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THE IMPORTANCE of Magna Carta is in the influence of its being granted, rather than of what was granted by it. It was essentially a document of feudal law, rights, and obligations, with little bearing on modern democratic matters. It was, on June 15, 1215, forced on King John by the barons, whose chief interest was in their own claims; but it was not confined to these, and in its administrative reforms did undoubtedly, especially through the chain of confirmations, give strength to the demand for civil rights in later times. It was not the first royal charter, and it did not grant new liberties; but besides confirming existing claims, it proposed means of sustaining them. The procuring of Magna Carta was a dramatic affair, and the name by which it has come down from the earlier ages set it apart from the other medieval documents which helped to found the English polity; so that, when the struggle between autocratic power and popular rights began under the Stuart monarchs, it was natural that the Great Charter should be brought forward as proof of the early existence of sacred rights later denied. Certain striking clauses in general terms gave substance to this. These, with the tradition and later influence, continue to make Magna Carta a Liberty Document of first importance.
Four copies of Magna Carta survive which are considered as originals; two are in the British Museum, and the others in Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals. The translation from the Latin here used is from the Lincoln copy, and was made by William Basevi Sanders. It was this copy that was on exhibit in Magna Carta Hall at the New York Fair in 1939 and 1940, and later placed temporarily in the Library of Congress in connection with the great American state papers treasured there.
TEXT OHN, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of
Normandy and Aquitaine, and Earl of Anjou: To the Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Earls, Barons, Justiciaries, Foresters, Sheriffs, Reves, Ministers, and all Bailiffs and others, his faithful subjects, Greeting. Know ye that We, in the presence of God, and for the health of Our soul, and the souls of Our ancestors and heirs, to the honour of God, and the exaltation of Holy Church, and amendment of Our kingdom, by 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, Jocelin of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh of Lincoln, Walter of Worcester, William of Coventry, Benedict of Rochester, Bishops; and Master Pandulph, the Pope's subdeacon and familar; Brother Aymeric, Master of the Knights of the Temple in England; and the noble persons, 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, Hubert de Burgh, Seneschal of Poictou, Peter Fitz-Herbert, Hugo de Neville, Matthew Fitz-Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip Daubeney, Robert de Roppelay, John Marshal, John Fitz-Hugh, and others, our liegemen, have, in the first place, granted to God, and by this Our present Charter confirmed for Us and Our heirs for ever-That the English Church shall be free and enjoy all her rights in their integrity and her liberties untouched. And that we will this so to be observed appears from the fact that We of Our mere and free will, before the outbreak of the dissensions between Us and Our Barons, granted, confirmed, and procured to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III., the freedom of elections which is considered most important and necessary to the English Church, which Charter We will both keep Ourself and will it to be so kept by Our heirs for ever. We have also granted to all the free men of Our Kingdom, for Us and Our heirs for ever, all the liberties underwritten, to have and to hold to them and their heirs of Us and Our heirs. If any of Our Earls, Barons, or others who hold of Us in chief by Knight's service, shall die, and at the time of his death his heir shall be of full age and owe a relief, he shall have his inheritance by ancient relief; to wit, the heir or heirs of an Earl of an entire Earl's Barony, £100; the heir or heirs of a Baron of an entire Barony, £100; the heir or heirs of a Knight of an entire Knight's fee, 100s. at the most; and he that oweth less shall give less, according to the ancient custom of fees. If, however, the heir of any such shall be under age and in ward, he shall, when he comes of age, have his inheritance without relief or fine. The guardian of the land of any such heir so under age shall take therefrom reasonable issues, customs, and services only, and that without destruction and waste of men or property; and if We shall have committed the custody of any such land to the Sheriff or any other person who ought to be answerable to Us for the issues thereof, and he commit destruction or waste upon the ward-lands, We will take an emend from him, and the land shall be committed to two lawful and discreet men of that fee, who shall be answerable for the issues to Us or to whomsoever We shall have assigned them. And if We shall give or sell the wardship of any such land to any one, and he commit destruction or waste upon it, he shall lose the wardship, which shall be committed to two lawful and discreet men of that fee, who shall, in like manner, be answerable unto Us as hath been aforesaid. But the guardian, so long as he shall have the custody of the land, shall keep up and maintain the houses, parks, fish ponds, pools, mills, and other things pertaining thereto, out of the issues of the same, and shall restore the whole to the heir when he comes of age, stocked with ploughs and wainage according as the season may require and the issues of the land can reasonably bear. Heirs shall be married without disparagement, to which end the marriage shall be made known to the heir's nearest of kin before it be contracted. A widow, after the death of her husband, shall immediately and without difficulty have her marriage portion and inheritance, nor shall she give anything for her marriage portion, dower, or
