Post-classical history

Appendix: Magna Carta 1215, an English translation

(Adapted from that in Holt, Magna Carta (1992), pp. 448–73)

John, by the grace of God King of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, count of Anjou, sends greetings to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, reeves, ministers and all his bailiffs and faithful subjects. You should know that, at the prompting of God and for the salvation of our soul and the souls of all our ancestors and heirs, for the honour of God and for the exaltation of holy Church and the repair of our realm, through the counsel of our venerable 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 and Benedict bishop of Rochester, Master Pandulf subdeacon and familiar of the lord Pope, brother Aimery master of the knighthood of the Temple in England, and the noble men William Marshal earl of Pembroke, William earl of Salisbury, William earl Warenne, William earl of Arundel, Alan of 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 d’Aubigné, Robert of Ropsley, John Marshal, John fitz Hugh and others of our faithful subjects:

1. We have, in the first place, granted to God and by this our present charter confirmed for ourselves and our heirs in perpetuity that the English Church is to be free and have its rights in whole and its liberties unimpaired, and we wish that this be observed as is evident from the fact that of our own free will, before the dispute that arose between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by our charter freedom of elections, reputed to be of great importance and most necessary to the English Church, and obtained confirmation of this from the lord Pope Innocent III, which we shall observe and which we wish to be observed by our heirs in perpetuity in good faith.

We have also granted to all the free men of our realm for ourselves and our heirs in perpetuity all the liberties written below, to have and hold to them and their heirs from us and our heirs:

2. If any of our earls or barons or others holding of us in chief by knight service should die, and at his death his heir is of full age and owes relief, he will have his inheritance by the ancient relief, namely the heir or heirs of an earl £100 from a whole earl’s barony, the heir or heirs of a baron £100 from a whole barony, and the heir or heirs of a knight at most 100 shillings from a whole knight’s fee, and anyone who owes less will give less according to the ancient custom of fees.

3. If, however, the heir of any such person happens to be under age and in custody, when he comes of age he will have his inheritance without relief and without fine.

4. The keeper of the land of such an heir who is under age will not take from the land of the heir anything other than the reasonable issues and reasonable customs and reasonable services, and this without destruction or waste of men or goods. And if we entrust the custody of any such land to a sheriff or to any other who is answerable to us for its issues, and he causes destruction or waste of the custody, we shall take amends of him, and the land will be committed to two lawful and discreet men of that fee who will answer to us for the issues or to him to whom we shall have assigned them. And if we shall give or sell to anyone the custody of any such land, and he causes destruction or waste, he will lose the custody and it will be transferred to two lawful and discreet men of that fee who will be similarly answerable to us as is aforesaid.

5. The keeper, however, so long as he has custody of the land, will maintain the houses, parks, fishponds, ponds, mills and other things pertaining to that land from the issues of the same land, and he will restore to the heir, when he comes of full age, all his land stocked with ploughs and wainage such as the season of wainage (i.e. the agricultural season) demands, and such as the issues of the land can reasonably support.

6. Heirs will be married without disparagement, save that before a marriage is contracted it be made known to the heir’s close kin.

7. After her husband’s death, a widow will have her marriage portion and her inheritance at once and without any difficulty, nor will she pay anything for her dower, for her marriage portion, or for her inheritance which she and her husband hold on the day of the said husband’s death, and she may stay in her husband’s house for forty days after his death, within which period her dower will be assigned to her.

8. No widow will be compelled to marry so long as she wishes to live without a husband, provided that she give security that she will not marry without our consent if she shall hold of us, or without the consent of the lord of whom she holds, if she shall hold of another.

9. Neither we nor our bailiffs shall seize any land or rent in payment of any debt so long as the chattels of the debtor are sufficient to repay the debt, nor will the sureties of such a debtor be distrained so long as the chief debtor himself is capable of paying the debt, and if the chief debtor defaults in the payment of the debt, having nothing wherewith to pay it, the sureties will be answerable for the debt, and if they wish, they may have the lands and revenues of the debtor until they have received satisfaction for the debt they previously paid on his behalf, unless the chief debtor shows that he has discharged his obligations to the sureties.

10. If anyone who has borrowed from the Jews any amount, great or small, dies before the debt is repaid, it will not carry interest so long as the heir is under age, of whomsoever he holds, and if such debt falls into our hands, we shall take nothing except the chattel specified in the bond.

11. And if a man dies owing a debt to the Jews, his wife is to have her dower and pay nothing for the debt, and if he leaves children under age, their needs will be met in a manner in keeping with the holding of the deceased, and the debt will be paid out of his residue, saving the service due to the lords. Debts owing to others than Jews will be dealt with likewise.

