The Magna Carta, also known as the Great Charter to the Liberties of England, is a
document originally issued in Latin in the year 1215. The Great Charter is truly great,
because it was the first legal document to establish that leaders did not have arbitrary
power, granted under Divine Authority, but instead were subject to the law of the land.
The feudal barons forced King John of England to sign the Magna Carta in an attempt to
limit his powers by law and protect their rights. In a way, it was the world's very first
written Constitution. The charter was a major part of the process that led to the rule of
constitutional law in the English speaking world, an ideal which was eventually
transported to the New World. It would inspire the Founding Fathers to draft a new
document, the United States Constitution.
As a tribute to its influence, a copy of the Magna Carter is housed in the Temple of
Founding History, the National Archives, in Washington D.C.
English Text of the Magna Carta
[Preamble] Edward by the grace of God King of England, lord of Ireland and duke of
Aquitaine sends greetings to all to whom the present letters come. We have inspected
the great charter of the lord Henry, late King of England, our father, concerning the
liberties of England in these words:
Henry by the grace of God King of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and
Aquitaine and count of Anjou sends greetings to his archbishops, bishops, abbots,
priors, earls, barons, sheriffs, reeves, ministers and all his bailiffs and faithful men
inspecting the present charter. Know that we, at the prompting of God and for the
health of our soul and the souls of our ancestors and successors, for the glory of holy
Church and the improvement of our realm, freely and out of our good will have given
and granted to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons and all of our
realm these liberties written below to hold in our realm of England in perpetuity.
In the first place we grant to God and confirm by this our present charter for ourselves
and our heirs in perpetuity that the English Church is to be free and to have all its rights
fully and its liberties entirely. We furthermore grant and give to all the freemen of our
realm for ourselves and our heirs in perpetuity the liberties written below to have and to
hold to them and their heirs from us and our heirs in perpetuity.
If any of our earls or barons, or anyone else holding from us in chief by military service
should die, and should his heir be of full age and owe relief, the heir is to have his
inheritance for the ancient relief, namely the heir or heirs of an earl for a whole county
Â£100, the heir or heirs of a baron for a whole barony 100 marks, the heir or heirs of a
knight for a whole knight's fee 100 shillings at most, and he who owes less will give less,
according to the ancient custom of (knights') fees.
If, however, the heir of such a person is under age, his lord is not to have custody of him
and his land until he has taken homage from the heir, and after such an heir has been in
custody, when he comes of age, namely at twenty-one years old, he is to have his
inheritance without relief and without fine, saving that if, whilst under age, he is made a
knight, his land will nonetheless remain in the custody of his lords until the aforesaid
The keeper of the land of such an heir who is under age is only to take reasonable
receipts from the heir's land and reasonable customs and reasonable services, and this
without destruction or waste of men or things. And if we assign custody of any such land
to a sheriff or to anyone else who should answer to us for the issues, and such a person
should commit destruction or waste, we will take recompense from him and the land
will be assigned to two law-worthy and discreet men of that fee who will answer to us or
to the person to whom we assign such land for the land's issues. And if we give or sell to
anyone custody of any such land and that person commits destruction or waste, he is to
lose custody and the land is to be assigned to two law-worthy and discreet men of that
fee who similarly will answer to us as is aforesaid.
The keeper, for as long as he has the custody of the land of such (an heir), is to 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 the heir comes to full
age, all his land stocked with ploughs and all other things in at least the same condition
as when he received it. All these things are to be observed in the custodies of
archbishoprics, bishoprics, abbeys, priories, churches and vacant offices which pertain
to us, save that such custodies ought not to be sold.
Heirs are to be married without disparagement.
