Charter granted by King John of England in 15 June 1215 (English translation by Freedom Circle)
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.
1 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.
2 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.
3 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.
4 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.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 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.
9 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.
10 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.
11 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.
12 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.
13 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.
14 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.
15 Henceforth we will not grant 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.
16 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.
17 Let common pleas not follow our court but be conducted at some fixed place.
18 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.
19 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.
20 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.
21 Earls and Barons shall not be amerced except by their peers and only according to the degree of the offense.
22 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.
23 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.
24 No Sheriff, Constable, Coroner or others of our Bailiffs shall hold pleas of our Crown.
25 All Counties, Hundreds, Wapentakes and Ridings, shall remain at the old rents without any increase except our demesne Manors.
26 If anyone holding from us a lay fief dies and our Sheriff or Bailiff shows our letters patent of our summons for debt owed to us by the deceased it is allowed for our Sheriff or Bailiff to attach and catalog the chattels of the deceased found in the lay fief up to the value of that debt at sight of worthy men. However, nothing shall be removed thence until the debt which is clearly owed to us is fully paid and the remainder is to be left to the executors to effect the will of the deceased. And if nothing is due to us from him, let all the chattels go to the deceased, saving for his wife and children their reasonable shares.
27 If any freeman should die intestate, his chattels are to be distributed by the hands of his nearest relatives and friends under observation of the church, saving to each one the debts owed by the deceased to them.
28 No Constable or other Bailiff of ours shall take Grains or other chattels from anyone without immediately afterward delivering monies unless he can have a respite thereof by will of the seller.
29 No Constable shall force any knight to give monies for the guard of a castle if he would want to do that guard in his own person or by another upright man if he cannot do it for reasonable cause, and if we should lead or send him to the army, he shall be relieved from the guard according to the amount of time during which he was in the army for us.
30 No Sheriff or Bailiff of ours or other person shall take horses or carts from any freeman to use for carriage, if not by the will of said freeman.
31 Neither we nor our Bailiffs will take wood that is not ours for our castles or other uses if not by the will of him to whom that wood belonged.
32 We will not retain lands from those convicted of crime but for a year and a day, and afterwards the lands shall be returned to the Lords of the fiefs.
33 Henceforth all fishing weirs shall be disposed of entirely from the Thames and Medway and throughout England except along the sea coast.
34 Henceforth the writ which is called Praecipe shall not be issued to anyone for any holding by which a free man may lose his Court.
35 Let there be one measure of Wine throughout our Kingdom and one measure of Beer and one measure of Grain that is the London quarter, and one width of dyed cloth and of Russet and of Haberget, that is two ells within the selvages. Also let it be so with weights as with measures.
36 Henceforth let nothing be given or taken for a writ of Inquisition of Life or limbs but let it be freely granted and not denied.
37 If anyone holds from us by fee-farm or by Socage or by Burgage and from another holds land by knight's service, we shall not have wardship of the heir or of his land which is the fief of another by cause of that fee-farm or Socage or Burgage, nor shall we have wardship of that fee-farm or Socage or Burgage unless that fee-farm owes knight's service. We shall not have wardship of the heir or of the land of one who owns from another by knight's service by cause of some small serjeanty which he holds from us by service of furnishing us with knives or arrows or the like.
38 Henceforth no bailiff shall put anyone to the law solely on his word without trustworthy witnesses presented to this end.
39 No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or disseized or outlawed or exiled or in any way destroyed nor shall we go upon him nor send upon him unless by the lawful 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 have safe and secure exit from England and entry into England and may stay and move about England by land as well as by water to buy and sell without any evil tolls by the ancient and right customs except in time of War, and if they are of the land at War against us, and if such are found in our land at the beginning of the War they shall be detained without harm to bodies and things until it be known by us or our chief Justiciar in what manner merchants of our land are treated who are then found in the land at War against us. And if ours are safe there the others shall be safe in our land.
42 Henceforth any one shall be allowed to leave our Kingdom and return safely and securely by land and by water retaining allegiance to us except in time of War for a Brief time for the common benefit of the Kingdom except those imprisoned and Outlaws according to the law of the Kingdom and people of a land at War against us, and merchants with whom it shall be done as aforesaid.
43 If any one holding from any Escheat as from the Honor of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster or from other Escheats which are in our hand and are Baronies and shall die his heir shall give no other relief nor do for us any other service than he did for the Baron if that Barony were in the Baron's hand. And we shall hold it in the same manner as the Baron held it.
44 The men who dwell outside the Forest need not henceforth come before our Justiciars of the Forest for general summonses unless they are impleaded or are sureties for some person or persons who are apprehended because of the Forest.
45 We will not make Justiciars, Constables, Sheriffs or Bailiffs but of such who know the law of the Kingdom and wish to observe it well.
46 All Barons who founded Abbeys of which they have charters from the King of England or by ancient possession shall have wardship of them when vacant as they ought to have.
47 All the Forests that were afforested in our time shall be immediately disafforested. And that the same be done with the Riverbanks that were put in defense by us in our time.
