Return to King John
The Magna Carta ("Great Charter")
was signed by King John
on 15th June 1215 in Runnymede meadow by the River Thames between
Windsor and Staines about 20 miles West of London. It was 'signed'
(not with a pen but sealed with his royal seal) by John under
duress as the Barons were in open revolt against the absolute
authority of the King and had entered London demanding liberties
and protection of their rights by law.
It is a remarkable document and, although based on
a Charter of Liberties issued by Henry I in 1100, and later modified
by Henry III in 1225, Edward I in 1297 and Henry VI in 1423, it
remains the first recorded written declaration of constitutional
law. It is the basis of many laws still in force today in England
and Wales, and those of English speaking countries around the
world. It declared the freedom of the Church, the right of liberties,
inheritance and that no freeman could be punished except by the
law of the land.
572 years later it inspired the founding fathers of
America when they wrote the1787 United States Constitution.
The original Magna
Carta document was written in Latin and did not have paragraphs
or clause numbers. These were added later for clarity and reference
purposes. The document with John's 'Great Seal' does not survive
but there are 4 surviving copies made at the time held in the
British Library, Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals and many copies
of later versions. The Barons are listed in the introduction and
included several Bishops, although the Pope later rejected the
declarations as an infringement of the authority of the Church
of Rome and declared that John need not adhere to it. John died
one year later fleeing from the resulting unrest.
Translation of the Magna
Carta from the original Latin - click on image to enlarge
by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of
Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to his archbishops,
bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs,
stewards, servants, and to all his officials and loyal subjects,
Know that before God, for the health of our
soul and those of our ancestors and heirs, to the honour of God,
the exaltation of the holy Church, and the better ordering of
our kingdom, at 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 Bishop of London,
Peter Bishop of Winchester, Jocelin Bishop of Bath and Glastonbury,
Hugh Bishop of Lincoln, Walter Bishop of Worcester, William Bishop
of Coventry, Benedict Bishop of Rochester, Master Pandulf subdeacon
and member of the papal household, Brother Aymeric master of the
Knights of the Temple in England, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke,
William Earl of Salisbury, William Earl of Warren, William Earl
of Arundel, Alan de Galloway constable of Scotland, Warin Fitz
Gerald, Peter Fitz Herbert, Hubert de Burgh seneschal of Poitou,
Hugh de Neville, Matthew Fitz Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset,
Philip Daubeny, Robert de Roppeley, John Marshal, John Fitz Hugh,
and other loyal subjects:
1. First, that we have granted to God, and by this present
charter have confirmed for us and our heirs forever, that the
English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished,
and its liberties unimpaired. That we wish this so to be observed,
appears from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak
of the present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and
confirmed by charter the freedom of the Church's elections , a
right reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance
to it , and caused this to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III.
This freedom we shall observe ourselves, and desire to be observed
in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity. We have also granted
to all free men of our realm, for us and our heirs for ever, all
the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them
and their heirs, of us and our heirs.
2. If any earl, baron, or other person that holds lands directly
of the Crown, for military service, shall die, and at his death
his heir shall be of full age and owe a `relief', the heir shall
have his inheritance on payment of the ancient scale of `relief'.
That is to say, the heir or heirs of an earl shall pay for the
entire earl's barony, the heir or heirs of a knight 100s. at most
for the entire knight's `fee', and any man that owes less shall
pay less, in accordance with the ancient usage of fees.
3. But if the heir of such a person is under age and a ward,
when he comes of age he shall have his inheritance without `relief'
4. The guardian of the land of an heir who is under age shall
take from it only reasonable revenues, customary dues, and feudal
services. He shall do this without destruction or damage to men
or property. If we have given the guardianship of the land to
a sheriff, or to any person answerable to us for the revenues,
and he commits destruction or damage, we will exact compensation
from him, and the land shall be entrusted to two worthy and prudent
men of the same `fee', who shall be answerable to us for the revenues,
or to the person to whom we have assigned them. If we have given
or sold to anyone the guardianship of such land, and he causes
destruction or damage, he shall lose the guardianship of it, and
it shall be handed over to two worthy and prudent men of the same
`fee', who shall be similarly answerable to us.
5. For so long as a guardian has guardianship of such land,
he shall maintain the houses, parks, fish preserves, ponds, mills,
and everything else pertaining to it, from the revenues of the
land itself. When the heir comes of age, he shall restore the
whole land to him, stocked with plough teams and such implements
of husbandry as the season demands and the revenues from the land
can reasonably bear.
