The Magna Carta Project

The Date of Magna Carta

June 2015, by Professor David Carpenter

On 15 June 2015 the great and good of the land are gathering with Her Majesty the Queen at Runnymede to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. The date seems secured and sanctified by the Great Charter itself. In its final clause King John declares that it has been ‘Given by our hand in the meadow of Runnymede between Windsor and Staines on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign’, so on 15 June 1215. 15 June 1215 has not, however, gone unchallenged as the date of Magna Carta. Indeed, distinguished historians have argued that the date is nothing more nor less than ‘fictitious’.1 In reality, it was not until 19 June that the terms of the Charter were agreed. This was the view propounded by the greatest of all Magna Carta historians, Sir James Holt, in both the first (1965) and second (1992) editions of his classic book Magna Carta.2 It reflects the persuasiveness of Holt’s arguments and the power of his authority that in some accounts of Runnymede, no reference is made to 15 June at all.  

If those assembling this year at Runnymede have ever worried about the true date of Magna Carta, I hope my previous work has re-assured them. As long ago as 1996, in the first chapter of my Reign of Henry III, I sought to vindicate the 15 June date. I did the same in my book Magna Carta, published earlier this year in the Penguin Classics series.3 My view has gained some purchase. It was accepted by Ifor Rowlands in an important article on the writ for the publication of Magna Carta.4 15 June also appears as the date on which Magna Carta was finalized in the two recent biographies of King John by Stephen Church and Marc Morris.5 Debate, however, continues. In their introduction to the forthcoming third edition of Holt’s, Magna Carta, two of his former pupils, George Garnett and John Hudson, seek to revive and re-enforce his views.6  Their conclusion is as follows. ‘It therefore seems that Holt was correct to stick to the position that 19 June was the date of the final settlement....Failing new evidence, it seems likely to us that Holt’s view will continue to hold the field.’7

The debate over the date of Magna Carta concerns more than a few days either way. It is central to an understanding of how the Charter emerged. If, moreover, my own reconstruction is right, it shows that baronial elements from the start were dissatisfied with the Charter. This then helps explain why the Magna Carta peace so quickly collapsed. But am I right? Garnett and Hudson are formidable historians. Their arguments are perceptive and powerful and deserve close attention. If I remain unpersuaded, it is with an awareness that the evidence permits differences of view and prevents absolute conclusions. I will arrange my review of the debate under various headings.

Magna Carta place-date clause

The dating clause of Magna Carta 1215, here in one of the British Library's two exemplars, Cotton Augustus C ii

The date given in the Charter

As we have seen, the Charter ends with John’s statement that it has been ‘Given by our hand in the meadow of Runnymede between Windsor and Staines on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign’. In Latin, ‘Data per manum nostram in Prato quod vocatur Runimed’ inter Windleshor’ et Stanes Quintodecimo die Junii Anno Regni Nostri Septimodecimo’.8 This conclusion appears in all four surviving engrossments of the 1215 Charter. It is also found in the letter in which Archbishop Langton and his fellow ecclesiastics set out the final text and guarantee its contents. It is surprising how lightly this testimony has been set aside. The ‘given by the hand’ clause with its place and date became standard in English royal charters from 1189, being taken over from the papal chancery. All those who have written about the clause, whether in papal, royal or episcopal documents agree that, in usual practice, it indicated the place where and the date when the ‘giver’ authorized the drawing up or engrossment of the final document.9 In the case of John’s chancery, there was nothing frozen and formulaic about the clause for the name of the giver (sometimes the king, more often the chancellor or a chancery official) frequently changes as does the place and date of the giving. The same is true in the parallel acta of Hugh of Wells, bishop of Lincoln in 1215, who was, significantly, a former chancery clerk of King John. In a study of the letters in which Hugh instituted clerks to livings, David Smith’s conclusion was that the date indicated the day when the letter was authorized even though the act of institution itself might have taken place a good deal earlier.10 If that was true of Magna Carta we might suppose it was even earlier than 15 June!