A widow, after the death of her husband, is immediately and without any difficulty to
have her marriage portion and her inheritance, nor is she to pay anything for her dower
or her marriage portion or for her inheritance which her husband and she held on the
day of her husband's death, and she shall remain in the chief dwelling place of her
husband for forty days after her husband's death, within which time dower will be
assigned her if it has not already been assigned, unless that house is a castle, and if it is a
castle which she leaves, then a suitable house will immediately be provided for her in
which she may properly dwell until her dower is assigned to her in accordance with what
is aforesaid, and in the meantime she is to have her reasonable necessities (estoverium)
from the common property. As dower she will be assigned the third part of all the lands
of her husband which were his during his lifetime, save when she was dowered with less
at the church door. No widow shall be distrained to marry for so long as she wishes to
live without a husband, provided that she gives surety that she will not marry without
our assent if she holds of us, or without the assent of her lord, if she holds of another.
Neither we nor our bailiffs will seize any land or rent for any debt, as long as the existing
chattels of the debtor suffice for the payment of the debt and as long as the debtor is
ready to pay the debt, nor will the debtor's guarantors be distrained for so long as the
principal debtor is able to pay the debt; and should the principal debtor default in his
payment of the debt, not having the means to repay it, or should he refuse to pay it
despite being able to do so, the guarantors will answer for the debt and, if they wish,
they are to have the lands and rents of the debtor until they are repaid the debt that
previously they paid on behalf of the debtor, unless the principal debtor can show that
he is quit in respect to these guarantors.
The city of London is to have all its ancient liberties and customs. Moreover we wish and
grant that all other cities and boroughs and vills and the barons of the Cinque Ports and
all ports are to have all their liberties and free customs.
No-one is to be distrained to do more service for a knight's fee or for any other free
tenement than is due from it.
Common pleas are not to follow our court but are to be held in a certain fixed place.
Recognisances of novel disseisin and of mort d'ancestor are not to be taken save in their
particular counties and in the following way. We or, should we be outside the realm, our
chief justiciar, will send our justices once a year to each county, so that, together with
the knights of the counties, that may take the aforesaid assizes in the counties; and those
assizes which cannot be completed in that visitation of the county by our aforesaid
justices assigned to take the said assizes are to be completed elsewhere by the justices in
their visitation; and those which cannot be completed by them on account of the
difficulty of various articles (of law) are to be referred to our justices of the Bench and
Assizes of darrein presentment are always to be taken before our justices of the Bench
and are to be completed there.
A freeman is not to be amerced for a small offence save in accordance with the manner
of the offence, and for a major offence according to its magnitude, saving his sufficiency
(salvo contenemento suo), and a merchant likewise, saving his merchandise, and any
villain other than one of our own is to be amerced in the same way, saving his necessity
(salvo waynagio) should he fall into our mercy, and none of the aforesaid amercements
is to be imposed save by the oath of honest and law-worthy men of the neighbourhood.
Earls and barons are not to be amerced save by their peers and only in accordance with
the manner of their offence.
No town or free man is to be distrained to make bridges or bank works save for those
that ought to do so of old and by right.
No bank works of any sort are to be kept up save for those that were in defense in the
time of King Henry II our grandfather and in the same places and on the same terms as
was customary in his time.
No sheriff, constable, coroner or any other of our bailiffs is to hold pleas of our crown.
If anyone holding a lay fee from us should die, and our sheriff or bailiff shows our letters
patent containing our summons for a debt that the dead man owed us, our sheriff or
bailiff is permitted to attach and enroll all the goods and chattels of the dead man found
in lay fee, to the value of the said debt, by view of law-worthy men, so that nothing is to
be removed thence until the debt that remains is paid to us, and the remainder is to be
released to the executors to discharge the will of the dead man, and if nothing is owed to
us from such a person, all the chattels are to pass to the (use of) the dead man, saving to
the dead man's wife and children their reasonable portion.
No constable or his bailiff is to take corn or other chattels from anyone who not
themselves of a vill where a castle is built, unless the constable or his bailiff immediately
offers money in payment of obtains a respite by the wish of the seller. If the person
whose corn or chattels are taken is of such a vill, then the constable or his bailiff is to pay
the purchase price within forty days.