6. Heirs may be given in marriage, but not to someone of
lower social standing. Before a marriage takes place, it shall
be made known to the heir's next-of-kin.
7. At her husband's death, a widow may have her marriage
portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall
pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance
that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death.
She may remain in her husband's house for forty days after his
death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.
8. No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes
to remain without a husband. But she must give security that she
will not marry without royal consent, if she holds her lands of
the Crown, or without the consent of whatever other lord she may
hold them of.
9. Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent
in payment of a debt, so long as the debtor has movable goods
sufficient to discharge the debt. A debtor's sureties shall not
be distrained upon so long as the debtor himself can discharge
his debt. If, for lack of means, the debtor is unable to discharge
his debt, his sureties shall be answerable for it. If they so
desire, they may have the debtor's lands and rents until they
have received satisfaction for the debt that they paid for him,
unless the debtor can show that he has settled his obligations
10. If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies
before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest
on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective
of whom he holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands
of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified
in the bond.
11. If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have
her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it. If he leaves
children that are under age, their needs may also be provided
for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands.
The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service
due to his feudal lords. Debts owed to persons other than Jews
are to be dealt with similarly.
12. No `scutage' or `aid' may be levied in our kingdom without
its general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person,
to make our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest
daughter. For these purposes only a reasonable `aid' may be levied.
`Aids' from the city of London are to be treated similarly.
13. The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties
and free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and
grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall
enjoy all their liberties and free customs.
14. To obtain the general consent of the realm for the assessment
of an `aid' , except in the three cases specified above, or a
`scutage', we will cause the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls,
and greater barons to be summoned individually by letter. To those
who hold lands directly of us we will cause a general summons
to be issued, through the sheriffs and other officials, to come
together on a fixed day (of which at least forty days notice shall
be given) and at a fixed place. In all letters of summons, the
cause of the summons will be stated. When a summons has been issued,
the business appointed for the day shall go forward in accordance
with the resolution of those present, even if not all those who
were summoned have appeared.
15. In future we will allow no one to levy an `aid' from
his free men, except to ransom his person, to make his eldest
son a knight, and once to marry off his eldest daughter. For these
purposes only a reasonable `aid' may be levied.
16. No man shall be forced to perform more service for a
knight's `fee', or other free holding of land, than is due from
17. Ordinary lawsuits shall not follow the royal court around,
but shall be held in a fixed place.
18. Inquests of novel disseisin, mort d'ancestor, and darrein
presentment shall be taken only in their proper county court.
We ourselves, or in our absence abroad our chief justice, will
send two justices to each county four times a year, and these
justices, with four knights of the county elected by the county
itself, shall hold the assizes in the county court, on the day
and in the place where the court meets.
19. If any assizes cannot be taken on the day of the county
court, as many knights and freeholders shall afterwards remain
behind, of those who have attended the court, as will suffice
for the administration of justice, having regard to the volume
of business to be done.
20. For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only
in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious
offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him
of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared
his merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry,
if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines
shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable
men of the neighbourhood.
21. Earls and barons shall not be amerced save through their
peers, and only according to the measure of the offence.
22. No clerk shall be amerced for his lay tenement except
according to the manner of the other persons aforesaid; and not
according to the amount of his ecclesiastical benefice.
23. Neither a town nor a man shall be forced to make bridges
over the rivers, with the exception of those who, from of old
and of right ought to do it.
24. No sheriff, constable, coroners, or other bailiffs of
ours shall hold the pleas of our crown.
25. All counties, hundreds, wapentakes, and tri things, our
demesne manors being excepted, shall continue according to the
old farms, without any increase at all.
26. If any one holding from us a lay fee shall die, and our
sheriff or bailiff can show our letters patent containing our
summons for the debt which the dead man owed to us,--our sheriff
or bailiff may be allowed to attach and enroll the chattels of
the dead man to the value of that debt, through view of lawful
men; in such way, however, that nothing shall be removed thence
until the debt is paid which was plainly owed to us. And the residue
shall be left to the executors that they may carry out the will
of the dead man. And if nothing is owed to us by him, all the
chattels shall go to the use prescribed by the deceased, saving
their reasonable portions to his wife and children.
