The Magna Carta Project

The St. Albans Abbey Versions of Magna Carta and their Derivatives

by David Carpenter

The various versions of the Charters of John and Henry III  found in the works of the St Albans chroniclers, Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris, are the subject of an   article by J.C. Holt, ‘The St Albans Chroniclers and Magna Carta’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, fifth series, 14 (1964), pp.67-88, reprinted in his collected essays, Magna Carta and Medieval Government (London, 1095), pp.266-87.  (My references come from Magna Carta and Medieval Government).   Wendover, did not copy out a ‘clean’ text of the 1215 Magna Carta. Instead his text, written between 1225 and 1235, although issued in John’s name, combined elements from 1215 with elements from  Henry III’s Charter of 1217.  The elements from 1215  included a variant version of the security clause which almost certainly derived from a rejected draft.  Wendover also produced a copy  of Henry III’s Forest Charter of 1217/1225, which he has issued in the name of King John. Until Blackstone finally revealed the truth in 1759, this misled generations of historians into thinking that the Forest Charter went back to 1215.  Matthew Paris, Wendover’s successor,  in his Chronica Majora,  (the text here probably dates from the 1240s) initially copied out Wendover’s  hybrid version of the 1215 Charter. Then, around 1250, he became aware of what seems to have been a full text of the 1215 Charter.1 As a result he went back and made radical changes to the text in the Chronica Majora, trying to add in what Wendover had missed out.  Paris’s efforts reflect his interest in the Charter and his desire to give full information about it. He did not, however, eliminate all the material from the Charter of 1217 and so his text remained a hybrid of 1215 and 1217.  Around the same time as he was revising the text in the Chronica Majora, Paris also prepared a short chronicle which was given to the St Albans daughter house of Tynemouth. This reflects Paris’s new Chronica Majora text but is not identical to it. Another purported version  of the 1215 Charter, likewise reflecting but not identical to the new Chronica Majora  text, is that found in the chronicle  written by  John of Wallingford. Wallingford was the ‘infirmarius’ of St Albans and a friend of Paris. His  chronicle is an abridgement of Paris’s work, although with some additional material.  Wallingford subsequently moved to the St Albans cell of Wymondham in Norfolk where he died in 1258.  His version  became the source for the text of the 1215 Charter copied into a chronicle composed at Norwich cathedral priory.  


Roger of Wendover’s Magna Carta

The text of Wendover’s Magna Carta, unaltered by Paris, is only found in the two much later copies of Wendover’s Flores Historiarum, namely Bodleian Library Douce 264 (dating from about 1300) and British Library  Cotton Otho B V (from about 1350).  These provide the printed text in The Flowers of History by Roger of Wendover, three volumes, ed. H.G. Hewlett (Rolls Series, 1886-9), ii,  pp.118-27, 132-4.   


Wendover’s text omits the names of John’s counselors in the preamble. However, their names do appear in full (if in a different order) in the immediately preceding narrative where Wendover explained who was on the king’s side at Runnymede.  It looks as though Wendover had a text with their names, but has lifted them out  and used them elsewhere.


In chapter 1 on the church, Wendover’s text has John stating that he had granted the charter conceding free elections ‘ante discordiam inter nos et barones nostros manifeste motam’. The ‘manifeste’ is not found in the authorized versions of the Charter.

After chapter 1, Wendover’s text reads ‘Concessimus etiam omnibus liberis hominibus nostris regni Anglie’ rather than ‘regni nostri’.


Wendover’s chapter 2 has the baronial relief at 100 marks. One might wonder whether this is an alteration made by the later copyists but it was evidently there in the text copied by Paris for he too has 100 marks. In this chapter Wendover was still copying a text of the 1215 Charter because he reads ‘heres suus’ whereas from 1217 the Charter read ‘heres eius’.     


