The Magna Carta Project

III. Oxford, Bodleian MS Add. C. 188, fo. 1r.-4r.

by Dr Sophie Ambler

This statute book of c. 1300 preserves what appears to be a copy of the Charter taken from the 1265 inspeximus, dated 15 February. The compiler was apparently interested in the inspeximus only in so far as it provided him with the text of the 1225 Magna Carta, so he took no care to preserve the address clause of the inspeximus nor its witness list. This has led to a rather confused presentation. The compiler gives the text of the 1225 issue with the first three names from the 1225 witness list, together with the date 15 February 1265. There is no indication that the witness list and date do not belong together.

The date ascribed to the inspeximus in this version (15 February) is unusual. The version of the inspeximus sent to the counties of Somerset and Dorset is dated 13 March, whilst that sent to Middlesex is dated 14 March.1 The Bodleian copy, by contrast, is dated 15 February. How are we to explain these anomalies? The Somerset and Middlesex texts appear to represent a record of the act that closed the parliament, on 11 March, in Westminster Hall, when letters were read out on King Henry’s behalf announcing his commitment to maintain the Charters, and a sentence of excommunication was pronounced. That Henry had actually taken his oath to uphold the Charters at least a month before this point is suggested by Arnold Fitz Thedmar’s account of the announcement made in the chapter house of Westminster Abbey (on 14 February) and supported by the date given in the version of the inspeximus preserved in the Bodleian statute book (15 February).2

It is possible that the council initially intended to make the announcement about the Charter's confirmation only once, at the chapter house meeting, beginning on 15 February to issue engrossments of Magna Carta. This would explain the date of the Bodleian text. If this was the case, then the fact that the chapter house ceremony left unsettled the matter of the lord Edward’s release might well have disturbed those in attendance who were determined to see the business resolved. Thus negotiations for the release of Edward and his cousin, Henry of Almain, continued until 10 March, when a notice in the Patent Rolls records that Henry de Montfort, eldest son of Simon and erstwhile guardian of the prisoners, had delivered his cousins back to the king ‘by the common accord of the prelates and magnates of the land.’3 On the following day, 11 March, the official terms of Edward’s release were issued and the great ceremony was held in Westminster Hall to demonstrate publicly that the council had released its hostages, to publicise the council’s official account of events to the assembled multitude, and to pronounce the sentence of excommunication in support of the charters of liberties and the Montfortian statutes. The chancery then began issuing its inspeximus of the charters for distribution to the counties. Since the compiler of the Bodleian statute book did not include the address clause of the inspeximus nor its witness list, however, it is impossible to make proper comparisons between his version (supposedly dated 15 February) and those issued on 13 and 14 March.

As David Carpenter has shown, changes were apparently made to the text of the 1225 Magna Carta in the 1265 inspeximus, which are preserved in this copy. In the clause on baronial relief, the amount owed by a baron is given as 100 marks (as opposed to £100, as it has been previously) and the earl is said to owe his relief ‘de comitatu integro’, that is, ‘for a whole earldom’ (as opposed to ‘de baronia comitis integra’, as it had been previously). Read more about these changes and their significance in David Carpenter’s Feature of the Month for December 1214.

1

The version sent to Somerset and Dorset is preserved in BL, Harley MS. 489; that sent to Middlesex in BL, Cotton MS. Claudius D II and Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS. 70.

2

De Antiquis Legibus Liber. Cronica Maiorum et Vicecomitum Londoniarum, ed. T. Stapleton (Camden Society, 1846), 71.

3

CPR 1258-66, 412; Foedera, Conventiones, Litterae etc., or Rymer’s Foedera, 1066-1383, ed. A. Clarke et al., vol. 1, part i (London, 1816), 452.

The Copies of Magna Carta