12. No scutage or aid is to be levied in our realm except by the common counsel of our realm, unless it is for the ransom of our body, the knighting of our eldest son, or the first marriage of our eldest daughter, and for these only a reasonable aid is to be levied. Aids from the city of London are to be treated likewise.

13. And the city of London is to have all its ancient liberties and free customs both by land and water. Furthermore, we will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns and ports will have all their liberties and free customs.

14. And to obtain the common counsel of the realm for the assessment of an aid, except in the three cases aforesaid, or a scutage, we will have archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls and greater barons summoned individually by our letters, and we shall also have summoned generally through our sheriffs and bailiffs all those who hold of us in chief, for a fixed date, with at least forty days’ notice, and to a fixed place, and in all letters of this summons we shall state the cause for the summons. And when the summons has thus been made, the business will go forward on the assigned day according to the counsel of those present, even if not all those summoned have come.

15. Henceforth we shall not grant anyone that he may take an aid from his free men except to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight or to marry his eldest daughter for the first time, and for these purposes only a reasonable aid is to be levied.

16. No man will be compelled to perform more service for a knight’s fee or for any other free tenement than is due therefrom.

17. Common pleas will not follow our court but will be held in some fixed place.

18. Recognizances of novel disseisin, mort d’ancestor, and darrein presentment, will not be held elsewhere than in the court of the county in which they occur, and in this manner: we, or if we are out of the realm, our chief justiciar, shall send two justices through each county four times a year, who with four knights of each county chosen by the county will hold the said assizes in the county court on the day and in the place of meeting of the county court.

19. And if the said assizes cannot all be held on the day of the county court, so many knights and freeholders of those present in the county court on that day will remain behind as will suffice to make judgments according to whether the business be great or small.

20. A free man will not be amerced for a trivial offence except in accordance with the degree of the offence, and for a serious offence he will be amerced according to its gravity, saving his livelihood, and a merchant likewise, saving his merchandise, and in the same way, a villein will be amerced saving his wainage, if they fall into our mercy, and none of the aforesaid amercements will be imposed save by the oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.

21. Earls and barons will not be amerced except by their peers and only in accordance with the degree of the offence.

22. No clerk will be amerced on his lay tenement except in the manner of the others aforesaid, and without reference to the extent of his ecclesiastical benefice.

23. No vill or man will be forced to build bridges at river banks, except those who ought to do so by tradition and law.

24. No sheriff, constable, coroners or others of our bailiffs will hold pleas of our crown.

25. All shires, hundreds, wapentakes and ridings will be at the ancient farms, without any increment, except our desmesne manors.

26. If anyone holding a lay fief of us dies, and our sheriff or bailiff shows our letters patent of summons for a debt which the deceased owed to us, the sheriff or our bailiff will be allowed to attach and list the chattels of the deceased found in lay fee to the value of that debt, by view of lawful men, so that nothing is removed until the evident debt is paid to us, and the residue will be relinquished to the executors to carry out the will of the deceased. And if he owes us nothing, all the chattels will be accounted as the deceased’s, saving their reasonable shares to his wife and children.

27. And if any free man dies intestate, his chattels are to be distributed by his nearest relations and friends, under the supervision of the Church, saving to everyone the debts which the deceased owed him.

28. No constable or any other of our bailiffs will take any man’s corn or other chattels unless he pays cash for them at once or can delay payment with the agreement of the seller.

29. No constable is to compel any knight to give money for castle guard, if he is willing to perform that guard in his own person or by another reliable man, if for some good reason he is unable to do it himself, and if we take or send him on military service, he will be excused the guard in proportion to the period of his service in our army.

30. No sheriff or bailiff of ours or anyone else is to take horses or carts of any free man for carting without the free man’s agreement.

31. Neither we nor our bailiffs will take other men’s timber for castles or other work of ours without the agreement of the owner of the wood.

32. We shall not hold the lands of convicted felons for more than a year and a day, after which the lands will be returned to the lords of the fiefs.

33. Henceforth all fish-weirs will be completely removed from the Thames and the Medway and throughout all England, except on the sea coast.

34. The writ called ‘praecipe’ will not in future be issued to anyone in respect of any holding whereby a free man might lose his court.

35. Let there be one measure of wine throughout our realm, and one measure of ale and one measure of corn, namely the London quarter, and one width of cloth whether dyed, russet or halberjet, namely two ells within the selvedges. Let it be the same with weights as with measures.

36. Henceforth, nothing will be given or taken for the writ of inquisition of life or limb, but it will be given freely and not refused.

37. If anyone holds of us by fee-farm, by socage or by burgage, and holds land of someone else by knight service, we shall not, by virtue of that fee-farm, socage or burgage, have custody of his heir or of land of his that belongs to the fief of another, nor shall we have custody of that fee-farm or socage or burgage unless such fee-farm owes knight service. We shall not have custody of the heir or land of anyone who holds of another by knight service by virtue of any petty serjeanty which he holds of us by the service of rendering to us knives or arrows or the like.