No constable is to distrain any knight to give money for castle guard if the knight is
willing to do such guard in person or by proxy of any other honest man, should the
knight be prevented from doing so by just cause. And if we take or send such a knight
into the army, he is to be quit of (castle) guard in accordance with the length of time the
we have him in the army for the fee for which he has done service in the army.
No sheriff or bailiff of ours or of anyone else is to take anyone's horses or carts to make
carriage, unless he renders the payment customarily due, namely for a two-horse cart
ten pence per day, and for a three-horse cart fourteen pence per day. No demesne cart
belonging to any churchman or knight or any other lady (sic) is to be taken by our
bailiffs, nor will we or our bailiffs or anyone else take someone else's timber for a castle
or any other of our business save by the will of he to whom the timber belongs.
We shall not hold the lands of those convicted of felony save for a year and a day,
whereafter such land is to be restored to the lords of the fees.
 All fish weirs (kidelli) on the Thames and the Medway and throughout England are
to be entirely dismantled, save on the sea coast.
The writ called 'praecipe' is not to be issued to anyone in respect to any free tenement in
such a way that a free man might lose his court.
There is to be a single measure for wine throughout our realm, and a single measure for
ale, and a single measure for Corn, that is to say the London quarter, and a single
breadth for dyed cloth, russets, and haberjects, that is to say two yards within the lists.
And it shall be the same for weights as for measures.
Henceforth there is to be nothing given for a writ of inquest from the person seeking an
inquest of life or member, but such a writ is to be given freely and is not to be denied.
If any persons hold from us at fee farm or in socage or burgage, and hold land from
another by knight service, we are not, by virtue of such a fee farm or socage or burgage,
to have custody of the heir or their land which pertains to another's fee, nor are we to
have custody of such a fee farm or socage or burgage unless this fee farm owes knight
service. We are not to have the custody of an heir or of any land which is held from
another by knight service on the pretext of some small serjeanty held from us by service
of rendering us knives or arrows or suchlike things.
No bailiff is henceforth to put any man on his open law or on oath simply by virtue of his
spoken word, without reliable witnesses being produced for the same.
No freeman is to be taken or imprisoned or disseised of his free tenement or of his
liberties or free customs, or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go
against such a man or send against him save by lawful judgement of his peers or by the
law of the land. To no-one will we sell or deny of delay right or justice.
All merchants, unless they have been previously and publicly forbidden, are to have safe
and secure conduct in leaving and coming to England and in staying and going through
England both by land and by water to buy and to sell, without any evil exactions,
according to the ancient and right customs, save in time of war, and if they should be
from a land at war against us and be found in our land at the beginning of the war, they
are to be attached without damage to their bodies or goods until it is established by us or
our chief justiciar in what way the merchants of our land are treated who at such a time
are found in the land that is at war with us, and if our merchants are safe there, the
other merchants are to be safe in our land.
If anyone dies holding of any escheat such as the honour of Wallingford, Boulogne,
Nottingham, Lancaster or of other escheats which are in our hands and which are
baronies, his heir is not to give any other relief or render any other service to us that
would not have been rendered to the baron if the barony were still held by a baron, and
we shall hold such things in the same way as the baron held them, nor, on account of
such a barony or escheat, are we to have the escheat or custody of any of our men unless
the man who held the barony or the escheat held elsewhere from us in chief.
No free man is henceforth to give or sell any more of his land to anyone, unless the
residue of his land is sufficient to render due service to the lord of the fee as pertains to
All patrons of abbeys which have charters of the kings of England over advowson or
ancient tenure or possession are to have the custody of such abbeys when they fall
vacant just as they ought to have and as is declared above.
No-one is to be taken or imprisoned on the appeal of woman for the death of anyone
save for the death of that woman's husband.