In royal practice, there is one possible exception to the date being that of authorization. Occasionally it may instead have represented the day on which the document was actually written out. In many cases, of course, authorizing writing and indeed sealing could have taken place on the same day. When, however, large numbers of engrossments of the same document had to be made, there might well be a time lag before they were all finished. This may be the reason why a surviving engrossment of the Forest Charter of 1217 has a date almost certainly later than that of its authorization.11 It may explain too why the letter in which John enforced the taking of the oath to Magna Carta’s twenty-five barons has the date 19 June on the enrolled copy, but 20 June on the only surviving original.12 This does not, however, affect the date of Magna Carta. Whether its date refers to when it was written or when it was authorized, it was equally ready by 15 June. In fact, it seems highly unlikely that all four surviving engrossments were written on the fifteenth itself. Whether any engrossments were completed on that day at all is problematic (a point to which we will return) and John was still issuing Charters as late as 22 July. The surviving engrossments could well have been written days or weeks after 15 June. That all, nonetheless, have the same 15 June date, one which agrees with the date in the text sanctioned by Langton and his fellows, suggests that the date in Magna Carta does indeed refer to the date of its authorization.13 I say ‘suggests’ because chancery practice was subject to variations for all kinds of reasons, including the vagaries and mistakes of individual clerks. One cannot rule out the possibility that Magna Carta might bear a date earlier than its authorization. But one would need strong arguments to support such a view before discounting the normal and natural meaning of the dating clause – that the Charter was authorized at Runnymede on 15 June. I do not think those arguments have been forthcoming.


Why has the 15 June date been doubted?

The arguments for rejecting the 15 June date for the Charter have all turned on the well documented fact that it was not till 19 June that peace was actually declared between John and the barons. Two points are thus said to follow. The first is that John would never have authorized the Charter before the peace on the nineteenth because he would never have made concessions to those still in rebellion against him.  The second is that if the Charter was authorized on 15 June, there is then an inexplicable delay or ‘hiatus’ before the peace on the nineteenth.

It is not difficult, in my view, to provide answers to both these objections. In doing so, moreover, one is constructing hypotheses to explain the relationship between two documented dates – the 15 June date for the Charter and the 19 June date for the peace. The contrary school uses hypotheses in order to overturn a documented date, namely that in the Charter. Even if my ideas are wrong, perhaps the first task should be to see whether there are other ways of explaining the two dates, before dismissing one of them altogether.

Let us take first the question of the ‘hiatus’ between the Charter and the peace.  That there was a hiatus is suggested not just by the documented dates but by some passages in the Charter itself. Thus chapter 51 states that John will dismiss his foreign soldiers ‘immediately after the peace’. In other words at the point the Charter was authorized the peace was still in the future. The Charter also shows that the barons had yet to choose the twenty-five of their number who were to enforce the Charter, whereas they had almost certainly done so by the nineteenth. If the Charter’s final text dated from then, it would surely have referred to the twenty-five whom the barons ‘have chosen’ rather than ‘will chose’.

If, therefore, there was indeed a delay between the Charter and the peace, how to explain it?  Here my answer is that there was considerable discontent amongst the barons and knights gathered at Runnymede with the deal struck by their leaders. It was only on the nineteenth that the agreement was generally accepted and peace was proclaimed.14

Garnett and Hudson are critical of this hypothesis. ‘Baronial negotiators, like royal ones, were hardly held incommunicado on the meadow...It would have been easy enough for them to refer new proposals back to those they represented’.15 In other words the negotiators would have had no difficulty carrying their party with them. Yet that hypothesis is directly contradicted by the Crowland chronicler. He tells us that certain ‘magnates’ from across the Humber, under the pretext that they had not been present at Runnymede (and thus had not been embraced by the peace), resumed hostilities.16 Clearly they were dissatisfied with the deal struck and one can see why. The Charter virtually ignored the afforestations of Henry II, failed to reduce the baronial relief from £100 to 100 marks, did not concede the twenty-five barons control over royal castles, and backed down on preventing John appealing to the pope. These were all areas of acrimonious debate. In giving way over them, the baronial leaders must have grievously disappointed many amongst the great crowd of barons and knights ‘well armed at all points’ encamped at Runnymede.17 The leaders were certainly men of great power but, as Holt showed more than anyone else, they could not simply dictate to their followers and associates. However much they tried to carry everyone with them, this cannot have been easy to do.18 Indeed so little was there cohesion and consensus amongst the barons that, at the time the Charter was authorized, they had been unable to choose the twenty-five of their fellows who were to enforce it. In the event, as I have argued, the peace was only agreed after John made further concessions. He dismissed his chief justiciar, Peter des Roches, agreed the barons could hold London, and set immediately in motion the taking of the oath to the twenty-five barons and the reform of local government by the twelve knights in every county.19

