The Magna Carta Project

I. A late thirteenth-century statute book: Huntington Library California MS. H.M. 25782, fos 1-6v, fully analysed in V.H. Galbraith, ‘A draft of Magna Carta (1215)’, Proceedings of the British Academy (53, 1967), pp.345-60.

by Professor David Carpenter

Galbraith described the Huntington volume as ‘a handsome little book of early statutes which seems to have been compiled before 1290 and to have belonged to the famous Isabella de Fortibus (ob. 1293) or her legal agents.’ The 1215 Charter is the first document in the volume and appears under the heading ‘Incipit provisiones de Ronnemede, scilicet carta Regis Johannis’.1 

The variants from the authorized version, apart from minor changes in wordage and word order, are as follows.

In the preamble, many of the Christian names of John’s counsellors are omitted, as are some names altogether. 

In chapter 2, the baronial relief is 100 marks not £100.

A section has been omitted from chapter 37, apparently by homoeoteleuton.

In chapter 41, the section ‘ad emendum et vendendum...inveniantur’ is omitted. This seems simply to be a mistake at some point in the process of transmission because the passage does not make sense as it stands.

In chapter 48 of the Huntington copy, the abuses revealed by the knights, within forty days, ‘penitus deleantur ita quod numquam revocentur ita quod nos prius hoc sciamus...’. The authorized text reads: ‘penitus ita quod numquam revocentur deleantur per eosdem its quod nos prius hoc sciamus...’. This was a chapter redrafted at Runnymede so variations are not surprising.

The chapter on fines appears between chapter 48, on the inquiry into local abuses by the twelve knights in each county, and chapter 49, on the surrender of hostages and charters. This is its place in the Articles of the Barons where, according to the conventional numbering, it is 37. In the Charter, by contrast, it loses its place and drops down to 55 between one new chapter, 54, on accusations by women and a much remodelled chapter on Welshmen who had suffered disseisin. Probably the chapter on fines lost its place in the course of the redrafting which changed the Articles/Huntington text to that eventually found in the Charter.

The Articles demand

Ut fines qui facti sunt pro dotibus, maritagiis, hereditatibus at amerciamentis iniuste et contra legem tere omnino condonentur  

In the Huntington version this becomes

Omnes fines qui facti sunt nobiscum pro dotibus,  maritagiis, hereditatibus et amerciamentis et aliis iniuste contra legem terre omnino condonentur

In Magna Carta itself, however, reference to dowers, marriages and inheritances is dropped and the Chapter simply covers all fines.

Omnes fines qui iniuste et contra legem terre facti sunt nobiscum, et omnia amerciamenta facta iniuste et contra legem terre omnino condonentur

The scope of the chapter had thus been widened in an important way. Instead of limiting the fines subject to pardon (other than the vague reference to ‘and other things’, ‘et aliis’) to those for dowers, marriages, and inheritances, it now covered all fines without qualification. It thus embraced, amongst other things, the fines made with John to assuage his anger and recover his benevolence.

The whole of the first part of chapter 57, on giving justice to Welshmen disseised by Henry II and Richard I once John had ended his crusade, is missing. This makes unintelligible the final sentence, which does appear, where John promises to give full justice when he returns from the crusade. This was a chapter which was drafted at Runnymede so perhaps the copy goes back to a draft in which the reading was unclear.  

In the security clause, as set out in the Articles of the Barons, John was to give security through the charters of the archbishop, bishops and Pandulf that he would seek nothing from the pope by which his concessions might be revoked. In the Huntington copy, as in Magna Carta, this becomes (in chapter 63) simply the promise to give the barons letters patent of the ecclesiastics testifying to (and thus in effect guaranteeing) the text of the concessions and the security clause.2 However, in the Huntington version, the pope still appears:

‘Et nos nihil impetrabimus per nos nec per alium a domino papa per quod aliqua istarum concessionum et libertatum revocetur vel minuatur’.

In Magna Carta itself, the reference to the pope is dropped and the clause reads ‘Et nos nihil impetrabimus ab aliquo per nos....’.

My interpretation of what happened here is as follows. Langton first made clear that he could not issue letters barring John from contact with the pope, so this demand was dropped. However, the barons then had a second go (a measure of the importance of the issue) and, as the Huntington copy shows, drafted a clause preventing John appealing to the pope but this time without any ecclesiastical guarantee. Langton, however, made clear that this too would not do and in Magna Carta itself John’s promise not to seek anything from the pope becomes just a promise not to seek anything from anyone. 

In Huntington’s version of John’s undertaking to secure letters from Langton and the other ecclesiastics guaranteeing the text of the Charter, the name of Henry archbishop of Dublin is omitted. He does not feature in the Articles either, but appears in Magna Carta as he does amongst the list of John’s counsellors at the start. It may be that this is just a mistake. On the other hand, perhaps the Huntington copy derives from a draft made before it was realized that the name of Archbishop Henry needed to go in to match up with the ecclesiastical counsellors at the start. Interestingly the Salisbury engrossment of the Charter also omits the name of Archbishop Henry.

In the section about John securing the letters testimonial, the Huntington text has the future tense rather than the perfect of Magna Carta: ‘faciemus habere’ instead of ‘fecimus fieri litteras testimoniales’. Earlier in the chapter, when John gives licence to everyone to swear the oath, Huntington has the future tense rather than the present: ‘dabimus’ as opposed to ‘damus’. The future tense is not found, however, in other members of the family.   

In the final dating clause the Charter is given not at Runnymede on 15 June but at Windsor.

At the end there is the note ‘Expliciunt provisiones de Ronnemede’


I am a grateful to the Huntington Library for sending me images of the folios with the Charters of John and Henry III.


As noted below, the Huntington list of the ecclesiastics differs in one respect from that found in Magna Carta.

The Copies of Magna Carta