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The 1215 Magna Carta

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New translation of the Magna Carta of Great Britain, 1215 prepared by Xavier Hildegarde, November 2001.
[Magna Carta is the Latin for Great Charter.]

Permission to reproduce a copy of this translation by electronic means granted to magnacartaplus.org on permanent licence from  abelard.org.

© 2001,  abelard.org.

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The 1215 Magna Carta (an English translation) [1]
Surety barons for the enforcement of the Magna Carta [1215]
Associated documents
Colour key
End notes

John, by the 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, stewards, servants, and to all his bailiffs and faithful subjects, greeting.

Know that, having regard to God and for the salvation of our soul, and those of all our ancestors and heirs, and unto the honour of God and the advancement of the holy Church, and for the reform of our realm, 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, William of London, Peter of Winchester, Jocelyn of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh of Lincoln, Walter of Worcester, William of Coventry, Benedict of Rochester, bishops; of master Pandulf, subdeacon and member of the household of our lord the Pope, of brother Aymeric (master of the Knights of the Temple in England), and of the illustrious men William Marshall earl of Pembroke, William earl of Salisbury, William earl of Warenne, William earl of Arundel, Alan of Galloway (constable of Scotland), Waren Fitz Gerald, Peter Fits Herbert, Hubert de Burgh (seneschal of Poitou), Hugh de Neville, Matthew Fitz Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip d’Aubigny, Robert of Roppesley, John Marshall, John Fitz Hugh, and of other faithful subjects.

  1. In the first place we have conceded to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs for ever that the English church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate; and we wish that it be thus observed. This is apparent from the fact that we, of our pure and unconstrained will, did grant the freedom of elections, which is reckoned most important and very essential to the English church, and did by our charter confirm and did obtain the ratification of the same from our lord, Pope Innocent III., before the quarrel arose between us and our barons. This freedom we will observe, and our will is that it be observed in good faith by our heirs for ever.

    We have also granted to all
    freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs for ever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs for ever:

  2. If any of our earls or barons, or others holding of us in chief by military service shall have died, and at the time of his death his heir shall be of full age and owe relief he shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient relief, namely the heir or heirs of an earl, 100 pounds for a whole earl’s barony; the heir or heirs of a baron, 100 pounds for a whole barony; the heir or heirs of a knight, 100 shillings at most for a whole knight’s fee; and whoever owes less let him give less, according to the ancient custom of fiefs.

  3. If, however, the heir of any of the aforesaid has been under age and in wardship, let him have his inheritance without relief and without fine when he comes of age.

  4. The guardian of the land of an heir who is thus under age, shall take from the land of the heir nothing but reasonable produce, reasonable customs, and reasonable services, and that without destruction or waste of men or goods; and if we have committed the wardship of the lands of any such minor to the sheriff, or to any other who is responsible to us for its issues, and he has made destruction or waste of what he holds in wardship, we will take of him amends, and the land shall be committed to two lawful and discreet men of that fief, who shall be responsible for the issues to us or to him to whom we shall assign them; and if we have given or sold the wardship of any such land to anyone and he has therein made destruction or waste, he shall lose that wardship, and it shall be transferred to two lawful and discreet men of that fief, who shall be responsible to us in like manner as aforesaid.

  5. The guardian moreover, so long as he has the wardship of the land, shall maintain the houses, parks, fish ponds, stanks, mills, and other things pertaining to the land, out of the revenues of that land; and he shall restore to the heir, when he has come to full age, all his land, stocked with ploughs and waynage, according as the season of husbandry requires, and the revenues from the land can reasonably support.

  6. Heirs shall be married without disparagement. However, before a marriage takes place, it shall be made known to the heir’s next-of-kin.

  7. A widow, after the death of her husband, shall forthwith and without difficulty have her marriage portion and inheritance. She shall not give anything for her dower, or for her marriage portion, or for the inheritance which her husband and she held on the day of the death of that husband. She may remain in the house of her husband for forty days after his death, within which time her dower shall be assigned to her.

  8. No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she prefers to remain without a husband, always provided that she gives assurance not to marry without our consent, if she holds her lands from us, or else without the consent of whatever other lord she from whom she holds her lands.