Why then was John prepared to authorize and issue the Charter before the peace? Surely he would never have granted liberties to those still in rebellion against him. But in authorizing the Charter on 15 June, he was doing no such thing. The nearest parallel is 1216 when his son, Henry III, issued his first version of Magna Carta although half the kingdom was in rebellion against him. Neither king was making concessions to rebels. It was only when rebels returned to the king’s allegiance that they would enjoy the liberties granted in the Charter. For John and Henry, the whole point of the Charter was to draw the rebels back into the king’s peace. After the baronial negotiators at Runnymede had sworn to the Charter’s terms (a point discussed below), John may well have assumed that the peace would go through immediately and without difficulty. But, deeply suspicious as he was, perhaps he had doubts, hence the stipulation that it would only be ‘after the peace’ that he would dismiss his mercenaries. John hoped and believed the Charter would bring peace, but if it was rejected, he would at least have split the baronial party, embellished his reputation as a benevolent king, and established the best possible position for continuing the war.

It is, of course, possible to argue (although this is not a line taken by Garnett and Hudson), that while the terms of the Charter were agreed on the fifteenth, John only authorized its engrossment and sealing after the peace on the nineteenth. A refinement of that view would be that John just prevented the Charter being sealed until then. I find these scenarios improbable. John, as Holt himself argued, had needed to seal the schedule of baronial demands known as the Articles of the Barons on 10 June to prove he accepted them as the basis for the negotiations. He had an equal need to demonstrate his commitment to Magna Carta if it was to lead to peace. One can imagine the doubts – ‘has the bastard really committed?’ – if the baronial leaders had no sealed Charter to show for their efforts.

Garnett and Hudson are sceptical about my further hypothesis that it was John who  brought the negotiations to an end, saying almost ‘take it or leave it’ to the baronial leaders.20 But this would fit perfectly with the truce, proclaimed on 10 June, expiring on the morning of the fifteenth, an expiry to which Garnett and Hudson rightly draw attention. In any scenario the truce must have been prolonged, for there was no peace till the nineteenth, but John may well have used its expiry to force the pace and get the baronial leaders to accept his offer. He thus secured his victories over the forest, the baronial relief, and the pope, and also kept the names of the yet unchosen twenty-five barons out of the Charter, thus, or so he hoped, gravely weakening its chances of enforcement. Garnet and Hudson agree that the fifteenth was seen as a deadline, but as a deadline merely for reaching ‘some sort of preliminary deal’.21 This view presumably derives from their belief (discussed later) that on the fifteenth a preliminary deal was all that was achieved. But it seems far more likely that the 15 June was set as the termination of the truce because John by then expected the negotiations to be over. On the 10 June, he had probably agreed the Articles of the Barons as the basis of the settlement. Another four or five days must have seemed ample time to turn them into a Charter and reach a final agreement on its terms.


The oath sworn to the Charter

Garnett and Hudson question my ideas about the oath sworn to accept the Charter.22 Here Holt’s view was that John swore personally to the Charter in a great general oath-taking, at the time of the peace on 19 June. I suggested that this was at odds with the Charter itself which indicates that the oath had already been sworn. Manifestly if the Charter was indeed authorized on 15 June, it cannot have referred to an oath-taking ceremony on the nineteenth. The Charter also says not that John swore personally but that the oath was taken ‘ex parte regis’ and ‘ex parte baronum’. Since John had earlier given letters of conduct to those coming to negotiate ‘ex parte baronum’, I suggested that the oath was sworn on the one side by the baronial leaders who negotiated on behalf of the barons and, on the other side, by the counsellors who negotiated on behalf of the king.23 This idea fitted in with the hypothesis that, having accepted the Charter themselves, the baronial leaders had to then bring the general body of barons in behind the settlement. Garnett and Hudson criticize my translation of ‘ex parte’ as ‘on behalf of’ (Holt translated it ‘on our part and on the part of the barons’), but I think, however, translated, ‘on behalf of’ is here meant.24 It clearly has that meaning in John’s letters of conduct. Garnett and Hudson also say that ‘Carpenter offers no reason why the king should have permitted or wanted proxies to swear on his behalf’.25 I had not thought it necessary to do so, but I will certainly offer a reason now. It was common for kings to have oaths sworn on their behalf rather than to swear them in person. Thus King Peter of Aragon in 1205 announced that two nobles had sworn ‘on my soul (super animam meam)’ that he would observe the concessions in his charter to Catalonia, a charter with distinct parallels to Magna Carta.26 In 1213 John’s own submission to the pope was sworn ‘on his soul’ by the count of Boulogne, and the earls of Salisbury, Warenne and Ferrers.27 In 1237 King Henry III and King Alexander II had nobles swear on their souls that they would keep the great peace treaty between England and Scotland.28 The reason for kings not swearing in person was that to do so was thought inconsistent with the royal dignity, and John had every reason to stand on his dignity in 1215.29 Holt, in his response to my 1996 chapter, remained firm about John’s oath: ‘John swore all right’. I would turn that round. Had John done something so remarkable as to swear in person, ‘Magna Carta would have said so all right.’


