John, by Grace of god King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Count of Anjou. To the Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Earls, Barons, Justiciars, Foresters, Sheriffs, Provosts, Servants and all his Bailiffs and Faithful, Greeting. Know that, in view of god and for the health of our soul and of all our ancestors and heirs, for the honor of god and the exaltation of the Holy Church and the amending of our Kingdom, by advice of our venerable fathers Stephen, Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Henry Archbishop of Dublin, Bishops William of London, Peter of Winchester, Jocelin of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh of Lincoln, Walter of Worcester, William of Coventry, and Benedict of Rochester, of Master Pandulf, Subdeacon and of the household of the lord pope, of brother Aimery Master of the knights of the temple in England, and of the Noble men William Marshall Earl of Pembroke, William Earl of Salisbury, Earl William de Warenne, William Earl of Arundel, Alan of Galloway Constable of Scotland, Warin fitzGerold, Peter FitzHerbert, Hubert de Burgh Seneschal of Poitou, Hugh de Neville, Matthew FitzHerbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip d'Aubigny, Robert of Ropsley, John Marshall, John FitzHugh and our other faithful.
First, we have granted to God and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever that the church of England be free and have her rights entire and her liberties unharmed and thus we will that it be observed, from which it is evident that the freedom of elections, which is deemed of the greatest importance and most necessary to the church of England, we, of pure and spontaneous will, before the discord arose between us and our Barons, have granted, confirmed by our charter and caused to be confirmed by the Lord pope Innocent III, and this we will observe and wish it be observed in good faith by our heirs forever. We have further granted to all freemen of our Kingdom for us and our heirs forever, all the liberties hereinafter stipulated, to be had and possessed by them and their heirs, from us and our heirs.
If any of our Earls or Barons or others of our direct holders for military service, shall have died and upon his death his heir should be of full age and owe "relief", let him have his inheritance at the ancient rate of relief. That is, the heir or heirs of an Earl, One Hundred pounds for the whole Earl's Barony. The heir or heirs of a Baron, One Hundred pounds for the whole Barony. The heir or heirs of a knight, at most one hundred shillings for the whole knight's fief, and whoever owes less let him give less, according to the ancient custom of fiefs.
But if the heir of such a person shall be a minor and be under wardship, when he comes of the age, let him have his inheritance without relief and without fine.
The guardian of the land of such an heir who shall be under age, shall not take from the land of the heir except reasonable produce and reasonable customs and reasonable services, and this without destruction and devastation of men or things. And if we shall have entrusted the custody of any such land to a sheriff or any other who is answerable to us concerning the produce thereof, and he were to make destruction or devastation of what is in his custody, we shall take amends from him, and the land shall be entrusted to two lawful and discreet men of that fief, who shall answer concerning the produce to us or to whomever we shall have appointed. And if we shall have given or sold to someone the custody of any such land, and he therein shall make destruction or devastation, he shall lose said custody and let it be transferred to two lawful and discreet men of that fief who shall answer to us in like manner as aforesaid.
The guardian, moreover, as long as he has custody of the land, shall maintain the houses, Parks, Warrens, Ponds, Mills and other things pertaining to that land from the produce of the same, and shall return to the heir, when he has reached full age, all his land restocked with Plows and Tillage as the time of Cultivation shall require and the produce of the land may reasonably sustain it.
Heirs shall marry without disparagement. However before the marriage takes place the close blood relatives of the heir are to be made aware of it.
A widow, after the death of her husband, shall immediately and without difficulty have her frank-marriage and inheritance, nor shall she give anything for her dower or for her frank-marriage or her inheritance, nor for the inheritance which her husband and she had on the day of the Husband's death. And let her remain in her Husband's house for Forty days after his death, within which time her dower shall be vested on her.
No widow shall be forced to marry as long as she wishes to live without a husband. Provided, however, that she give security not to marry without our consent if she holds from us, or without the consent of the lord of whom she holds if she holds from another.
Neither we nor our bailiffs shall seize any land or rent for any debt so long as the chattels of the debtor are sufficient to pay back the debt, nor shall the sureties of said debtor be distrained so long as the principal debtor has enough for the payment of the debt. And if the principal debtor should fail to pay the debt, having nothing with which to pay, let the sureties answer for the debt, and if they wish, let them have the lands and rents of the debtor, until the debt which they previously paid for him is satisfied, unless the principal debtor can prove that he has since settled with said sureties.
