Post-classical history

Appendix II
The Canterbury Magna Carta

The engrossment of Magna Carta preserved in the British Library and known as Ci was given to Sir Robert Cotton in 1630 by Sir Edward Dering. It was, at the time of the gift, with Dering at Dover castle, where he was lieutenant. I have said in Chapter 1 that in the late thirteenth century Ci resided in the archives of Canterbury cathedral.* The evidence is as follows. Preserved to this day in the cathedral archives is a great register of Canterbury cathedral priory. It is now labelled Register E. Apart from later additions, Register E was probably finished in the early 1290s. The hand appears much the same down to a document dated 7 August 1291. Another document dated 14 June 1294, by contrast, seems a later addition, as does material from the reign of Edward II. Register E is chiefly concerned with charters making concessions to the priory, but it also has some public documents, and between folios 46V and 48v there is a copy of the 1215 Magna Carta: ‘carta eiusdem [King John] magna De Ronnemed’. A collation of Register E’s Magna Carta with Ci, as displayed in John Pine’s engraving of 1733, strongly suggests that the one was copied from the other. This is because certain mistakes in the Register E copy of the Charter are readily explicable if the scribe was copying from Ci, one mistake, that explained under item 3 below, being especially telling.

1. In his copy of chapter 37 of the Charter, the Register scribe omitted the words in square brackets from the following passage: ‘non habebimus custodiam [heredis nec terre sue que est de feodo alterius occasione illius feodifirme vel socagii vel burgagii nec habebimus custodiam] illius feodifirme …’. The text of Ci offers an explanation of what happened here, since, if the scribe had paused after the first ‘custodiam’, his eye could easily have skipped on to ‘illius feodifirme’ because, in Ci, the ‘custodiam’ before ‘illius feodifirme’ – ‘custodiam illius feodifirme’ – is at the start of the next line.

2. In chapter 52, the Register scribe has written ‘catallis’ (chattels) rather than the ‘castellis’ (castles), found correctly in the Lincoln, Salisbury and Cii engrossments. In Ci, however, the ‘ca’ comes at the end of the line, and the next line continues with ‘stallis’. The ‘s’ and ‘t’, moreover, are run together, making it the easier for a copyist to read ‘catallis’.

3. In chapter 53, the correct text of the Charter read:

Eundem autem respectum habebimus et eodem modo de iusticia exhibenda de forestis deafforestandis vel remansuris forestis quas Henricus pater noster vel Ricardus frater noster afforestaverunt …

The Register scribe, however, here repeats himself so the text runs:

Eundem autem respectum habebimus et eodem modo de iusticia exibenda De forestis et afforestandis vel remansuris forestis. Eundem autem respectum habebimus et eodem modo de iusticia exhibenda de forestis deafforestandis quas Henricus pater noster …*

What has happened here seems clear by reference to Ci. There the text just runs:

Eundem autem respectum habebimus [*] de forestis deafforestandis [*] quas Henricus Pater noster …

However, a small sign just above and before the ‘Eundem’, in the shape of a line with a diamond-like shaped head, indicates that two passages need to be inserted into the text. I have indicated the places where they belonged by [*] in the above quotation. The two missing passages are found at the bottom of Ci, where the sign reappears:

Eundem autem Respectum habebimus et eodem modo de Justicia exhibenda De forestis deafforestandis vel remansuris forestis.

Here only the non-underlined words were meant to be inserted. The underlined ones were those in the text preceding the places where the insertions were to go, and were thus included as finding aids. When the Register scribe got to this section of Ci, he correctly noted that, after ‘habebimus’, he needed to bring up into his main text what was at the bottom of Ci, but instead of stopping at ‘exhibenda’ he went on to copy the whole of what followed – ‘De forestis deafforestandis vel remansuris forestis’ – leaving out the underlining but including the capital ‘D’ in ‘De’. In the process he managed to write ‘et afforestandis’ rather than ‘deafforestandis’.* The scribe had, therefore, been alerted, by neither the underlining nor the capital in ‘De’, to the fact that ‘De forestis deafforestandis vel remansuris forestis’ was separate from ‘Eundem autem respectum habebimus et eodem modo de iusticia exhibenda’, and was there to deal with the second omission. The scribe’s only excuse was that at the bottom of Ci the ‘de iusticia exhibenda’ and ‘De forestis deafforestandis …’ did run on with only a single letter gap between them. Having made his mistake, at least the scribe immediately recognized it as such, and sought to put matters right. In actual fact, had he been more astute, he would have seen that he could have left well alone and gone straight on to ‘quas Henricus …’ Apart from the capital ‘D’ in the ‘De’, the passage at the bottom of Ci – ‘De forestis deafforestandis vel remansuris forestis’ – with the ‘De forestis deafforestandis’ indicating where ‘vel remansuris forestis’ should go, was exactly how the Charter did continue, with ‘de forestis deafforestandis’ following on immediately from ‘de iusticia exhibenda’. Failing to appreciate this, the scribe decided his mistake needed remedy. However, perhaps unwilling to spoil the look of his text, or perhaps just not bothered, he did not cross out what he had written, or write a new version over an erasure. Instead, he left the passage in place, and started the chapter all over again – ‘Eundem autem respectum …’, thus creating the curious repetition we have mentioned. Even then, the scribe did not get the text quite right, because this time he failed to include the ‘vel remansuris forestis’ of the second insertion.

4. One small final point relates not to any mistake but to the spelling of ‘Runnymede’ at the end of the Charter. In the Register copy it appears as ‘Runingmed’, just as in Ci, and also as in the Salisbury engrossment. Cii, on the other hand, has ‘Ronimed’ and Lincoln ‘Runimed’.*

There are, therefore, good grounds for thinking that Ci was in the archives of Canterbury cathedral in the late thirteenth century, when the copy in Register E was made from it. Its appearance in 1630 with Dering at Dover castle is easily explained, given the documents he is known to have purloined from Canterbury cathedral. Ci’s presence at Dover has accordingly nothing to do with any connection with the Cinque Ports, as is sometimes supposed. Chapter 12 sets out the reasons for thinking that Ci was, in fact, the Charter sent to the Canterbury diocese in 1215. Probably it was kept from the start at the cathedral. It can henceforth be known as ‘the Canterbury Magna Carta’.

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