therefrom.
  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 offense.
  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 benefice.
  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 reasonable shares.
  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 seashore.
  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 never denied.
  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 service.
  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 forest.
  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.
  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 our time.
  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 service.
  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 and ours.
  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 our reign.

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Magna Carta is not only one of the most celebrated documents in British history, but stands as a foundation of political and religious freedom throughout the world. Yet the liberties and freedoms fought for and heralded in Magna Carta are under severe attack as controversial issues of religious freedoms, human rights, equality legislation and freedom of speech present significant challenges for our society today. In the year of its 800th anniversary Magna Carta Unravelled traces the Christian origins and legacy of this great Charter of liberty, focusing on the current challenges to individual liberty examined by experts with unrivalled backgrounds in politics, academic philosophy, the law and the church. Magna Carta Unravelled is an invaluable resource, offering penetrating insights from a variety of perspectives, for those seeking a thoughtful approach to issues of freedom in our nation today. A joint venture with Voice for Justice UK.


The Magna Carta is revered around the world as the founding document of Western liberty. Its principles—even its language—can be found in our Bill of Rights and in the Constitution. But what was this strange document and how did it gain such legendary status?

Dan Jones takes us back to the turbulent year of 1215, when, beset by foreign crises and cornered by a growing domestic rebellion, King John reluctantly agreed to fix his seal to a document that would change the course of history. At the time of its creation the Magna Carta was just a peace treaty drafted by a group of rebel barons who were tired of the king’s high taxes, arbitrary justice, and endless foreign wars. The fragile peace it established would last only two months, but its principles have reverberated over the centuries.

Jones’s riveting narrative follows the story of the Magna Carta’s creation, its failure, and the war that subsequently engulfed England, and charts the high points in its unexpected afterlife. Reissued by King John’s successors it protected the Church, banned unlawful imprisonment, and set limits to the exercise of royal power. It established the principle that taxation must be tied to representation and paved the way for the creation of Parliament.

In 1776 American patriots, inspired by that long-ago defiance, dared to pick up arms against another English king and to demand even more far-reaching rights. We think of the Declaration of Independence as our founding document but those who drafted it had their eye on the Magna Carta.


In this erudite, entertaining book, award-winning historian and television presenter David Starkey untangles historical and modern misconceptions about one of the founding documents of democracy. Along the way, he shows how the Magna Carta laid the foundation for the British constitution, influenced the American Revolution and the U.S. constitution, and continues to shape jurisprudential thinking about individual rights around the world today.

In 1215, King John I of England faced a domestic crisis. He had just lost an expensive campaign to retake his ancestral lands in France, an unfortunate adventure that he had funded by heavily taxing the baronial lords of England. Sick of the unpopular king’s heavy-handed rule, and unimpressed by the king’s unsuccessful attempt to seize Normandy, the feudal barons united to make demands of their sovereign for certain protections. These demands, the “Articles of the Barons,” were submitted to the king in rough draft after the rebels occupied three cities, most significantly London.

A few years later, after being edited and amplified by the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, the Articles would come to be known as the Magna Carta. The self-interested barons couldn’t have known it at the time, but those demands would one day become the bedrock of democratic political development around the globe–even though that influence was largely due to mythologizing by later scholars who warped the symbolism of the document to support their arguments in favor of the rights of all citizens.

Although the Magna Carta itself made no requests on behalf of the peasantry, in its structure the outlines of modern democratic reform are plainly visible. Among other things, it demanded limits on the ability of the crown to levy taxes; protection of the rights of the church; the guarantee of swift justice; and a ban on unjust imprisonment. Those protections and guarantees were strictly intended for benefit of feudal barons, but the free citizens of today’s democratic nations owe an enormous debt to this history-changing document.


Gr 4-6-In the first book, each of the 10 amendments is quoted and explained. Sidebars expand on some; for example, the Sixth Amendment is accompanied by a brief look at the Miranda Statement. It’s a good overview of one of our founding documents and will prepare readers for single titles such as those in “The Bill of Rights” series (ABDO, 2008). Taking the Common Core standard regarding “the relationship between a primary and secondary source” to heart, Magna Carta begins by defining primary and secondary sources and identifying the document as an important primary source. Baxter explains that the ideas expressed in the Magna Carta influenced the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. A later section outlines some specific ways in which the liberties granted in it are incorporated into U.S. law. The books cited in the “Find Out More” section offer information on medieval life and the American Revolution, but not the Magna Carta itself. Despite a few minor flaws, this title may be of interest where the curriculum allows for a more thorough study of the history of U.S. founding documents. Most of Sonneborn’s material is standard fare: an outline of the causes of the Revolutionary War, the initial failure of the Articles of Confederation, and the ultimately successful Constitutional Convention. Each of the seven articles is discussed, as is the Bill of Rights and later amendments. An explanation of primary and secondary sources includes a useful description of when and why a historian might use each type. In all of the books, maps, photographs, and reproductions of original documents add visual appeal.


Wrested by rebellious barons from a very reluctant King John, Magna Carta set out a series of rights and duties that have been appealed to, ignored, suppressed, and argued about ever since. Here, David Carpenter’s forceful new translation is accompanied by extensive commentary that sheds new light on this illustrious legal document.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.


From bestselling author Danny Danziger and medieval expert John Gillingham comes a vivid look at the signing of the Magna Carta and how this event illuminates one of the most compelling and romantic periods in history.

Surveying a broad landscape through a narrow lens, 1215 sweeps readers back eight centuries in an absorbing portrait of life during a time of global upheaval, the ripples of which can still be felt today. At the center of this fascinating period is the document that has become the root of modern freedom: the Magna Carta. It was a time of political revolution and domestic change that saw the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart, King John, and—in legend—Robin Hood all make their marks on history.

The events leading up to King John’s setting his seal to the famous document at Runnymede in June 1215 form this rich and riveting narrative that vividly describes everyday life from castle to countryside, from school to church, and from hunting in the forest to trial by ordeal. For instance, women wore no underwear (though men did), the average temperatures were actually higher than they are now, and the austere kitchen at Westminster Abbey allowed each monk two pounds of meat and a gallon of ale per day. Broad in scope and rich in detail, 1215 ingeniously illuminates what may have been the most important year of our history.


New! Taking a train full of currency or capturing a Spanish treasure ship is nothing compared to the greatest theft in history—when the captain of a company of English archers and his men stole the entire treasury and religious relics of the world’s greatest and richest empire and escaped to Cornwall with chests and chests of gold coins and priceless relics. This is part of the exciting and action-packed story of how it happened and, in particular, what happened afterward to affect the people involved.

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