  9. Neither we nor our bailiffs shall seize for any debt any land or rent, so long as the chattels of the debtor are sufficient to repay the debt. Nor shall those that pledged sureties for the debtor be distrained so long as the principal debtor himself is able to satisfy the debt. If the principal debtor fails to pay the debt, having nothing wherewith to pay it, then the sureties shall answer for the debt.They shall have the lands and rents of the debtor, if they desire them, until they are reimbursed for the debt which they have paid for him, unless the principal debtor can show proof that he has discharged his obligations to them.

  10. If one who has borrowed from the Jews any sum, great or small, dies before that loan can be repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective from whom he holds his lands. If such a debt falls into our hands, we will take nothing except the principalreturn to the index on the  'Magna Carta, 1215 - English translation' page sum mentioned in the bond.

  11. And if any one die indebted to the Jews, his wife shall have her dower and pay nothing of that debt; and if any children of the deceased are left underage, necessaries shall be provided for them in keeping with the holding of the deceased. The debt shall be paid out of the residue , save the service due to feudal lords. Let debts due to others than Jews be dealt with in similar manner.

  12. No scutage nor aid shall be imposed on our kingdom, unless by common counsel of our kingdom, except for ransoming our person, for making our eldest son a knight, and marrying our eldest daughter one time. For these, only a reasonable aid should be levied. In like manner it shall be done concerning aids from the city of London.

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

  14. And for obtaining the common consent of the kingdom concerning the assessment of an aid (other than in the three cases specified above) or of a scutage, we will cause to be summoned the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons, individually through our letters. Moreover, all others who are our direct tenants, we will cause a general summons to be made by our sheriffs and bailiffs, for a fixed date (namely, after the expiry of at least forty days) and at a fixed place. In all such letters of summons we will specify the reason of the summons. And when the summons has thus been made, the business shall proceed on the day appointed, according to the counsel of such as are present, although not all who were summoned have come.

  15. In future, we not grant to anyone license to take an aid from his own free men, unless to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight, and once to marry his eldest daughter. And on each of these occasions, only a reasonable aid shall be levied.

  16. No man shall be compelled to do more service for a knight’s fee, or for any other land free-holding, than is due from it.

  17. Common pleas shall not follow our court about, but shall be held in some fixed place.

  18. Inquests of novel disseisin, mort d’ancestor, and darrein presentiment shall only be held in their own county courts, in the following manner. We or, should we be out of the kingdom, our chief justice will send two justices to each county four times a year who, along with four knights of each county chosen by that county, shall hold the assize in the county, and on the day and in the meeting place of the county court.

  19. If any of the said assizes cannot be held on the day of the county court, let there remain as many of the knights and freeholders, who were present at the county court on that day, as are necessary for the efficient making of judgments, according to whether the business is more or less.

  20. A freeman shall only be amerced for a trivial offence in accordance with the seriousness of the offence. For a grave offence, he shall be fined correspondingly, leaving him his contenement. A merchant will be fined similarly, leaving him his “merchandise”; and a villein shall be amerced in the same way, leaving him his wainage—if they have fallen into our mercy. These amercements shall only be imposed by the assessment on return to the index on the  'Magna Carta, 1215 - English translation' pageoath of reputable local men.

  21. Earls and barons shall be amerced only by their peers, and only in proportion with the degree of the offence.

  22. A clerk in holy orders shall not be amerced in respect of his lay holding except as peviously described; further, his ecclesiastical benefice shall not be taken into account.

  23. No vill or person shall be compelled to make bridges at river-banks, except those who from of old were legally bound to do so.

  24. No sheriff, constable, coroner, or other royal bailiff, shall hold lawsuits meant be held by the royal justices.

  25. All counties, hundreds, wapentakes, and trithings shall remain at old rents, and without any increase, except our demesne manors.

  26. If any one holding a lay fief from the Crown dies, and our sheriff or bailiff produces royal letters patent of summons for a debt owed to the Crown, it shall be lawful for our sheriff or bailiff to seize and catalogue chattels found in the lay fief of the deceased, to the value of that debt, as assessed by law-worthy men. Nothing at all shall be removed from there until the debt is fully paid. The residue shall be left to the executors to fulfil the will of the deceased. If there is no debt due to the Crown, all the chattels shall go to the estate of the deceased, except reasonable shares for his wife and children.