If anyone should borrow something from the Jews, large or small, and should die before that debt has been repaid, the debt shall not bear interest as long as the heir is under age, of whomever he may hold, and if that debt should fall into our hands we shall not take more than the principal sum contained in the deed.
And if anyone should die and owe a debt to Jews, let his wife have her dower and pay nothing of that debt, and if there remain children of the deceased who are under age, let them be provided of necessaries according to the holding of the deceased, and let the remainder be used to pay the debt, except for service due to feudal lords. In like manner let it be done with debts owed to others than Jews.
No scutage nor feudal aid shall be imposed in our Kingdom except by common counsel of our Kingdom except to redeem our person and to make a knight of our first-born son and to once wed our first-born daughter and for these no more than a reasonable aid shall be imposed. In like manner let it be done with aids of the City of London.
And the City of London shall have all its ancient liberties and free customs both by lands and by waters. We further will and grant that all other Cities and Burghs and Towns and Ports shall have all their liberties and free customs.
And to obtain the common counsel of the Kingdom on the imposition of an aid except as in the three aforesaid cases or on the imposition of scutage we shall cause to be summoned the Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Earls and greater Barons separately by our letters, and in addition we shall cause to be summoned generally by our Sheriffs and Bailiffs all those who hold directly from us, on a certain day, that is, at the end of at least Forty days and in a certain place, and in all the letters of that summons we shall declare the cause of the summons and thus the summons made, let the business proceed on the designated day according to the counsel of those who are present even if not all those summoned have come.
We will not grant henceforth that anyone take aid from his freemen except to redeem his person and to make a knight of his first-born son and to once marry his first-born daughter and for these no more than reasonable aid shall be imposed.
No one shall be forced to do service for a knight's fee nor for any other free possession greater than what is due therefrom.
Let common pleas not follow our court but be conducted at some fixed place.
Inquests of recent dispossession, of death of ancestor and of last presentation shall not be held but in their Counties and in this manner. We or if we should be out of the Kingdom our chief justiciar shall send two justiciars through each of the Counties four times a year who with four knights of each County chosen by the County, will hold in the County the aforesaid sessions and on a day and place at the County court.
And if on the day of the County court the aforesaid sessions cannot be completed, let there remain as many knights and freeholders of those who were present in the County on that day by means of whom they may make sufficient judgments according as the business be more or less.
A freeman shall not be amerced for a petty offence but according to the degree of the offence, and for a grave offence he shall be amerced according to the magnitude of the offence excepting his subsistence, and a Merchant likewise excepting his merchandise, and a Villain amerced likewise excepting his Wainage if they should fall under our mercy, and none of the aforesaid mercies shall be imposed but by oath of honest men of the Neighbourhood.
Earls and Barons shall not be amerced except by their peers and only according to the degree of the offense.
No cleric shall be amerced of his lay holding except according to the manner of the others aforesaid and not according to the magnitude of his ecclesiastical benefice.
No Village or man shall be forced to make bridges on Riverbanks but those who in the past and by law were bound to do so.
No Sheriff, Constable, Coroner or others of our Bailiffs shall hold pleas of our Crown.
All Counties, Hundreds, Wapentakes and Ridings, shall remain at the old rents without any increase except our demesne Manors.
To be continued
This translation aims to follow as closely as possible the Cotton MS Augustus ii.106 manuscript, particularly with respect to word capitalization and punctuation. The chapter numbers in the margin do not appear in the original, but are based on Blackstone's work. The text additions which appear at the bottom of the manuscript have been incorporated within the corresponding chapters.
Chapters 2, 8, etc.: "To hold", as in "direct holder" or "holds from", refers to the holding or possession of land, which in the feudal system, was assigned to vassals by the king or other feudal lords. To hold "directly", in the original is in capite, i.e., "at the head", meaning without intermediaries.
Chapter 5: "Parks" refers to enclosed hunting ranges and "Warrens" to enclosed fish-breeding areas.
Chapter 6: "Disparagement" means marriage to someone not an "equal", usually someone in a lower social standing.
Chapter 18: The inquests mentioned are legally known as the assizes of novel disseisin, of mort d'ancestor and of darrein presentment, and collectively termed the "petty assizes". Note also that comitatus and its variants, which have been translated as County, refers not only to the county as a place but also implies the tribunal or court of the county where the inquests were to be held.