After chapter two Wendover, with some small variations and omissions (including, in chapter 8, the need for widows to obtain the permission of their lords for remarriage)    now follows the text of the 1217 Charter down to its chapter 46, the saving clause just before the end, after which Wendover has ‘Hiis testibus etc’.  He managed to miss out the last section of chapter 4 by homoeoteleuton. He also  attached ‘comites’, reading it as ‘comitatus’, to the end of chapter 20 rather than the start of chapter 21: ‘de visneto comitatus’. As a result the next chapter on the amercement of earls and barons has no earls and starts ‘Et barones...’  This mistake is also found  in the Black Book of Peterborugh copy of the Charter, above pp.30-1.


Having got down to ‘hiis testibus etc.’, Wendover  gives the text of John’s purported Charter of the Forest, in what is in effect a hybrid version of the Forest Charters of 1217 and 1225. Holt also thought that Wendover’s text of Magna Carta itself was a hybrid of 1217 and 1225, but this is less than clear, and it may just be the text of 1217.2


Having set out the Charter of the Forest (without any dating clause), Wendover  has a heading ‘De viginti quinque baronibus qui constituti sunt a rege emendatores legum predictorum’.  He then transcribes, with some minor omissions and changes in word order,  the final part of the 1215 Charter from the start of the security clause down to the dating clause at the end. The most significant variations are as follows:

In what is conventionally s chapter 62, after John has remitted his rancor and ill will, Wendover inserts  'Et ad melius distringendum nos, quattuor castellani, de Norhamtona scilicet, de Kenilleworthe, de Notingham, et Scardeburc, erunt jurati predictis viginti quinque baronibus, quod facient de castris predictis quod ipsi preceperint et mandaverint, vel major pars eorum; et tales semper castellani ponantur in illis castris qui fideles sint et qui nolint transgredi juramentum suum.' 


There then follows a version of chapter 50 on the kinsmen of Gerard d’Athée.  This  both has additional names and is combined with the following chapter, 51, on the dismissal of foreign soldiers.  The chapter thus begins ‘Et nos amovebimus omnes alienigenas de terra nostra, parentes omnes Giradi de Athies...'. This contrasts with the start of the chapter in Magna Carta; 'Nos amovebimus penitus de balliis parentes Gerardi de Athyes...'.  It is more akin to  chapter 51: 'Et statim post pacis reformacionem amovebimus omnes alienigenas milites...'.  In the list of those to be removed,  Wendover  adds after  Gio de Cigogné, ‘uxorem predicti Girardi et cum omnibus liberis suis’. At the end of the chapter he adds ‘Falconem’, so including Falkes de Bréauté, a man loathed at St Albans.  The text then continues: ‘et Flandrenses omnes et ruptarios, que sunt ad nocumentum regni’. This is derived from the conclusion of chapter 51: 'omnes alienigenas milites, balistarios, servientes, stipendiarios, qui venerint cum equis et armis ad nocumentum regni.'


I agree with Holt (p.275) in thinking that Wendover cannot have possessed a whole text of the 1215 Charter. True, he seems to have edited what he did have, taking out the names of John’s counselors from the preamble and using them elsewhere, but it seems inconceivable that he would also have cut out, had he known of them,  some of the ‘best bits’ of the 1215 Charter, for example the chapters on debts to the Jews, scutage and aid, and the county farms. That Paris later sought to put these chapters back in makes the point. What Wendover did have was the preamble, chapters 1 and 2, a version of chapters 50 and 51, which he inserted into the security clause, and the security clause itself  down  to the end of the Charter.  Evidently then the Charter circulated not just as a complete document but also in individual fragments.  Quite probably these were derived from drafts of the sections concerned. That seems almost certain when it comes to Wendover’s passage giving the twenty-five barons power over four strategic castles. This was not something Wendover could have made up. That he himself edited chapters 50 and 51 is more possible, especially when it came to including Falkes’s name. But would Wendover have added in Gerard’s wife and children?3    Interestingly (as Luard noted) the word ‘ruptarii’ which appears in Wendover but not in the official text of chapter 51 is found in the Articles of the Barons’ version of the chapter.4


Matthew Paris’s text in his Chronica Majora.

