Principal Provisions of the Magna Carta

The Magna Carta was signed by King John of England in response to the complaints of his barons, and thus its emphasis is on the limits of royal authority and the proper relationship between king and subject. The reference to “scutage” here means all monetary obligations of a vassal to his lord. Slight variations of language appear in different printed editions of the Magna Carta.
Principal Provisions of the Magna Carta
1215



John, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justiciars, foresters, sheriffs, reeves, servants, and all bailiffs and to his faithful people, greeting:


Know that by the suggestion of God and for the good of our soul and of those of all our predecessors and of our heirs, the honor of God and the exaltation of holy Church, and for the improvement of our kingdom, by the 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, and Benedict of Rochester, bishops; of Master Pandulf, subdeacon and member of the household of the lord pope, of Brother Aymeric, master of the Knights of the Temple in England; and of the noblemen William Marshall, earl of Pembroke, William, earl of Salisbury, William, earl of Warren, William, earl of Arundel, Alan of Galloway, constable of Scotland, Warren Fitz-Gerald, Peter Fitz-Herbert, Hubert de Burgh, steward of Poitou, Hugh de Nevil, Matthew Fitz-Herbert, Thomas Bassett, Alan Bassett, Philip d'Albini, Robert de Roppelay, John Marshall, John Fitz-Hugh, and others of our faithful.


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 hold its rights entire and its liberties uninjured; and that we will that it should thus be observed is shown by this: that the freedom of elections, which is considered to be most important and especially necessary to the English church, we, of our pure and spontaneous will, granted, and by our charter confirmed, before the contest between us and our barons had arisen, and we obtained a confirmation of it by the lord pope Innocent III, which we will observe, and which we will shall be observed in good faith by our heirs forever.


We have granted, moreover, to all free men of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the liberties written below, to be had and holden by themselves and their heirs from us and our heirs.


2. If any of our earls or barons, or others holding from us in chief by military service, shall have died, and when he has died his heir shall be of full age and owe relief, he shall have his inheritance by the ancient relief; that is to say, the heir or heirs of an earl, for the whole barony of an earl a hundred pounds; the heir or heirs of a baron, for a whole barony, a hundred pounds; the heir or heirs of a knight, for a whole knight's fee, a hundred shillings at most; and who owes less, let him give less, according to the ancient custom of fiefs....


5. The custodian [of the lands of a minor], moreover, so long as he shall have the custody of the land, must keep up the houses, parks, warrens, fish ponds, mills, and other things pertaining to the land, from the proceeds of the land itself; and he must return to the heir, when he has come to full age, all his land, furnished with plows and implements of husbandry, according as the time of wainage requires and as the proceeds of the land are able reasonably to sustain....


7. A widow, after the death of her husband, shall have her marriage portion and her inheritance immediately and without obstruction....


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


12. No scutage or aid shall be imposed in our kingdom save by the common council of our kingdom, except for the ransoming of our body, for the making of our oldest son a knight, and for once marrying our oldest daughter; and for these purposes it shall be only a reasonable aid; in the same way it shall be done concerning the aids of the city of London.


13. And the city of London shall have all its ancient liberties and free customs, as well by land as by water. Moreover we will and grant that all other cities and boroughs and villages and ports shall have all their liberties and free customs.


14. And for holding a common council of the kingdom concerning the assessment of an aid otherwise than in the three cases mentioned above, or concerning the assessment of a scutage, we shall cause to be summoned the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons by our letters under seal; and, besides, we shall cause to be summoned generally, by our sheriffs and bailiffs, all those who hold from us in chief, for a certain day, at the end of at least forty days, and for a certain place; and in all the letters of that summons we will state the cause of the summons, and when the summons has thus been given the business shall proceed on the appointed day, on the advice of those who shall be present, even if not all of those who were summoned have come.


15. We will not grant to any one, moreover, that he shall take an aid from his free men, except for ransoming his body, for making his oldest son a knight, and for once marrying his oldest daughter; and for these purposes only a reasonable aid shall be taken....


20. A free man shall not be fined for a small offense, except in proportion to the gravity of the offense; and for a great offense he shall be fined in proportion to the magnitude of the offense, saving his freehold; and a merchant in the same way, saving his merchandise; and the villein shall be fined in the same way, saving his wainage, if he shall be at our mercy; and none of the above fines shall be imposed except by the oaths of honest men of the neighborhood....


28. No constable or other bailiff of ours shall take any one's grain or other chattels without immediately paying for them in money, unless he is able to obtain a postponement at the good will of the seller.


29. No constable shall require any knight to give money in place of his ward of a castle if he is willing to furnish that ward in his own person, or through another honest man if he himself is not able to do it for a reasonable cause; and if we shall lead or send him into the army he shall be free from ward in proportion to the amount of time which he has been in the army through us.


30. No sheriff or bailiff of ours, or any one else, shall take horses or wagons of any free man, for carrying purposes except on the permission of that free man.


31. Neither we nor our bailiffs will take the wood of another man for castles, or for anything else which we are doing, except by the permission of him to whom the wood belongs....


39. No free man shall be taken, or imprisoned, or dispossessed, or outlawed, or banished, or in any way injured, nor will we go upon him, nor send upon him, except by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.


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


41. All merchants shall be safe and secure in going out from England and coming into England, and in remaining and going through England, as well by land as by water, for buying and selling, free from all evil tolls, by the ancient and rightful customs, except in time of war, or if they are of a land at war with us; and if such are found in our land at the beginning of war, they shall be attached without injury to their bodies or goods, until it shall be known from us, or from our principal justiciar, in what way the merchants of our land are treated who shall be then found in the country which is at war with us; and if ours are safe there, the others shall be safe in our land....


47. All forests which have been afforested in our time shall be disafforested immediately; and so it shall be concerning river banks which in our time have been fenced in....


51. And immediately after the re√ęstablishment of peace we will remove from the kingdom all foreign-born soldiers, crossbowmen, servants, and mercenaries who have come with horses and arms for the injury of the realm.


52. If any one shall have been dispossessed or removed by us, without legal judgment of his peers, from his lands, castles, franchises, or his right, we will restore them to him immediately; and if contention arises about this, then it shall be done according to the judgment of the twenty-five barons, of whom mention is made below concerning the security of the peace. Concerning all those things, however, from which any one has been removed, or of which he has been deprived, without legal judgment of his peers, by King Henry our father, or by King Richard our brother, which we have in our hand, or which others hold, and which it is our duty to guarantee, we shall have respite till the usual term of crusaders; excepting those things about which the suit has been begun or the inquisition made by our writ before our assumption of the cross. When, however, we shall return from our journey, or if by chance we desist from the journey, we will immediately show full justice in regard to them....


61. Since, moreover, for the sake of God, and for the improvement of our kingdom, and for the better quieting of the hostility sprung up lately between us and our barons, we have made all these concessions; wishing them to enjoy these in a complete and firm stability forever, we make and concede to them the security described below; that is to say, that they shall elect twenty-five barons of the kingdom, whomsoever they will, who ought with all their power to observe, hold, and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties which we have conceded to them, and by this our present charter confirmed to them; ...


63.... It has been sworn, moreover, as well on our part as on the part of the barons, that all these things spoken of above shall be observed in good faith and without any evil intent. Witness the above-named and many others. Given by our hand 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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