inheritance which her husband and herself held on the day of his death; and she may remain in her husband's house for forty days after his death, within which time her dower shall be assigned to her. No widow shall be distrained to marry so long as she has a mind to live without a husband; provided, however, that she give security that she will not marry without Our assent if she holds of Us, or that of the Lord of whom she holds, if she hold of another. Neither We nor Our bailiffs shall seize any land or rent for any debt so long as the debtor's chattels are sufficient to discharge the same; nor shall the debtor's sureties be distrained so long as the chief debtor hath sufficient to pay the debt, and if he fail in the payment thereof, not having wherewithal to discharge it, then the sureties shall answer it, and, if they will, shall hold the debtor's lands and rents until satisfaction of the debt which they have paid for him be made them, unless the chief debtor can show himself to be quit thereof against them. If any one shall have borrowed money from the Jews, more or less, and die before the debt be satisfied, no interest shall be taken upon such debt so long as the heir be under age, of whomsoever he may hold; and if the debt shall fall into our hands We will only take the chattel mentioned in the Charter. And if any one die indebted to the Jews his wife shall have her dower and pay nothing of that debt; and if the children of the said deceased be left under age they shall have necessaries provided for them according to the condition of the deceased, and the debt shall be paid out of the residue, saving the Lord's service; and so shall it be done with regard to debts owed to other persons than Jews. No scutage or aid shall be imposed in Our kingdom unless by common council thereof, except to ransom Our person, make Our eldest son a knight, and once to marry Our eldest daughter, and for this a reasonable aid only shall be paid. So shall it be with regard to aids from the City of London, and the City of London shall have all her ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and water. Moreover We will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall have all their liberties and free customs. And for obtaining the common council of the kingdom concerning the assessment of aids other than in the three cases aforesaid or of scutage, We will cause to be summoned, severally by our letters, the Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Earls and great Barons; and in addition We will also cause to be summoned, generally, by Our sheriffs and bailiffs, all those who hold of Us in chief, to meet at a certain day, to wit, at the end of forty days at least, and at a certain place; and in all letters of such summons We will explain the cause thereof, and the summons being thus made the business shall proceed on the day appointed, according to the advice of those who shall be present, notwithstanding that the whole number of persons summoned shall not have come. We will not, for the future, grant permission to any man to levy an aid upon his freemen, except to ransom his person, make his eldest son a knight, and once to marry his eldest daughter, for which a reasonable aid only shall be levied. No man shall be distrained to perform more service for a knight's fee or other free tenement than is due therefrom. Common pleas shall not follow our Court, but be holden in some certain place. Recognisances of Novel Disseisin, Mort d’Ancestor, and Darrein Presentment shall be taken in their proper counties only, and in this wise;-We Ourself, or, if We be absent from the realm, Our Chief Justiciary, shall send two justiciaries through each county four times a year, who, together with four knights elected out of each shire by the people thereof, shall hold the said assizes on the day and in the place aforesaid. And if the said assizes cannot be held on the day appointed, so many of the knights and freeholders as shall have been present thereat on that day shall remain as will be sufficient for the administration of justice, according as the business to be done be greater or less. A free man shall not be amerced for a small fault, but according to the measure thereof, and for a great crime according to its magnitude, in proportion to his degree; and in like manner a merchant in proportion to his merchandise, and a villein in proportion to his wainage if he should fall under Our mercy; and none of the said amercements shall be imposed unless by the oath of honest men of the venue. Earls and Barons shall only be amerced by their peers in proportion to the measure of the offence. No clerk shall be amerced for his lay tenement, except after the manner of the other persons aforesaid, and not according to the value of his ecclesiastical benefice. Neither shall any vill or person be distrained to make bridges over rivers, but they who are bound to do so by ancient custom and law. No sheriff, constable, coroners, or other Our bailiffs shall hold pleas of Our Crown. All counties, hundreds, tithings, and wapentakes shall stand at the old farms, without any increased rent, except Our demesne manors. If any one die holding a lay fee of Us, and the sheriff or Our bailiff show Our letters patent of summons touching the debt due to Us from the deceased, it shall be lawful to such sheriff or bailiff to attach and register the chattels of the deceased found in the lay fee to the value of that debt, by