27. If any freeman shall have died intestate his chattels
shall be distributed through the hands of his near relatives and
friends, by view of the church; saving to any one the debts which
the dead man owed him.
28. No constable or other bailiff of ours shall take the
corn or other chattels of any one except he straightway give money
for them, or can be allowed a respite in that regard by the will
of the seller.
29. No constable shall force any knight to pay money for
castleward if he be willing to perform that ward in person, or--he
for a reasonable cause not being able to perform it himself--through
another proper man. And if we shall have led or sent him on a
military expedition, he shall be quit of ward according to the
amount of time during which, through us, he shall have been in
30. No sheriff nor bailiff of ours, nor any one else, shall
take the horses or carts of any freeman for transport, unless
by the will of that freeman.
31. Neither we nor our bailiffs shall take another's wood
for castles or for other private uses, unless by the will of him
to whom the wood belongs.
32. We shall not hold the lands of those convicted of felony
longer than a year and a day; and then the lands shall be restored
to the lords of the fiefs.
33. Henceforth all the weirs in the Thames and Medway, and
throughout all England, except on the sea-coast, shall be done
away with entirely.
34. Henceforth the writ which is called Praecipe shall not
be to served on any one for any holding so as to cause a free
man to lose his court.
35. There shall be one measure of wine throughout our whole
realm, and one measure of ale and one measure of corn namely,
the London quart; and one width of dyed and russet and haberjet
cloths namely, two ells below the selvedges. And with weights,
moreover, it shall be as with measures.
36. Henceforth nothing shall be given or taken for a writ
of inquest in a matter concerning life or limb; but it shall be
conceded gratis, and shall not be denied.
37. If any one hold of us in fee-farm, or in socage, or in
burkage, and hold land of another by military service, we shall
not, by reason of that fee-farm, or socage, or burkage, have the
wardship of his heir or of his land which is held in fee from
another. Nor shall we have the wardship of that fee-farm, or socage,
or burkage unless that fee-farm owe military service. We shall
not, by reason of some petit-serjeanty which some one holds of
us through the service of giving us knives or arrows or the like,
have the wardship of his heir or of the land which he holds of
another by military service.
38. No bailiff, on his own simple assertion, shall henceforth
any one to his law, without producing faithful witnesses in evidence.
39. No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized,
or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way harmed nor will we go upon
or send upon him save by the lawful judgment of his peers or by
the law of the land.
40. To none will we sell, to none deny or delay, right or
41. All merchants may safely and securely go out of England,
and come into England, and delay and pass through England, as
well by land as by water, for the purpose of buying and selling,
free from all evil taxes, subject to the ancient and right customs--save
in time of war, and if they are of the land at war against us.
And if such be found in our land at the beginning of the war,
they shall be held, without harm to their bodies and goods, until
it shall be known to us or our chief justice how the merchants
of our land are to be treated who shall, at that time, be found
in the land at war against us. And if ours shall be safe there,
the others shall be safe in our land.
42. Henceforth any person, saving fealty to us, may go out
of our realm and return to it, safely and securely, by land and
by water, except perhaps for a brief period in time of war, for
the common good of the realm. But prisoners and outlaws are excepted
according to the law of the realm; also people of a land at war
against us, and the merchants, with regard to whom shall be done
as we have said.
43. If any one hold from any escheat as from the honour of
Walingford, Nottingham, Boloin, Lancaster, or the other escheats
which are in our hands and are baronies and shall die, his heir
shall not give another relief, nor shall he perform for us other
service than he would perform for a baron if that barony were
in the hand of a baron; and we shall hold it in the same way in
which the baron has held it.
44. Persons dwelling without the forest shall not henceforth
come before the forest justices, through common summonses, unless
they are impleaded or are the sponsors of some person or persons
attached for matters concerning the forest.
45. We will not make men justices, constables, sheriffs,
or bailiffs unless they are such as know the law of the realm,
and are minded to observe it rightly.
46. All barons who have founded abbeys for which they have
charters of the king of England, or ancient right of tenure, shall
have, as they ought to have, their custody when vacant.
47. All forests constituted as such in our time shall straightway
be annulled; and the same shall be done for river banks made into
places of defence by us in our time.