‘One obvious objection to Carpenter’s case’

According to Garnett and Hudson, ‘One obvious objection to Carpenter’s case that the final version of Magna Carta as extant in the surviving engrossments of 1215 was agreed and issued later that same day at Runnymede is the prodigious level of productivity it assumes on the part of draftsmen and scribes’.30 I do not see this as a very significant objection. It relates not to when the Charter was agreed and authorized but to the time taken to draft, engross and seal it. As a matter of fact, on that question I have no strong views. Indeed, as far as I can see, I never actually said the Charter was ‘issued later that same day at Runnymede’. I said it was ‘immediately engrossed and sealed’ which is not quite the same thing. Whether engrossments were ready on 15 June is problematic but not impossible. These were long June days, with the sun rising before 5 a.m.. If John left his base at Windsor in the early morning to ride the three and a half miles to Runnymede, the final negotiations could well have been concluded before noon. There is evidence that engrossments were made not from clean copies but from corrected draft material, so that would have saved time.31 It has been calculated that it takes about eight hours to write out the Charter, so even if the scribes laboured back at Windsor rather than at Runnymede, they could have completed their work on the fifteenth, assuming they started in the early afternoon. On the other hand, it is equally possible that the scribes did not complete or even begin their work until the sixteenth. If negotiations only finished late on the fifteenth, this would certainly have been the case. Whatever the truth here, we have already referred to the political reasons which necessitated the speedy production of the sealed Charter. John, to be sure, was not in the business of pumping out engrossments. He wanted people to know about his gracious concession to the kingdom but was very reluctant to broadcast the poisonous contents. Charters were still being dragged out of him as late as 22 July. But John equally knew that unless he produced some sealed engrossments at Runnymede there would be no peace.   


Why does 15 June appear in Magna Carta if it is not its actual date?

For those who argue that 15 June is not the true date of Magna Carta, the great crux is to explain why it nonetheless bears a 15 June date. In the first edition of his Magna Carta, Holt suggested that 15 June was preserved because the day saw a solemn agreement to accept the Articles of the Barons as the basis for the settlement.32 This solution had many difficulties, one being that it created its own ‘hiatus’ between 10 and 15 June. After all, Holt had also argued (convincingly to my mind) that on 10 June, John had set his seal to the Articles as the basis for the settlement. If so, nothing at all seemed to have happened between 10 and 15 June. By the time of Holt’s second edition in 1992 a further difficulty had appeared in a discovery made by V.H. Galbraith. This was a copy of the Charter, written into a late thirteenth-century statute book preserved in the Huntington Library in California.33 The copy differed from the final Charter, notably in its chapters on the baronial relief (100 marks not £100), on fines (only applying to some categories not all), and on retaining the ban on John appealing to the pope. It was ‘given’ by John on 15 June not at Runnymede but at Windsor. Galbraith argued that it was ‘the penultimate draft’ of the Charter, before John moved from Windsor to Runnymede for the final negotiations.34 The copy certainly seemed to show that by the fifteenth negotiations had advanced well beyond the Articles of the Barons.

Holt’s reaction in his second edition to Galbraith’s discovery was uncharacteristically ambivalent, not to say contradictory. On the one hand he left his main text largely unchanged and still said that ‘the most likely explanation’ for the 15 June date in the Charter was an agreement on that day to accept the Articles as the basis for the settlement. On the other hand, in an Appendix which discussed Galbraith’s discovery, he allowed that its text might have been a draft presented at Runnymede and that ‘its date could well explain why 15 June is the date of all the exemplifications.’35

Garnett and Hudson in their reconstruction attempt in effect to reconcile Holt’s two explanations. In the process they solve one of his problems, that of the hiatus between 10 and 15 June, only to create others. Their explanation for the 15 June date is as follows.