  27. If any freeman dies intestate, his chattels shall be distributed by his nearest kinsfolk and his friends, under supervision of the church, except that the rights of his debtors shall be maintained.

  28. No constable or other royal bailiff shall take corn or other provisions from any man without an immediate cash payment, unless the seller permits postponement of this.

  29. No constable shall compel any knight to give money instead of castle-guard, if the knight is willing to undertake the guard himself, or to supply another responsible man to do it, if he cannot do it himself for any reasonable cause. Further, a knight taken or sent on military service shall be excused castle-guard in proportion to the time he was on this service.

  30. No sheriff or royal bailiff, or other person, shall take the horses or carts of any freeman for transport duty, except with agreement from the said freeman. return to the index on the  'Magna Carta, 1215 - English translation' page

 


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  1. Neither we nor our bailiffs shall take, for our castles or for any other of our works, wood which is not ours, except with agreement from the owner of that timber.

  2. We will not hold the lands of those who have been convicted of felony beyond one year and one day. Then, the lands shall be returned to the lords of those fiefs.

  3. Henceforth, all kiddles shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway and throughout all England, except along the sea coast.

  4. The writ called praecipe, in the future, shall not be issued to any one regarding any tenement whereby a freeman might lose the right of trial in his own lord’s court.

  5. There shall be one measure of wine, of ale and of corn (namely, “the London quarter”) throughout our whole realm. There shall also be one width of cloth (whether dyed, russet, or halberget): that is, two ells within the selvages. Let weights also be standardised similarly.

  6. Nothing shall be paid or taken in future for a writ of inquisition of life or limbs.[2] Instead, it shall be given free of charge, and not denied.

  7. If a man holds Crown land by fee-farm, by socage, or by burgage, and also holds land of another lord for knight’s service, we will not have (by reason of that fee-farm, socage, or burgage) the wardship of his heir or of such land he holds of the other lord’s fief . Nor shall we have wardship of that fee-farm, socage, or burgage, unless the fee-farm owes knight’s service. We will not have the wardship of a man’s heir, nor of land that the man holds through knight’s service to someone else, because of any small serjeanty that he may hold from the Crown for the service of providing to us knives, arrows, or the like.

  8. In future, no bailiff shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported words, without credible witnesses being produced to support his word.

  9. No freeman shall be arrested or imprisoned or disseised or outlawed or exiled or in any other way harmed. Nor will we [the king] proceed against him, or send others to do so, except according to the lawful sentence of his peers and according to the Common Law.[3] return to the index on the  'Magna Carta, 1215 - English translation' page

  10. To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.

  11. All merchants may leave or enter England in safety and security. They may stay and travel throughout England by road or by water, free from all illegal tolls, in order to buy and sell according to the ancient and rightful customs. This is except, in time of war, those merchants who are from the land at war with us. And if such merchants are found in our land at the beginning of the war, they shall be detained, without injury to their bodies or goods, until information is received by us (or by our chief justiciar) about in what way are treated our merchants, thence found in the land at war with us . If our men are safe there, the others shall be safe in our land.

  12. It shall be lawful in future for any one, keeping loyalty to the Crown, to leave our kingdom and to return safely and securely, by land and by water. This is except in time of war, when men may go, only in the public interest, for some short period. (This excludes, always, those imprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the realm, natives of any country at war with us, and merchants, who shall be treated as previously stated).

  13. If any one holding of some escheat (such as the honour of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other escheats which are in our hands and are baronies) dies, his heir shall give only the relief and service to us that he would have done to the baron, if that barony had been in the baron’s hands. We shall hold the escheat in the same manner in which the baron held it.

  14. Men who dwell outside the forest henceforth need not come before our justiciars of the forest following a general summons, unless they are named in a plea or are sureties for any person or persons arrested for forest offences.

  15. We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs only those who know the law of the realm and who wish to observe it well.

  16. All barons who have founded abbeys, for which they hold charters from the kings of England, or for which they have long-standing possession, shall have the custody of them when vacant, as they should have.

  17. All forests that have been created in our reign shall forthwith be disafforested, and similar course shall be followed for river-banks that we have made preserves during our reign.

  18. All evil customs relating to forests and warrens, foresters, warreners, sheriffs and their officers, river-banks and their wardens, shall immediately be investigated in each county by twelve sworn knights of the same county, chosen by the honest men of the county. The evil customs shall, within forty days of the said inquest, be completely and irrevocably abolished. This is provided always that we first informed, or our justiciar, if we should not be in England [4].