48 All evil customs of Forests and Warrens and of Foresters and Warreners, Sheriffs and their Agents, River banks and their wardens shall be immediately inquired into in whichever County by twelve sworn Knights of the same County who are to be chosen by honest men of the same County and within Forty days after the inquest is made, shall be completely abolished, so that they shall never be restored, by the same, so that this be known to us beforehand or to our Justiciar if we be not in England.
50 We will completely remove from Bailiwicks the relatives of Gérard of Athée so that henceforth none shall have Bailiwicks in England, Engelard of Cigogné, Peter, Guy, and Andrew of Chanceaux, Guy of Cigogné, Geoffrey of Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc and his brothers and his Nephew Geoffrey and all the followers of the same.
51 And immediately after the reformation of peace we will remove from the Kingdom all the foreign knights Arbalists, Serjeants mercenaries who have come with horses and weapons to the harm of the Kingdom.
52 If any one shall have been dispossessed or deprived by us without lawful judgment of his peers of lands castles liberties or his right we will immediately restore them to him, and if a dispute shall arise over this, then let it be settled thence by the judgment of the Twenty-five Barons of whom mention has been made below in the securing of the peace. However of all those any who have been dispossessed or deprived without lawful judgment of their equals by King Henry our father or by King Richard our brother which we have in our hand or which others hold and which require us to warrant we shall have respite until the common term of the crusaders, except for those of which a plea has been commenced or an inquest made by our order before the undertaking of our Cross. But when we return from our pilgrimage or if by chance we should suspend our pilgrimage we shall immediately from there manifest full justice.
53 We shall likewise have respite and in the same manner with the justice to be manifested with the forests to be disafforested or to remain as forests which Henry our father or Richard our brother have afforested, and with the wardships of lands which are of the fief of another of the kind of wardships which we have hitherto held by occasion of a fief of one who has held of us by knight's Service and of Abbeys which have been founded in the fief of another than ours in which the Lord of the fee has said himself to be his right and when we have returned or if we have suspended our pilgrimage on these claims we will immediately manifest full justice.
54 No one shall be taken nor imprisoned on appeal of a woman for the death of someone other than her husband.
55 All sums which are made with us unjustly and against the Law of the land and all amercements made unjustly and against the Law of the land shall be fully remitted or be settled thereof by the judgment of the Twenty-five Barons of whom mention has been made below in the securing of the peace or by the judgment of the greater part of the same together with the aforesaid Stephen Archbishop of Canterbury if he can be present and others whom he may wish to summon for this purpose, and if he cannot be present the business nevertheless may proceed without him provided that if any one or some of the said Twenty-five Barons be in a similar suit they shall be removed as to this judgement and that others in place of them be substituted from the rest of the same Twenty-five for this purpose so many being elected and sworn.
56 If we have disseized or dispossessed Welshmen of lands or liberties or other things without lawful judgment of their peers in England or Wales these will be immediately restored and if a dispute shall arise over this, then let it be settled thence in the Marches by judgment of their peers for tenements in England according to the law of England, for tenements in Wales according to the law of Wales for tenements in the Marches according to the law of the Marches. The Welshmen shall do the same to us and ours.
57 But of all those of which any Welshman has been disseized or dispossessed without lawful judgment of his peers by King Henry our father or King Richard our brother which we have in our hand or which others hold and which require us to warrant we shall have respite until the common term of the crusaders, except for those of which a plea has been commenced or an inquest made by our order before the undertaking of our cross. But when we have returned or if by chance we should suspend our pilgrimage we shall immediately therefrom manifest them full justice according to the laws of the Welsh and the aforesaid parts.
58 We will return the son of Llywelyn immediately and all the hostages of Wales and charters that have been delivered to us as surety for the peace.
59 We will do unto Alexander King of Scots regarding his sisters and hostages to be returned and his liberties and his right according to the manner in which we will do unto our other Barons of England unless it should be otherwise by charters we have from William his father former King of Scots and this shall be by the judgment of his peers in our court.
60 Moreover all the aforesaid customs and liberties which we have granted in our Kingdom to be maintained as far as pertains to us towards ours all of our Kingdom both clerqy and laymen shall observe them as far as pertains to them towards theirs.