‘The Charter may have recorded its date as 15 June because it was then that both sides accepted an authoritative penultimate draft based on the Articles. This was deemed to be the warrant for the eventual final version, which nevertheless embodied changes to that penultimate draft...’.36


This scenario depends, of course, on assuming that Galbraith’s text was ‘an authoritative penultimate draft’. I doubt that very much. When Galbraith wrote, he, like everyone else, was unaware that there are, in monastic cartularies and statute books, many other copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, which preserve readings different from those in the final authorized version.37 Some of these have the Charter being given by John on the fifteenth not at Windsor but at Runnymede. If one were to put the variant texts into sequence, these Runnymede copies have far more claim to be the ‘penultimate draft’ than the text Galbraith discovered. They place the baronial relief at £100 and omit any reference to the pope, while still preserving a variant version of the chapter on fines. They are, therefore, closer to the final Charter than the Huntington copy and absolutely compatible with Magna Carta being agreed on the fifteenth at Runnymede. In fact, however, an attempt to sequence these copies would in my view be misguided, for whether any of them derive from official and ‘authoritative’ drafts of the Charter is highly questionable. The most likely explanation for these texts is that, with official engrossments of Magna Carta only appearing gradually, some of those involved at Runnymede made their own unofficial copies, often using draft materials (of which the negotiations must have generated a whole corpus) in order to do so. It may be that the preservation of variant texts was deliberate, designed to keep alive such things as the 100 mark baronial relief and the ban on appealing to the pope. Alternatively it is possible that texts were copied without any precise awareness of where they differed from the authorized version. Those writing up these copies may themselves have supplied the dating clauses, the Windsor variant stemming from the knowledge that during the negotiations John was often at Windsor.38 Certainly the dating clauses are fictional for John never authorized, never ‘gave by the hand’, these versions since all of them contain things which neither he nor the barons agreed.39

The idea of an ‘agreed penultimate draft’ may also give a false impression of how the negotiations proceeded. That was most likely in a piecemeal, incremental way, with agreement building up chapter by chapter. Quite probably some of the more complex and controversial chapters were drafted and redrafted on separate pieces of parchment and only at the last stage incorporated into a text from which the final Charter could be engrossed. This would help explain how some of the most worked over chapters in the Articles of the Barons got shuffled into a different order in Magna Carta.  Even at the end, some engrossments, as we have said, seem to have been written up not from a clean draft but from a text where corrections had been made, hence the way the scribes of both the originals now in the British Library omitted the same passages and had to add them in at the bottom. They were presumably copying from the same or a similar text where the passages had been included in a way which was unclear.40

It is highly questionable, therefore, whether there was an ‘authoritative penultimate draft’ which might have given its date to Magna Carta. Even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that Galbraith’s copy was such a document, it remains difficult to see why its date should appear in the Charter. Holt at least dignified the fifteenth with a solemn adherence to the Articles. Garnett and Hudson give it merely ‘some sort of preliminary deal’ embodied in a ‘penultimate draft’ ‘accepted’ by both sides. But the ‘penultimate draft’ was not ‘accepted’. While it shows the Charter was largely in place, there remained disagreement about the size of the baronial relief, the scope of the chapter on fines, and the ban on John appealing to the pope. In Garnett and Hudson’s view, it took another four days before agreement could be reached. Why on the nineteenth the date of a ‘preliminary deal’ four days earlier should grace the Charter, rather than the date of the final deal itself, is hard to understand.

It is also very difficult to see how the ‘penultimate draft’ could have been the ‘warrant’ for the final Charter. The fact that John appears as its ‘giver’ had no weight at all for he certainly ‘gave’ no such document. He could not have done so for in the words of Garnett and Hudson, the eventual Charter ‘embodied changes to that penultimate draft’. Those changes, moreover, though brief in text were important in substance, affecting as they did the clauses on the baronial relief, fines and the pope. Once these changes had been made and agreed, John must then have formally authorized the final Charter. He had authorized nothing before that. If his authorization took place later than 15 June, why does the Charter not say so? Even in Garnett and Hudson’s reconstruction, the dating clause was altered so that Windsor in the ‘penultimate draft’ became Runnymede in the Charter. Garnett and Hudson’s Magna Carta, therefore, is left with a curious and unexplained disjunction between the place of its authorization – Runnymede, which was altered so it was right – and its date, 15 June, which left unaltered so it was wrong!