  19. We will immediately restore all hostages and charters, which were delivered to us by Englishmen as security for peace or for faithful service.
 
  1. We will entirely remove from their bailiwicks the kinsmen of Gerard de Athée, so that in future they shall have no office in England. The people concerned are Engelard de Cigogné, Peter, Guy, and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Mark, his return to the index on the  'Magna Carta, 1215 - English translation' pagebrothers and his nephew Geoffrey, and all their brood.

  2. As soon as peace is restored, we will banish from the kingdom all foreign-born knights, cross-bowmen, their attendants, and mercenaries who have come with horses and arms, to the kingdom’s detriment.

  3. If, without the lawful judgement of his peers, a man has been dispossessed of his lands, castles, franchises or his rights, or had them removed by us, we will at once restore these to him. If a dispute arises over this, the dispute shall be decided by the judgement of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause for securing the peace. Moreover, in all cases where possessions have been disseised or removed from anyone without the lawful judgement of his peers, by our father King Henry or our brother King Richard, and which are retained by us (or which are held by others under our warranty), we will have the usual respite period allowed to crusaders, unless a lawsuit has been started or we had ordered an enquiry before we took the cross [as a Crusader]. However, as soon as we return from our expedition, or if by chance we abandon it, we shall immediately grant full justice.

  4. We shall have the same respite (and the same manner in rendering justice [4]) concerning the disafforestation or retention of those forests [4]) which Henry our father and Richard our brother afforested, and concerning guardianship of lands under the fief of another (that is, the guardianships we had up to now because of a knight’s fee someone else held from us), and with abbeys founded in fiefs other than our own, in which the lord of the fief claims to have a right. When we return from our expedition, or if we abandon it, we will at once grant full justice to complaints about these things.

  5. No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman, for the death of anyone except her husband.

  6. All fines rendered to us unjustly and against the law of the land, and all amercements made unjustly and against the law of the land, shall be entirely remitted or else the matter settled by the decision of an majority of the five-and-twenty barons (or all of them) mentioned below in the clause for securing the peace. This decision shall be made together with Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, if he can be present, and such others as he may wish to bring with him. If the archbishop cannot be present, business shall nevertheless proceed without him. This is provided always that, if any one or more of the twenty-five barons are involved in a similar action, they are removed for this particular judgement and are replaced by others. The replacements will be sworn in as a substitute only for this business, after being selected by the rest of the twenty-five.

  7. If we have disseised or removed Welshmen from lands or liberties, or other things, without the lawful judgement of their peers (in England or in Wales), these shall be immediately restored to them. If a dispute arises over this, it shall be determined in the Marches by the judgement of their peers. English law shall apply to land holdings in England, Welsh law to those in Wales, and the law of the Marches to those in the Marches. Welshmen shall the same to us and ours.

  8. Further, where a Welshman was deprived or dispossessed of anything, without the lawful judgement of his peers (in England or in Wales [5]), by our father King Henry or our brother King Richard, and which is retained by us (or which is held by others under our warranty), we will have the usual respite period allowed to crusaders, unless a lawsuit has been started or we had ordered an enquiry before we took the cross [as a Crusader]. However, as soon as we return from our expedition, or if by chance we abandon it, we shall immediately grant full justice according to the laws of Wales and the said regions.

  9. We will immediately return the son of Llywelyn and all the hostages of Wales, and the charters handed over to us as security for peace.

  10. We will return of the sisters and hostages of Alexander, king of Scotland, his liberties and his rights, in the same manner as we shall do towards our other barons of England, unless it ought to be otherwise according to the charters that we hold from his father William, formerly king of Scotland. This matter shall be determined by the judgement of his peers in our court.

  11. Moreover, all these previously described customs and liberties which we have granted shall be maintained in our kingdom as far as it concerns our own relations toward our men. Let these customs and liberties be observed similarly by all of our kingdom,return to the index on the  'Magna Carta, 1215 - English translation' page by clergy as well as by laymen, in their relations towards their men.