48. All evil customs concerning forests and warrens, and
concerning foresters and warreners, sheriffs and their servants,
river banks and their guardians, shall straightway be inquired
into each county, through twelve sworn knights from that county,
and shall be eradicated by them, entirely, so that they shall
never be renewed, within forty days after the inquest has been
made; in such manner that we shall first know about them, or our
justice if we be not in England.
49. We shall straightway return all hostages and charters
which were delivered to us by Englishmen as a surety for peace
or faithful service.
50. We shall entirely remove from their bailiwicks the relatives
of Gerard de Athyes, so that they shall henceforth have no bailiwick
in England: Engelard de Cygnes, Andrew Peter and Gyon de Chanceles,
Gyon de Cygnes, Geoffrey de Martin and his brothers, Philip Mark
and his brothers, and Geoffrey his nephew, and the whole following
51. And straightway after peace is restored we shall remove
from the realm all the foreign soldiers, crossbowmen, servants,
hirelings, who may have come with horses and arms to the harm
of the realm.
52. If any one shall have been disseized by us, or removed,
without a legal sentence of his peers, from his lands, castles,
liberties or lawful right, we shall straightway restore them to
him. And if a dispute shall arise concerning this matter it shall
be settled according to the judgment of the twenty-five barons
who are mentioned below as sureties for the peace. But with regard
to all those things of which any one was, by king Henry our father
or king Richard our brother, disseized or dispossessed without
legal judgment of his peers, which we have in our hand or which
others hold, and for which we ought to give a guarantee: We shall
have respite until the common term for crusaders. Except with
regard to those concerning which a plea was moved, or an inquest
made by our order, before we took the cross. But when we return
from our pilgrimage, or if, by chance, we desist from our pilgrimage,
we shall straightway then show full justice regarding them.
53. We shall have the same respite, moreover, and in the
same manner, in the matter of showing justice with regard to forests
to be annulled and forests to remain, which Henry our father or
Richard our brother constituted; and in the matter of wardships
of lands which belong to the fee of another warship of which kind
we have hitherto enjoyed by reason of the fee which some one held
from us in military service;--and in the matter of abbeys founded
in the fee of another than ourselves in which the lord of the
fee may say that he has jurisdiction. And when we return, or if
we desist from our pilgrimage, we shall straightway exhibit full
justice to those complaining with regard to these matters.
54. No one shall be taken or imprisoned on account of the
appeal of a woman concerning the death of another than her husband.
55. All fines imposed by us unjustly and contrary to the
law of the land, and all amerciaments made unjustly and contrary
to the law of the land, shall be altogether remitted, or it shall
be done with regard to them according to the judgment of the twenty
five barons mentioned below as sureties for the peace, or according
to the judgment of the majority of them together with the aforesaid
Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, if he can be present, and with
others whom he may wish to associate with himself for this purpose.
And if he can not be present, the affair shall nevertheless proceed
without him; in such way that, if one or more of the said twenty
five barons shall be concerned in a similar complaint, they shall
be removed as to this particular decision, and, in their place,
for this purpose alone, others shall be substituted who shall
be chosen and sworn by the remainder of those twenty five.
56. If we have disseized or dispossessed Welshmen of their
lands or liberties or other things without legal judgment of their
peers, in England or in Wales,--they shall straightway be restored
to them. And if a dispute shall arise concerning this, then action
shall be taken upon it in the March through judgment of their
peers- -concerning English holdings according to the law of England,
concerning Welsh holdings according to the law of Wales, concerning
holdings in the March according to the law of the March. The Welsh
shall do likewise with regard to us and our subjects.
57. But with regard to all those things of which any one
of the Welsh by king Henry our father or king Richard our brother,
disseized or dispossessed without legal judgment of his peers,
which we have in our hand or which others hold, and for which
we ought to give a guarantee: we shall have respite until the
common term for crusaders. Except with regard to those concerning
which a plea was moved, or an inquest made by our order, before
we took the cross. But when we return from our pilgrimage, or
if, by chance, we desist from our pilgrimage, we shall straightway
then show full justice regarding them, according to the laws of
Wales and the aforesaid districts.
58. We shall straightway return the son of Llewelyn and all
the Welsh hostages, and the charters delivered to us as surety
for the peace.