38. Henceforth, no bailiff will put anyone on trial by his own unsupported allegation, without bringing credible witnesses to the charge.

39. No free man will be taken or imprisoned or disseised or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor shall we go or send against him, save by the lawful judgement of his peers and by the law of the land.

40. To no one shall we sell, to no one shall we deny or delay right or justice.

41. All merchants are to be safe and secure in leaving and entering England, and in staying and travelling in England both by land and by water, to buy and sell free from all bad tolls, by the ancient and rightful customs, except in time of war and if such merchants come from a land at war against us. And if such are found in our land at the outbreak of war, they will be detained without damage to their persons or goods until we or our chief justiciar know how the merchants of our land are treated in the country at war against us, and if ours are safe there, the others will be safe in our land.

42. Henceforth anyone, saving his allegiance due to us, may leave our realm and return safe and secure by land and water, save for a short period in time of war on account of the general interest of the realm and excepting those imprisoned and outlawed according to the law of the realm, and natives of a land at war against us, and merchants who will be treated as aforesaid.

43. If anyone dies who holds of some escheat such as the honours of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne or Lancaster or of other escheats which are in our hands and are baronies, his heir will not give any relief or do any service to us other than what he would have done to the baron if that barony had been in a baron’s hands, and we shall hold it in the same manner as the baron held it.

44. Henceforth men who live outside the forest will not come before our justices of the forest upon a general summons, unless they are impleaded or are sureties for any person or persons who are attached for forest offences.

45. We shall not make justices, constables, sheriffs or bailiffs who do not know the law of the realm and wish to observe it well.

46. All barons who have founded abbeys of which they have charters of the kings of England or ancient tenure will have custody thereof during vacancies as they ought to have.

47. All forests which have been afforested in our time will be disafforested at once, and river banks which we have enclosed in our time will be treated similarly.

48. All evil customs of forests and warrens, foresters and warreners, sheriffs and their servants, river banks and their wardens are to be investigated at once in every county by twelve sworn knights of the same county who should be chosen by worthy men of the county, and within forty days of the inquiry such bad customs are to be abolished by them beyond recall, provided that we or our justiciar, if we are not in England, first know of it.

49. We shall restore at once all hostages and charters delivered to us by Englishmen as securities for peace or faithful service.

50. We shall dismiss completely from their offices the relations of Girard d’Athée that henceforth they will have no office in England, (namely) Engelard de Cigogné, Peter and Guy and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffrey de Martigny with his brothers, Philip Mark with his brothers and his nephew Geoffrey and all their followers.

51. And immediately after restoring peace, we shall remove from the realm all alien knights, crossbowmen, sergeants and mercenaries who have come with horses and arms to the injury of the realm.

52. If anyone has been disseised or deprived by us without lawful judgement of his peers of lands, castles, liberties or his right, we shall restore them to him at once, and if any disagreement arises on this, then let it be settled by the judgement of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause securing the peace. But for all those things of which anyone was disseised or deprived without lawful judgement of his peers by King Henry (II) our father or by King Richard (I) our brother, which we hold in our hand or which are held by others under our warranty, we shall have respite for the usual crusader’s term, excepting those cases in which a plea was begun or inquest made on our order before we took the cross. When we return, however, from our pilgrimage, or if perhaps we do not undertake it, we shall at once do full justice in these matters.

53. We shall have the same respite, and in the same manner, in doing justice on disafforesting or retaining those forests which Henry (II) our father or Richard (I) our brother afforested, and concerning custody of lands which are of the fee of another, the which custodies we have hitherto by virtue of a fee held of us by knight’s service, and concerning abbeys founded on fees other than our own, in which the lord of the fee claims to have a right. And as soon as we return, or if we do not undertake our pilgrimage, we shall at once do full justice to complainants in these matters.

54. No one will be taken or imprisoned upon the appeal of a woman for the death of anyone except her husband.

55. All fines which were made with us unjustly and contrary to the law of the land, and all amercements made unjustly and contrary to the law of the land, will be completely remitted or else they will be settled by the judgement of the twenty-five barons mentioned below in the clause securing the peace, or by the judgement of the majority of the same, acting with the aforesaid Stephen archbishop of Canterbury if he can be present, and others whom he wishes to summon with him for this purpose. And if he cannot be present, the business will nevertheless proceed without him, provided that if any one or more of the aforesaid twenty-five barons are implicated in such a suit, they will stand down in this particular judgement and will be replaced by others chosen and sworn in by the rest of the same twenty-five for this case only.