view of lawful men, so that nothing be removed therefrom until Our whole debt be paid; and the residue shall be given up to the executors to carry out the will of the deceased. And if there be nothing due from him to Us, all his chattels shall remain to the deceased, saving to his wife and children their reasonable shares. If any free man shall die intestate his chattels shall be distributed by the hands of his nearest kinsfolk and friends by view of the Church, saving to every one the debts due to him from the deceased. No constable or other Our bailiff shall take corn or other chattels of any man without immediate payment for the same, unless he hath a voluntary respite of payment from the seller. No constable shall distrain any knight to give money for castle-guard, if he will perform it either in his proper person or by some other fit man, if he himself be prevented from so doing by reasonable cause; and, if We lead or send him into the army, he shall be quit of castle-guard for the time he shall remain in the army by Our command. No sheriff or other Our bailiff, or any other man, shall take the horses or carts of any free man for carriage except with his consent. Neither shall We or Our bailiffs take another man's timber for Our castles or other uses, unless with the consent of the owner thereof. We will only retain the lands of persons convicted of felony for a year and a day, after which they shall be restored to the Lords of the fees. From henceforth all weirs shall be entirely removed from the Thames and Medway, and throughout England, except upon the sea coast. The writ called “Praecipe" shall not for the future issue to any one of any tenement whereby a freeman may lose his court. There shall be one measure of wine throughout Our kingdom, and one of ale, and one measure of corn, to wit, the London quarter, and one breadth of dyed cloth, russetts, and haberjects, to wit, two ells within the lists. And as with measures so shall it be also with weights. From henceforth nothing shall be given for a writ of inquisition
upon life or limbs, but it shall be granted gratis, and shall not be denied. If any one hold of Us by fee-farm, socage or burgage, and hold land of another by knight's service, We will not have the wardship of his heir, or the land which belongs to another man's fee, by reason of that fee-farm, socage or burgage; nor will We have the wardship of such fee-farm, socage, or burgage, unless such fee-farm owe knight's service. We will not have the wardship of any man's heir, or the land which he holds of another by knight's service, by reason of any petty serjeanty which he holds of Us by service of rendering Us daggers, arrows, or the like. No bailiff shall for the future put any man to trial upon his simple accusation without producing credible witnesses to the truth thereof. No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him except by lawful judgment of his peers or the law of the land. To no one will We sell, to none will We deny or defer, right or justice. All merchants shall have safe conduct to go and come out of and into England, and to stay in and travel through England by land and water for purchase or sale, without maltolt, by ancient and just customs, except in time of war, or if they belong to a country at war with Us. And if any such be found in Our dominion at the outbreak of war, they shall be attached, without injury to their persons or goods, until it be known to l's or Our Chief Justiciary, after what sort Our merchants are treated who shall be found to be at that time in the country at war with Us, and if they be safe there then these shall be so also with Us. It shall be lawful in future, unless in time of war, for any one to leave and return to Our kingdom safely and securely by land and water, saving his fealty to Us, for any short period, for the common benefit of the realm, except prisoners and outlaws according to the law of the land, people of the country at war with Us, and merchants who shall be dealt with as is aforesaid. If any one die holding of any escheat, as of the honour of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or other escheats which are in Our hands and are baronies, his heir shall not give any relief or do any service to Us other than he would owe to the baron if such barony should have been in the hands of a baron, and We will hold it in the same manner in which the baron held it. Persons dwelling without the forest shall not for the future come before Our justiciaries of the forest by common summons, unless they be impleaded or are bail for any person or persons attached for breach of forest-laws. We will only appoint such men to be justiciaries, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs as know the law of the land and will keep it well. All barons, founders of abbies by charters of English kings or ancient tenure, shall have the custody of the same during vacancy as is due. All forests which have been afforested in Our time shall be forthwith disafforested, and so shall it be done with regard to rivers which have been placed in fence in Our time. All evil customs concerning forests and warrens, foresters, warreners, sheriffs, and their officers, rivers and their conservators, shall be immediately inquired into in each county by twelve sworn knights of such shire, who must be elected by honest men thereof, and within forty days after making the inquisition they shall be altogether and irrevocably abolished, the matter having been previously brought to Our knowledge or that of Our Chief Justiciary if We Ourself shall not be in England. We will immediately give up all hostages and charters delivered to Us by the English for the security of peace and the performance of loyal service. We