The editor of the Chronica Majora for the Rolls Series, H.R. Luard, worked bravely  and on the whole successfully to show the different layers of Paris’s text of Magna Carta, employing both footnotes and italic type.5 The original text between folios 38-41 of Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS.16 is a wonder to behold. Paris initially, as we have said, had simply copied Wendover’s version of the 1215 Charter, divided into two halves by the Forest Charter. He thus repeated Wendover’s omission, through homoeoteleuton in chapter 4.  Around 1250, however, Paris engaged for the first time with what was probably a full text of the 1215 Charter in its authorized version.  Whether this had long been at St Albans or had only recently been acquired we do not know.  


Having engaged in this way, Paris decided to revise his previous Wendover text.  He did this in two main ways.6  First he added in the margins or at the foot of folios passages missing from Wendover, so for example, the names of the counselors in the preamble, and the need, in chapter 6, for the kin to be informed of marriages planned for heirs. (He did not, however, correct the omission in chapter 4).   More radically, he also washed out a whole section of text copied from Wendover. This began at the start of chapter 8 on widows at the foot of folio 38v’s first column and then embraced  the whole of its second column down to its last word  ‘capiat’ in chapter 28. In the place of the removed text from 1217, Paris inserted the missing chapters from the 1215 Charter.  He did this, however, with the 1217 text at his side because where it was significantly different from the 1215 text, then he followed the 1217 version. Thus he has the 1217 version of chapter 18 in which the judges are to visit the counties only once a year not four times, and are to hear the assizes  with the knights of the county rather than knights elected in the county court.  Paris also retained Wendover’s text of chapter 20 on amercements including the ending with ‘de visneto comitatus’. However,  probably by reference to his 1215 text, he saw that Wendover had missed out ‘earls’ from the start of the next chapter and began it ‘Comites et barones’.  Clearly Paris was in the business of adding but not subtracting. The additions, however, now meant Paris’s version included the full text of chapter 8 (with the need for widows to get the consent of their lords for remarriage), as well as 1215’s chapters on the Jews, scutages and aids, and the county farms (9, 10, 12, 14, and 25).  Soon after Paris made these changes, the earls and barons in parliament were appealing to the 1215 Charter's  chapter about the assembly needed to give consent to taxation.  


Having made these insertions, Paris largely retained Wendover’s 1217 text although adding, at the foot of a column, chapter 42  (on free entry into and exit from the country) which had been omitted after 1215. Thereafter he left Wendover’s text entirely alone. He thus omitted the chapters on the inquiry into local government, officials knowing the law of the kingdom, the forest, the dismissal of the kinsmen of Gerard d’Athée, the dismissal of  foreign mercenaries, and  the redress of past grievances including those  of the Welsh and the king of Scots.  Paris evidently knew  some of these chapters were covered in the Forest Charter or, in the case of d’Athée and the mercenaries, in his version of the security clause, for both of which he retained Wendover’s texts.7 For the rest, perhaps he thought adding in a whole lot more material was just too difficult. That he considered  the material  important is shown by the way it does appear in the  text of the Charter sent to the St Alban's cell at Tynemouth (see next but one below).


The fair copy of the Chronica Majora

The fair copy of the Chronica Majora was made soon after 1250.8 It is contained in British Library Cotton Nero D V, with the text of the Charter starting at folio 199. The text is the same as that of the revised version found in the Chronica Majora itself. In the preamble, however, the names of John's counselors, after the archbishop of Dublin, are not copied out and one is told to look to the twenty-fourth line above where they appear in the narrative copied from Wendover.