No county court is to be held save from month to month, and where the greater term
used to be held, so will it be in future, nor will any sheriff or his bailiff make his tourn
through the hundred save for twice a year and only in the place that is due and
customary, namely once after Easter and again after Michaelmas, and the view of
frankpledge is to be taken at the Michaelmas term without exception, in such a way that
every man is to have his liberties which he had or used to have in the time of King Henry
II my grandfather or which he has acquired since. The view of frankpledge is to be taken
so that our peace be held and so that the tithing is to be held entire as it used to be, and
so that the sheriff does not seek exceptions but remains content with that which the
sheriff used to have in taking the view in the time of King Henry our grandfather.
Nor is it permitted to anyone to give his land to a religious house in such a way that he
receives it back from such a house to hold, nor is it permitted to any religious house to
accept the land of anyone in such way that the land is restored to the person from whom
it was received to hold. If anyone henceforth gives his land in such a way to any religious
house and is convicted of the same, the gift is to be entirely quashed and such land is to
revert to the lord of that fee.
Scutage furthermore is to be taken as it used to be in the time of King H(enry) our
grandfather, and all liberties and free customs shall be preserved to archbishops,
bishops, abbots, priors, Templars, Hospitallers, earls, barons and all others, both
ecclesiastical and secular persons, just as they formerly had.
All these aforesaid customs and liberties which we have granted to be held in our realm
in so far as pertains to us are to be observed by all of our realm, both clergy and laity, in
so far as pertains to them in respect to their own men. For this gift and grant of these
liberties and of others contained in our charter over the liberties of the forest, the
archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, knights, fee holders and all of our
realm have given us a fifteenth part of all their movable goods. Moreover we grant to
them for us and our heirs that neither we nor our heirs will seek anything by which the
liberties contained in this charter might be infringed or damaged, and should anything
be obtained from anyone against this it is to count for nothing and to be held as nothing.
With these witnesses: the lord Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, Eustace bishop of
London, Jocelin bishop of Bath, Peter bishop of Winchester, Hugh bishop of Lincoln,
Richard bishop of Salisbury, W. bishop of Rochester, William bishop of Worcester, John
bishop of Ely, Hugh bishop of Hereford, Ranulf bishop of Chichester, William bishop of
Exeter, the abbot of Bury St Edmunds, the abbot of St Albans, the abbot of Battle, the
abbot of St Augustine's Canterbury, the abbot of Evesham, the abbot of Westminster,
the abbot of Peterborough, the abbot of Reading, the abbot of Abingdon, the abbot of
Malmesbury, the abbot of Winchcombe, the abbot of Hyde (Winchester), the abbot of
Chertsey, the abbot of Sherborne, the abbot of Cerne, the abbot of Abbotsbury, the abbot
of Milton (Abbas), the abbot of Selby, the abbot of Cirencester, Hubert de Burgh the
justiciar, H. earl of Chester and Lincoln, William earl of Salisbury, William earl
Warenne, G. de Clare earl of Gloucester and Hertford, William de Ferrers earl of Derby,
William de Mandeville earl of Essex, Hugh Bigod earl of Norfolk, William earl Aumale,
Humphrey earl of Hereford, John constable of Chester, Robert de Ros, Robert fitz
Walter, Robert de Vieuxpont, William Brewer, Richard de Montfiquet, Peter fitz
Herbert, William de AubignÃ©, G. Gresley, F. de Braose, John of Monmouth, John fitz
Alan, Hugh de Mortemer, William de Beauchamp, William de St John, Peter de Maulay,
Brian de Lisle, Thomas of Moulton, Richard de Argentan, Geoffrey de Neville, William
Mauduit, John de Baalon and others. Given at Westminster on the eleventh day of
February in the ninth year of our reign.
We, holding these aforesaid gifts and grants to be right and welcome, conceed and
confirm them for ourselves and our heirs and by the terms of the present (letters) renew
them, wishing and granting for ourselves and our heirs that the aforesaid charter is to be
firmly and inviably observed in all and each of its articles in perpetuity, including any
articles contained in the same charter which by chance have not to date been observed.
In testimony of which we have had made these our letters patent. Witnessed by Edward
our son, at Westminster on the twelfth day of October in the twenty-fifth year of our
reign. (Chancery warranty by John of) Stowe.
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