59. We shall act towards Alexander King of the Scots regarding
the restoration of his sisters, and his hostages, and his liberties
and his lawful right, as we shall act towards our other barons
of England; unless it ought to be otherwise according to the charters
which we hold from William, his father, the former king of the
Scots. And this shall be done through judgement of his peers in
60. Moreover all the subjects of our realm, clergy as well
as laity, shall, as far as pertains to them, observe, with regard
to their vassals, all these aforesaid customs and liberties which
we have decreed shall, as far as pertains to us, be observed in
our realm with regard to our own.
61. Inasmuch as, for the sake of God, and for the bettering
of our realm, and for the more ready healing of the discord which
has arisen between us and our barons, we have made all these aforesaid
concessions, wishing them to enjoy for ever entire and firm stability,
we make and grant to them the folIowing security: that the baron,
namely, may elect at their pleasure twenty five barons from the
realm, who ought, with all their strength, to observe, maintain
and cause to be observed, the peace and privileges which we have
granted to them and confirmed by this our present charter. In
such wise, namely, that if we, or our justice, or our bailiffs,
or any one of our servants shall have transgressed against any
one in any respect, or shall have broken one of the articles of
peace or security, and our transgression shall have been shown
to four barons of the aforesaid twenty five: those four barons
shall come to us, or, if we are abroad, to our justice, showing
to us our error; and they shall ask us to cause that error to
be amended without delay. And if we do not amend that error, or,
we being abroad, if our justice do not amend it within a term
of forty days from the time when it was shown to us or, we being
abroad, to our justice: the aforesaid four barons shall refer
the matter to the remainder of the twenty five barons, and those
twenty five barons, with the whole land in common, shall distrain
and oppress us in every way in their power,--namely, by taking
our castles, lands and possessions, and in every other way that
they can, until amends shall have been made according to their
judgment. Saving the persons of ourselves, our queen and our children.
And when amends shall have been made they shall be in accord with
us as they had been previously. And whoever of the land wishes
to do so, shall swear that in carrying out all the aforesaid measures
he will obey the mandates of the aforesaid twenty five barons,
and that, with them, he will oppress us to the extent of his power.
And, to any one who wishes to do so, we publicly and freely give
permission to swear; and we will never prevent any one from swearing.
Moreover, all those in the land who shall be unwilling, themselves
and of their own accord, to swear to the twenty five barons as
to distraining and oppressing us with them: such ones we shall
make to wear by our mandate, as has been said. And if any one
of the twenty five barons shall die, or leave the country, or
in any other way be prevented from carrying out the aforesaid
measures,--the remainder of the aforesaid twenty five barons shall
choose another in his place, according to their judgment, who
shall be sworn in the same way as the others. Moreover, in all
things entrusted to those twenty five barons to be carried out,
if those twenty five shall be present and chance to disagree among
themselves with regard to some matter, or if some of them, having
been summoned, shall be unwilling or unable to be present: that
which the majority of those present shall decide or decree shall
be considered binding and valid, just as if all the twenty five
had consented to it. And the aforesaid twenty five shall swear
that they will faithfully observe all the foregoing, and will
cause them be observed to the extent of their power. And we shall
obtain nothing from any one, either through ourselves or through
another, by which any of those concessions and liberties may be
revoked or diminished. And if any such thing shall have been obtained,
it shall be vain and invalid, and we shall never make use of it
either through ourselves or through another.
62. And we have fully remitted to all, and pardoned, all
the ill- will, anger and rancour which have arisen between us
and our subjects, clergy and laity, from the time of the struggle.
Moreover have fully remitted to all, clergy and laity, and as
far as pertains to us have pardoned fully all the transgressions
committed, on the occasion of that same struggle, from Easter
of the sixteenth year of our reign until the re-establishment
of peace. In witness of which, more-over, we have caused to be
drawn up for them letters patent of lord Stephen, archbishop of
Canterbury, Lord Henry, Archbishop of Dublin the aforesaid bishops
and Master Pandulf, regarding that surety and the aforesaid concessions.
63. Wherefore we will and firmly decree that the English
Church shall be free, and that the subjects of our realm shall
have and hold all the aforesaid liberties, rights and concessions,
duly and in peace, freely and quietly, fully and entirely, for
themselves and their heirs from us and our heirs, in all matters
and in all places, forever, as has been said. Moreover it has
been sworn, on our part as well as on the part of the barons,
that all these above mentioned provisions shall observed with
good faith and without evil intent. The witnesses being the above
mentioned and many others.
Given through our hand, in the meadow called Runnymede between
Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June, in the seventeenth
year of our reign.