  12. Since for God, for the improvement of our kingdom, and to better allay the discord arisen between us and our barons, we have granted all these concessions, and wishing that the concessions be enjoyed in their entirety with firm endurance (for ever [5]), we give and grant to the barons the following security:

    Namely, that the barons choose any twenty-five barons of the kingdom they wish, who must with all their might observe and hold, and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties we have granted and confirmed to them by this our present Charter. Then, if we, our chief justiciar, our bailiffs or any of our officials
    , offend in any respect against any man, or break any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is notified to four of the said twenty-five barons, the four shall come to us—or to our chief justicicar if we are absent from the kingdom—to declare the transgression and petition that we make amends without delay.

    And if we, or in our absence abroad the chief justice, have not corrected the transgression within forty days, reckoned from the day on which the offence was declared to us (or to the chief justice if we are out of the realm), the four barons mentioned before shall refer the matter to the rest of the twenty-five barons. Together with the community of the whole land, they shall then distrain and distress us in every way possible, namely by seizing castles, lands, possessions and in any other they can (saving only our own person and those of the queen and our children), until redress has been obtain in their opinion. And when amends have been made, they shall obey us as before.

    Whoever in the country wants to, may take an oath to obey the orders of the twenty-five barons for the execution of all the previously mentioned matters and, with the barons, to distress us to the utmost of his power. We publicly and freely give permission to every one who wishes to take this oath, and we shall never forbid any one from taking it. Indeed, all those in the land who are unwilling to this oath, we shall by our command compel them to swear to it.

    If any one of the twenty-five barons dies or leaves the country, or is in any other manner incapacitated so the previously mentioned provisions cannot be undertaken, the remaining barons of the twenty-five shall choose another in his place as they think fit, who shall be duly sworn in like the rest.

    If there is any disagreement amongst the twenty-five barons on any matter presented to them, or if some of them are unwilling or unable to be present, what the majority of those present ordain or command shall be held as fixed and established, exactly as if all twenty-five had consented in this.

    The said twenty-five barons shall swear to faithfully observe all the aforesaid articles and will do all they can to ensure that the articles are observed by others.

    And we shall procure nothing from any one, either personally or indirectly, whereby any part of these concessions and liberties might be revoked or diminished; and if any such thing has been procured, let it be void and null, and we shall never make use of it ourselves or through someone else.


  13. And all the ill-will, hatreds, and bitterness that have arisen between us and our people, clergy and laity, from the date of the quarrel, we have completely forgiven and pardoned to everyone. Moreover, we have fully forgiven and, as far as it concerns us, pardoned all transgressions occasioned by the said quarrel, between Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign [1215] and the restoration of peace, to all, both clergy and laymen, and completely forgiven, as far as this applies to us.

    Additionally, we have had letters patent drawn up for the barons, over the seals of lord Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, of the lord Henry, archbishop of Dublin, of the bishops mentioned before, and of Master Pandulf. The letters patent concern this security and the concessions previously stated.


  14. Thus, we wish and we firmly ordain that the English church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these previously determined liberties, rights, and concessions, well and in peace, freely and quietly, in their fullness and integrity, for themselves and their heirs, from us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever, as is previously described here.

An oath has been sworn, on the one hand by us and on the other by the barons, that all the aforesaid provisions shall be observed in good faith and without evil intent.

Given under our hand—the above-named and many others being witnesses—in the meadow which is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June, in the seventeenth year of our reign. return to the index on the  'Magna Carta, 1215 - English translation' page
[That is 1215—the new regnal year began on 28 May.]

 

 

Surety barons for the enforcement of the Magna Carta [1215]

As specified in Clause 61, this id the list os the twenty-five barons who acted as Sureties, or enforcers, of Magna Carta. These Barons were granted through Clause 61, authority to overrule the will of the King and to seize his castles and other possessions if necessary.

