The Magna Carta Project

1. The Byland Abbey Magna Carta

by Professor David Carpenter

Sophie Ambler has pointed out to me a reference to the 1215 Magna Carta in the  cartulary of the Cistercian Abbey of Byland in Yorkshire (BL Egerton 2823) as recently published by the Surtees Society. The cartulary dates to the early fifteenth century, being compiled in the reign of Henry IV.1 It does not copy out the 1215 Magna Carta but refers to it on f.56v in a list of royal charters in the abbey’s possession: ‘Carta nobis commendata Regis Johannis de communibus legibus  Anglie que dicitur Romenemede’.2 One wonders whether some or all of this description was on the back of the Charter itself.3 The description of the Charter as ‘Runnymede’ is probably considerably later than 1215 since it was in the course of the thirteenth century that the usage became established. One might also expect ‘liberties’ rather than ‘laws’ if the note had been written in 1215, as in the annotation on the back of the Lincoln engrossment. Whatever its date, the most striking part of the description is the statement that the Charter had been ‘commendata nobis’, apparently indicating that it had been entrusted to the abbey, presumably for safekeeping. It recalls the note on the back of Lacock abbey’s engrossment of the 1225 Charter, ‘ex deposito militum Wiltisir’’. One cannot, of course, be certain that what Byland possessed was an original engrossment of the Charter, but that is surely implied by the description.  Since William de Mowbray, one of the twenty-five barons of Magna Carta’s security clause, was the patron of the abbey, he might well have obtained an engrossment at Runnymede and entrusted it to Byland.4


The Cartulary of Byland Abbey, ed. J. Burton (Surtees Society, 208, 2004).


Cartulary of Byland Abbey, no.525, where the rubric is translated as ‘Charter of commendation concerning the common laws of England, granted by King John and called Runnymede’. The list says that some of the royal charters (although not Magna Carta) were marked with letters (those between ‘A’ and ‘L’). Janet Burton suggests that they were stored in ‘the chest, scrinium’, apparently the chest which also had the Mowbray Charters: Cartulary of Byland Abbey, pp.187, xxxii-iii. 


For the rubrics replicating endorsements on the charters, see Cartulary of Byland Abbey, p.xxxv.


For the Mowbrays and Byland, see also Charters of the Honour of Mowbray, ed. D. E. Greenway (London, 1972), pp. xli-ii, 274.

The Copies of Magna Carta