None of this is to deny that the date in a charter could occasionally refer to something other than the date of its authorization. That seems to have been the case with the Durham Forest Charter of 1217. There, however, the date was later than the authorization, not earlier, probably because the date was that of the Charter’s engrossment.41 Magna Carta, by contrast, if Garnett and Hudson are right, bears a date before it could have been authorized and engrossed at all. In my view no convincing reasons have been advanced as to why that should be. The 15 June was dignified by the acceptance of neither the Articles of the Barons nor some ‘authoritative penultimate draft’. It was dignified by acceptance of Magna Carta itself.



A great debt is owed to George Garnett and John Hudson for the vigour and ingenuity with which they have revived the debate about the date of Magna Carta. Everyone will now have to think again about the issue and test out the rival hypotheses. I myself, for what it is worth, have modified some of my arguments, although still confidently concluding that 15 June was the date on which Magna Carta was agreed and authorized. Others may not share my confidence. I hope the debate continues.  


Epilogue: Holt’s own reaction to my 1996 chapter

In 1992 Holt very kindly sent me a copy of the second edition of his Magna Carta. Reading that wonderful book again, I was struck by his ideas about the date of Magna Carta as I had not been when reading the first edition. The reason was that since the first edition I had researched the meaning of the ‘data per manum’ clause in royal charters, this in connection with writing articles about two of Henry III’s chancellors, Ralph de Neville and Thomas de Cantilupe.42 Having seen the general consensus that the clause indicated the place and date when and where the ‘giver’ authorized the drawing up of the document, I was puzzled by the ease with which Holt over-rode this evidence for the date of Magna Carta. The first chapter in The Reign of Henry III grew from there. When my book appeared in the spring of 1996 I sent Holt at once a copy. It was sometime before he responded. Indeed, he only did so just before we were due to meet at a Pipe Roll Society event in late June. He then sent me a short covering letter and computer print-out with a whole series of detailed comments. These were about both my chapter 1, on the dating and making of Magna Carta, and my chapter 2, which offered a critique of the new chapter in his Magna Carta on justice and jurisdiction.

It a great regret that I cannot now find this print-out, despite many efforts to do so. Perhaps it is tucked away in some file. Perhaps it has been lost completely in various moves and clear outs. Holt’s main points, however, expressed in his familiar punchy style, are very fixed in my mind. He dismissed altogether my critique of his chapter on justice and jurisdiction: ‘a fine old piece of rhetoric but almost totally misconceived as your brighter students will be able to tell you in a moment’. On the other hand, I will always remember his compliments about the chapter on the dating and making of Magna Carta. He congratulated me on the ‘tough thinking’ which lay behind it, and added that ‘Cheney would have liked this, and Galbraith would have relished it.’ It was very good of Garnett and Hudson to take my memory on trust and include these compliments in their introduction – before, that is, going on to say my views on the date of Magna Carta too were in effect ‘totally misconceived’! I am not sure, however, that was Holt’s opinion. As I have said, he disagreed with me about John’s oath: ‘John swore all right’. (So he did but not in person.) He also thought I made events at Runnymede sound rather like trade union negotiations in which the leaders had to sell the settlement to their members. (Well I am not sure that is so wrong.). He did not, however, directly challenge me about the date of Magna Carta. My own feeling (perhaps wishful) is that he thought I might be right.43 Alas we will never know. When I saw Holt at the Pipe Roll Society meeting, I said I would send him a reply to his comments. I can see him now waving this away: ‘No don’t, let’s meet to discuss it’. But we never did.



C.R. Cheney, ‘The twenty-five barons of Magna Carta’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 50 (1967-8), p.280.


J.C. Holt, Magna Carta (Cambridge, 1965), pp.155-64; 2nd edition, pp.244-53.


D.A. Carpenter, ‘The dating and making of Magna Carta’, in The Reign of Henry III (London, 1996), pp.1-16; Magna Carta (London, 2015), pp.361-6. ‘The dating and making of Magna Carta’ reviews previous opinions and shows how those of Holt have been accepted. It also has a fuller discussion of various points and fuller references than are offered here.