  1. William d'Albini, Lord of Belvoir Castle
  2. Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and Suffolk
  3. Hugh Bigod, Heir to the Earldoms of Norfolk and Suffolk
  4. Henry de Bohun, Earl of Hereford
  5. Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford
  6. Gilbert de Clare, heir to the earldom of Hertford
  7. John FitzRobert, Lord of Warkworth Castle
  8. Robert FitzWalter, Lord of Dunmow Castle
  9. William de Fortibus, Earl of Albemarle
  10. William Hardell, Mayor of the City of London
  11. William de Huntingfield, Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk
  12. John de Lacie, Lord of Pontefract Castle
  13. William de Lanvallei, Lord of Standway Castle
  14. William Malet, Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset
  15. Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex and Gloucester
  16. William Marshall the younger, heir to the earldom of Pembroke
  17. Roger de Montbegon, Lord of Hornby Castle
  18. Richard de Montfichet, Baron
  19. William de Mowbray, Lord of Axholme Castle
  20. Richard de Percy, Baron
  21. Saire de Quincey, Earl of Winchester
  22. Robert de Roos, Lord of Hamlake Castle
  23. Geoffrey de Saye, Baron
  24. Robert de Vere, heir to the earldom of Oxford
  25. Eustace de Vesci, Lord of Alnwick Castle

 

 

Associated documents

[Underlined documents are available. Other documents are in preparation.]

The 1215 Magna Carta – original Latin text
The 1225 Magna Carta – an English translation
The 1225 MagnaCarta– original Latin text>
Glossary
Historical background
Attacks on the substance of the Magna Carta

Colour key

Articles in light yellow were still valid until recently under the charter of 1225, but with a few minor amendments.
Articles in pink were omitted in all later reissues of the charter.

Words in light green can be found in the glossary.
Words and phrases in blue link to parts of this document.

End Notes

  1. The original manuscripts are written continuously without section breaks; here the generally accepted numbering of the clauses has been followed. There was no title or headline.

  2. This article is result of a changing preference in trial methods, a change heavily influenced by pope Innocent III’s edict at the fourth Lateran Council in 1215 that forbad trial by ordeal, a previously usual trial method.

    The Saxon invaders had brought to Britain the crude method of determining guilt, for crimes such murder, theft, robbery, harbouring, forgery, arson, through trial by ordeal. The ordeal would be by fire or by water, the belief being God would miraculously intervene to protect the innocent. If found guilty, the accused lost a hand and a foot, and was also banished.

    Later, the Normans introduced trial by battle and trial by inquisition. The latter was trial by the country (represented by a jury, usually of twelve knights or freemen). Trial by inquisition was used when trial by battle was inappropriate—the accused was a woman or an old man—or if the accused had appealed, the appeal eventually reaching the county court. A writ awarding a trial by inquisition could also be bought from the king.

    Thus, this article entitles any person to a writ of inquisition without payment, rather than submitting to trial by battle or by ordeal—“life or limb”.

    (Source: http://www.constitution.org/gje/gj_01.htm)

  3. The Magna Carta was a first attempt at separating the powers of the legislature (who make the laws), the judiciary (who pass judgement on the laws) and the executive (who carry out the judgements). Translations widely available today take no account of the intention to curb the authoritarian and arbitary actions of King John by a separation of these powers.

    The original Latin phrase vel per legem terre in Magna Carta has frequently been translated as “or by the law of the land”. This current translation differs from that literal interpretation because
    1. the phrase “Common Law” more clearly distinguishes between laws made by the sovereign, potentially and often for his benefit, and the common law developed over hundreds of years to protect all members of society and which, from 1346, the king was sworn to maintain;
    2. the Latin word vel may be translated as “and” or, commonly, as “or”. If the latter translation (“or”) is used, there is a potential implication in Article 39 that there would be occasions when the accused person was to be judged by his peers, but using the king’s arbitary self-serving law, rather than the established Common Law. In such a case, there would be a contradiction to the intentions of the Magna Carta—to curb the power and scope of the king.

    In light of the above, the common translation of per as “by” does not show sufficiently clearly that the king was being permitted merely to act in an executive fashion against his subjects, only under orders from the judiciary, who had made their order according to established law. Thus, the alternative translation of “according to” is more appropriate.[6]

  4. This was at the foot of the Manuscripts Ci and Cii, both held in the British Library.

    (There are four original manuscripts of the Magna Carta still surviving. The two held in the British Museum are designated Ci and Cii. The other two copies are at Lincoln Cathedral, designated L, and at Salisbury Cathedral, designated S.)

  5. This was at the foot of Manuscript Ci, which is one of the two manuscripts held in the British Library, and sometimes considered to be the oldest copy.

  6. Source: An Essay on the Trial by Jury, Lysander Spooner, 1852, Chapter II
 



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5490 words
prints as 10 A4 pages (on my printer and set-up)


link to briefings documents at magnacartaplus.org