61 Since, moreover, for god and the amendment of our Kingdom and to better calm the discord which has arisen between us and our Barons, we have granted all these aforesaid, wishing to enjoy them in complete and firm stability in perpetuity, we make and grant them the following security, namely that the Barons select twenty-five Barons of the Kingdom whomever they wish who shall with all their might observe maintain and cause to be observed the peace and liberties which we have granted them and by this our present charter have confirmed. So that if we or our Justiciar or our Bailiffs or any of our servants shall have committed fault in anything against anyone or shall have transgressed any of the articles of the peace or the security and the offense shall have been shown to four Barons of the aforesaid Twenty-five Barons those four Barons shall approach us or our Justiciar if we should be outside the Kingdom presenting the deviation before us shall request that we have that deviation corrected without delay. And if we have not corrected the deviation or if we should be outside the Kingdom our Justiciar has not corrected it within the term of Forty days reckoning from the time which has been shown to us or to our Justiciar if we should outside the Kingdom the Four aforesaid Barons shall refer that cause to the rest of the Twenty-five Barons and those Twenty-five Barons with the community of all the land shall distrain and oppress us in all the ways they can namely by seizure of castles of lands of possessions and in other ways they can until it has been corrected according to their discretion save our person, and of our Queen and of our children. And when it has been corrected they will obey us as they have done before. And whoever in the land shall so desire let him swear that in carrying out all the aforesaid he will obey the orders of the aforesaid Twenty-five Barons, and that he will oppress us with them as per his power and we publicly and freely give license to swear to anyone who wishes to swear and no one shall ever be forbidden by us to swear. Moreover all those in the land who by themselves and of their own accord have been unwilling to swear to the Twenty-five Barons for distraining and oppressing us with them we shall make them swear to the same by our order as aforesaid. And if any of the Twenty-five Barons shall have died or have left the land or in any other manner have been prevented such that he could not carry out the aforesaid those who are left of the aforesaid Twenty-five Barons shall select another in his place at their discretion who shall be sworn in like manner as the others. Moreover, in all that is entrusted to these Twenty-five Barons to carry out, if by chance these Twenty-five shall be present and among themselves they disagreed about some thing or some of them do not want to be summoned or cannot be present, what the majority of those who are present shall have provided or prescribed shall be considered as established and firm, as if all the twenty-five had consented to it and the aforesaid Twenty-five shall swear that they will faithfully observe all the foregoing and cause it to be observed with all their might. And we shall procure nothing from anyone by ourselves or by another by which any of these concessions and liberties may be revoked or diminished. And if any such thing shall have been procured it shall be invalid and void and we shall never use it ourselves or through another.
62 And all the ill wills, indignations and rancor arising between us and our men clerics and laymen since the time of the discord we have fully remitted and forgiven to all. Moreover all transgressions made occasioned from the same discord since Easter of the Sixteenth year of our Reign until the restoration of peace we have fully remitted to all, clerics and laymen and as far as pertains to us we have fully forgiven. And further we have caused letters patent testimonials to be made to them from Lord Stephen Archbishop of Canterbury, from Lord Henry Archbishop of Dublin and from the aforesaid Bishops and Master Pandulf on this security and the foregoing concessions.
63 Wherefore we wish and firmly prescribe that the Church of England shall be free and that the men in our Kingdom shall have and hold all the foregoing liberties rights and concessions, well and in peace freely and quietly fully and entirely for themselves and their heirs from us and our heirs in all things and places in perpetuity as aforesaid. It is further sworn both on our part and on the part of the Barons that all these aforesaid will be observed in good faith and without evil intent. Witness the Aforesaid 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.
This translation aims to follow as closely as possible the Cotton MS Augustus ii.106 manuscript, particularly with respect to word capitalization and punctuation. Although adding punctuation or rearranging clauses may make the text more intelligible, we believe it skews the result with a particular point of view. 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 7: "Frank-marriage" or liberum maritagium refers to a plot of land granted by a father to his daughter on occasion of marriage, which was exempt from feudal tribute for three generations.
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.
Chapter 20: The word contenemento, which was translated as "subsistence" is not easy to translate to modern English, but is sometimes given as contenement (an obsolete legal term for the property of a freeholder) in quotation marks. In general, it refers to an individual's property or belongings that are essential to his livelihood. Similarly, the word mercandisa, which was translated as "merchandise", can be more broadly interpreted as the business itself. Finally, the villeins, although serfs of a feudal lord, owned a plot of land, usually 30 acres (12 ha), for cultivation, were exempted from losing their waynagio, that is, that land and what was planted therein.
Chapter 34: In a dispute over a holding it was customary to deal with the plea in the court of the corresponding feudal lord. King Henry II, John's father, instituted writs of praecipe which allowed the king to send a bailiff to settle the plea directly, bypassing the authority of the lord. This chapter sought to restore the custom.
Chapter 35: Russet cloth was made of wool usually dyed in a reddish brown color. Haberget cloth was supposedly made of worsted yarn and had the appearance of chain mail (the name was apparently derived from the French haubergeon for a small shirt of mail).
Chapter 41: The word consuetudines can be interpreted as "customs" both in the sense of something habitual or as customs duties, since it was customary for foreign merchants to pay or give gifts to the king or other authorities in order to travel and trade within England. On the other hand, malis toltis (evil tolls) refers to the perversion of such customs, i.e., when what was demanded or taken was more than considered normal.
Chapters 45, 47 and 53: The word foresta, translated as "forest," refers to any area, with or without trees, reserved by the English kings for hunting and within which forest law was in force. The words afforestate and deafforestentur that were translated as "afforested" and "[be] disafforested", do not connote planting or clearing of trees, but are meant in the legal sense of designating one of those areas or removing such designation. In a similar vein, some rivers were put "in defense" for fowling.
"Magna Carta, 1215", Cotton MS Augustus ii.106, British Library.
John Pine, "Engraving of the burnt Magna Carta", 1733. British Museum.
William Blackstone, Law Tracts, Vol. II, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1762.
William Sharp McKechnie, Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, Second edition, Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, 1914.