I.W. Rowlands, ‘The text and distribution of the writ for the publication of Magna Carta’, English Historical Review, 114 (2009), p.1422 note 1. This is recognized by Garnett and Hudson, ‘Introduction’, p.26 note 154.


S. Church, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant (London, 2015), pp.227-9 and p.308 n.27; M. Morris, King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta (London, 2015), p.259. I would, however, differ with some features in both these accounts.


J.C. Holt, Magna Carta, 3rd edition (Cambridge, 2015), with an introduction by George Garnett and John Hudson. The discussion of the date is between pp.25-31. I am grateful to George and John for sending me a pre-publication copy of their introduction.


Garnet and Hudson, ‘Introduction’, p.31.


The spelling of the place names and capitalization here is that found in the Lincoln Magna Carta: Carpenter, Magna Carta, p.68.


I review the literature in ‘the dating and making of Magna Carta’, pp. 4-5. I wonder whether, in origin and perhaps indeed in continuing practice, the term ‘given by the hand’ indicated a physical act in which the ‘giver’ handed a draft of the document to the scribe who was to write it out. In 1265 Henry III ‘with his own hand’ folded the letter patent granting an annual allowance to his chancellor: CPR 1258-66, p.416. This, however, was an engrossment not a draft.


The Acta of Hugh of Wells: bishop of Lincoln 1209-1235, ed. D.M. Smith (Lincoln Record Society, 88, 2000), pp.xxxviii-lii.


I have suggested that in my ‘Copies of Magna Carta’ on this website. See below note 41.


Rowlands, ‘Text and distribution of the writ for publication’, pp.1422-3. There are exceptional cases where an engrossment of a John charter has a date later than the enrolled copy, although the texts are otherwise more or less identical. See J.B. Edwards, ‘The English royal chamber and chancery in the reign of King John’ (Cambridge University D.Phil. thesis, 1974), p.87. This too may be the result of the engrossment bearing the date of its actual writing out, whereas the enrolment was copied from a draft. However as Edwards point out in her pioneering discussion of the differences between enrolments and engrossments (between pp.81-9), we have also to allow for the mistakes of clerks. The whole question will be transformed when the large number of John originals collected by Nicholas Vincent have been analysed.


When the chancery of Henry II ‘renewed’ a charter by issuing a fresh engrossment, sometimes years after the original was issued, it retained the place where the original was witnessed, although the new engrossment might have been written ‘almost anywhere in the Angevin empire’. See T.A.M. Bishop, Scriptores Regis: Facsimiles to identify and illustrate the hands of royal scribes in original charters of Henry I, Stephen and Henry II (Oxford, 1961), p.35. I owe this reference to Nicholas Vincent.


In an enrolled letter dated 18 June addressed to one of his captains, John announced that a ‘firm peace’ had been made on the nineteenth at Runnymede. This would have been the case by the time the captain received the letter: RLP, p.143b. If the date is correct, it shows that John was confident on the 18th that there would be peace.


Garnett and Hudson, ‘Introduction’, p. 30.


Memoriale fratris Walteri de Coventria, ed. W. Stubbs, 2 vols. (Rolls Series, London, 1872-3), ii, p.222. The forthcoming doctoral thesis of Christian Ispir shows this is the Crowland chronicle.


Radulphi de Coggeshall Chronicum Anglicanum, ed. J. Stevenson (Rolls Series, London, 1875), p.172.


Garnett and Hudson wrote their critique on the basis of my 1996 chapter rather than my book, which appeared too late to be considered. Had they seen the book, they might well have seized on a passage on p.365 where I say the baronial negotiators had to ‘approach’ the barons assembled at Runnymede and get them to accept the settlement. This certainly gives a misleading impression of the distance between the leaders and the rest of the party. When I re-read the passage, I asked myself ‘did I really write that?’ In fact I did not. It was a change I had not spotted made at the copy-editing stage. What I had written was not ‘approach’ but ‘go round’. Better but still not right. In the light of Garnett and Hudson’s comments, if there is ever a second edition of the book, I will give a fuller account of what I see as the relationship between the leaders and the general body of barons and knights at Runnymede.


Carpenter, Magna Carta, pp.366-72.


Garnett and Hudson, ‘Introduction’, p.30.