56. If we have disseised or deprived Welshmen of lands, liberties or other things without lawful judgement of their peers in England or in Wales, they are to be returned to them at once, and if a dispute arises over this, it will be settled in the March by judgement of their peers for tenements in England according to the law of England, and for tenements in Wales according to the law of Wales, and for tenements in the March according to the law of the March. The Welsh are to do the same for us and ours.

57. For all those things, however, of which any Welshman has been disseised or deprived without lawful judgement of his peers by King Henry (II) our father or King Richard (I) our brother, which we have in our hands or which others hold under our warranty, we shall have respite for the usual crusader’s term, excepting those cases in which a plea was begun or inquest made on our order before we took the cross. However, when we return, or if perhaps we do not go on pilgrimage, we shall at once give them full justice in accordance with the laws of the Welsh and the aforesaid regions.

58. We shall restore at once the son of Llewylyn and all the hostages from Wales and the charters delivered to us as security for peace.

59. We shall treat with Alexander King of the Scots concerning the return of his sisters and hostages and his liberties and right in the same manner in which we act towards our other barons of England, unless it ought to be otherwise because of the charters which we have from William his father, formerly King of the Scots, and this will be determined by the judgement of his peers in our court.

60. All these aforesaid customs and liberties which we have granted to be held in our realm as far as pertains to us towards our men will be observed by all men of our realm, both clerks and laymen, as far as pertains to them towards their own men.

61. Since, moreover, we have granted all the aforesaid things for God, for the repair of our realm and the better settling of the dispute which has arisen between us and our barons, wishing these things to be enjoyed fully and undisturbed in perpetuity, we give and grant them the following security, namely that the barons will choose any twenty-five barons of the realm they wish, who with all their might ought to observe, maintain and cause to be observed the peace and liberties that we have granted and confirmed to them by this our present charter, so that if we or our justiciar or our bailiffs or any other of our ministers offend against anyone in any way, or transgress any of the articles of peace or security, and the offence is shown to four of the aforesaid twenty-five barons, those four will come to us or our justiciar, if we are out of the realm, and will bring it to our notice and ask that we have it redressed without delay. And if we, or our justiciar, should we be out of the realm, do not redress the offence within forty days from the time when it was brought to the notice of us or our justiciar, should we be out of the realm, then the aforesaid four barons will refer the case to the rest of the twenty-five barons, and those twenty-five barons with the commune of all the land will distrain and distress us in every way they can, namely by seizing castles, lands and possessions, and in such other ways as they can, saving our person and those of our queen and of our children, until, in their judgement, amends have been made, and when it has been redressed, they are to obey us as they did before. And anyone in the land who wishes may take an oath to obey the orders of the said twenty-five barons in the execution of all the aforesaid matters, and to join with them in distressing us to the best of his ability, and we publicly and freely permit anyone who wishes to take the oath, and we shall never forbid anyone to take it. Moreover, we shall compel and order all those in the land who of themselves and of their own free will are unwilling to take an oath to the twenty-five barons to distrain and distress us with them, to take the oath as aforesaid. And if any of the twenty-five barons dies or leaves the land or is otherwise prevented from discharging these aforesaid duties, the rest of the aforesaid twenty-five barons will on their own decision choose another in his place who will take the oath in the same way as the others. In all matters the execution of which is committed to those twenty-five barons, if it should happen that the twenty-five are present and disagree amongst themselves on anything, or if any of them who has been summoned will not come or cannot come, whatever the majority of those present may provide or order is to be taken as fixed and settled as if the whole twenty-five had agreed to it, and the aforesaid twenty-five are to swear that they will faithfully observe all the aforesaid and will do all they can to secure its observance. And we will procure nothing from anyone, either personally or through another, by which any of these concessions and liberties will be revoked or diminished, and if any such thing is procured it will be null and void, and we shall never use it either ourselves or through another.

62. And we have fully remitted and pardoned to all any ill will, grudge or rancour that have arisen between us and our subjects, clerk or lay, from the time of the dispute. Moreover, we have fully remitted and fully pardoned to all, clerk and lay, as far as pertains to us, all offences occasioned by the said dispute from Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign to the conclusion of peace. And moreover we have caused testimonial letters patent of the lord Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, and the lord Henry, archbishop of Dublin, the aforesaid bishops and Master Pandulf to be made for them on this security and the aforesaid concessions.

63. Wherefore we wish and firmly command that the English Church will be free, and the men in our realm will have and hold all the aforesaid liberties, rights and concessions well and peacefully, freely and quietly, fully and completely for themselves and their heirs of us and our heirs in all things and places for ever, as is aforesaid. Moreover, an oath has been sworn, both on our part and on the part of the barons, that all these things aforesaid will be observed in good faith and without evil intent. Witness the abovementioned and many others. Given by our hand in the meadow that is called Runnymede between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!