Garnett and Hudson, ‘Introduction’, p.27.


Garnett and Hudson, ‘Introduction’, pp.29-30.


Carpenter, ‘The dating and making of Magna Carta’, pp.12-13.


Actually in my Magna Carta (p.69), I did translate ‘pars’ as ‘part’. Nicholas Vincent prefers to translate it as ‘side’.


Garnett and Hudson, ‘Introduction’, p.29.


T.N. Bisson, ‘An “Unknown Charter” for Catalonia (1205)’, in his Medieval France and her Neighbours: Studies in Early Institutional History (London, 1989), p.212.


Matthaei Parisiensis Chronica Majora, ed. H.R. Luard 7 vols. (Rolls Series, London, 1872-83), ii, p.541.


Anglo Scottish Relations 1174-1328, ed. E.L.G. Stones (Oxford, 1965), pp.48-51.


See the comment in Anglo Scottish Relations, p.48 note 3.


Garnett and Hudson, ‘Introduction’, p.28.


The evidence for this is referred to below.


Holt, Magna Carta (1965), p.159.


V. H. Galbraith, ‘A draft of Magna Carta (1215), Proceedings of the British Academy, 53 (1967), pp.345-60. A ‘statute book’ is a name given to an unofficial collection of legislation and other legal material.


Galbraith, therefore, believed the Charter was agreed on 15 June.


Holt, Magna Carta (1992), pp. 248-9, 446. See Garnett and Hudson, ‘Introduction’, p.27 note 163 and Carpenter, ‘The dating and making of Magna Carta’, p.3 note 19.


 Garnett and Hudson, ‘Introduction’, p.31.


I discuss all those found so far (and there are probably more) in my ‘Copies of Magna Carta’.


It is clear that the draft charters, from which enrolments were made, sometimes lacked the final dating clause. There is another copy of the Charter which ends with it being given at Windsor on 15 June. It is incomplete, so one cannot know whether it matched up with the Huntington version. It has a slightly different wording of the clause about the pope, one also found in a copy given at Runnymede on 15 June: Carpenter, ‘Copies of Magna Carta’.


Garnett and Hudson draw attention to a later copy of Magna Carta in a legal collection now in the Bodleian Library, which bears the date 16 June. (Garnett and Hudson, ‘Introduction’, p.30-1 and note 182. The text is fully discussed in my ‘Copies of Magna Carta’) Since it has the baronial relief at 100 marks rather than £100, Garnett and Hudson suggest this shows negotiations were still ongoing. But against this copy, there are four other copies of the Charter which bear the 16 June date. Three of these, like the copies with the 15 June date referred to above, have the baronial relief at £100, while the other omits it altogether, probably by mistake. See Carpenter, ‘Copies of Magna Carta’, here, here, here, here and here. All these 16 June texts may simply be unofficial copies given the date 16 June because scribes were copying them out on that day. As we have seen, even in the royal chancery documents were occasionally given the date on which they were written rather than the date on which they were authorized.


That Roger of Wendover seems only to have had parts of the 1215 Charter points to the existence of sections being preserved on separate pieces of parchment. See Carpenter, ‘Copies of Magna Carta’. Hugh Doherty, in a forthcoming paper, suggests that Wendover, as prior of Belvoir, had close connections with the lord of Belvoir, William de Albini, one of the twenty-five barons of Magna Carta’s security clause. One wonders if William was the source for Wendover’s 1215 Magna Carta material. 


The Charter is said to have been given at St Paul’s by the legate and the regent, which is probably correct but on a date which (the text is damaged) was probably 14 or 15 November. In fact the Charter was probably given on 6 November. It could not have been given at St Paul’s on 14/15 November because by then the regent had left London. (It is just this kind of proof showing something is odd with the dating clause that is absent in 1215). The contradictions in 1217 may well have been related to a dispute over who should give the Charters, the legate and the regent, or the chancellor, Richard Marsh. Marsh was bishop of Durham whither the engrossment of the 1217 Forest Charter went. This is the only dated engrossment to survive. See Carpenter, ‘Copies of Magna Carta’.


Carpenter, The Reign of Henry III, chapters 4 and 16.


Holt made a friendly reference to the chapter in his review of Natalie Fryde’s Why Magna Carta? Angevin England Revisited in English Historical Review, 118 (2003), p.988.

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