The copy of the Charter in a volume given to the St Albans’ cell at  Tynemouth: London, British Library, Cotton Vitellius A XX,  fos.93v-97

This copy of the Charter is linked to a chronicle running down to 1246, abbreviated from Paris’s writings, and sometimes written in his own hand.  Above the table of contents at the start of the volume, there is a note stating  that the book had been given to Tynemouth by prior Ralph de Dunham. He was prior between 1252 and 1265. There can be no doubt that the volume was prepared under Paris’s auspices. Indeed it reveals the very moment when he became aware of a full text of 1215 Charter. Down to chapter 24, the copy of the Charter follows the uncorrected Wendover text. Thereafter until the end it is a fairly accurate copy of the authorized version.9 Paris, moreover, did not merely  go over to the authorized version from chapter 25. He also went back over the earlier Wendover text and here and there made  additions in the margins in order to bring it more into line  with the authorized text.10 Thus, as in the new Chronica Majora text, he added to chapter 6 the need for the kin to be informed of marriages planned for heirs, and  to chapter 8 the need for the widow to get the consent of the lord from whom she held if she wished to re-marry. Paris added 1215’s chapter 12 on scutages and aids. He also added 1215’s version of chapter 18, whereas in the Chronica Majora he had retained  1217’s version without amendment.  Since in the Tynemouth copy,  Paris did not erase the 1217  text, he now offered two versions of the chapter, adding  in his own hand ‘vel sic’,  to make plain  the alternatives.11        


The copy of the Charter in the ‘collecteana’  of John of Wallingford: London, British Library, Cotton Julius D VII, fos.122v-125.

John of Wallingford’s ‘collectanea’, in the words of Richard Vaughan, is ‘a miscellaneous collection of historical material’ including a chronicle, ‘almost entirely copied or abridged from Matthew’s manuscripts’. John, as we have said, was the ‘infirmarius’ of St Albans and a friend of Matthew Paris. Indeed the ‘collectanea’  contains a drawing of John by  Paris himself.  After 1253 John moved to the St Albans cell at Wymondham in Norfolk and died there in 1258.12 The base text of the Charter  appears to be the revised version as found in the Chronica Majora. It is, therefore, for all Paris’s efforts to include more from 1215, a hybrid text combining 1215 and 1217.  However, this text has been edited in a new way and independently to include more from 1215.  The major differences with the revised version in the Chronica Majora are as follows.


In chapter 1 ‘manifeste’ found in both Wendover and Paris, but not in the authorized version is omitted.

In chapter 2 the section on the baronial relief is omitted, perhaps by homoeoteleuton.

Chapter 3 is as found in the 1215 Charter not the Charter of 1217.

In chapter 4, the last part of the chapter, omitted probably by homoeoteleuton  by Wendover  and thence by Paris, is now included.

Chapter 5 follows the 1215 text in reading ‘secundum quod tempus wainnagii exiget et exitus terre rationabiliter poterunt sustinere’ rather than 1217’s ‘ad minus secundum quod illam recepit’.

The text includes chapters 44, 45, 46, 47 and 48 of the 1215 Charter. However, chapter 48, unlike the Tynemouth copy,  omits the saving clause about the king or justiciar being informed first about the evil customs to be abolished by the knights.  This makes one wonder whether the text of the 1215 Charter being followed here was that of a variant version. There is one other indication that St Albans possessed such a text. In the margin of the Chronica Majora  against the final dating clause of the Charter, Paris has written ‘super aliud exemplarium xvi’. This would seem to refer to a copy of the Charter in which  the date in June was given as sixteen.13


The John of Wallingford text does not include the security clause. Instead at the end of the saving clause of the 1217 Charter, it jumps to chapter 63, with the oath to observe the Charter, and then has the authorized version’s dating clause. There is then a passage explaining that the ‘sedulus’ investigator will be able to find ‘in cronicis’ details of the twenty-five barons and of those who had sworn to observe their orders. This seems a reference to the Chronica Majora.



The copy of the Charter in a chronicle of Norwich cathedral priory: Norwich, Norfolk Record Office, DCL 1, folios  unnumbered.

This chronicle is chiefly known from its late thirteenth-century continuation by the Norwich monk, Bartholomew Cotton. The heading  is ‘Carta regis Johannis de communis libertatibus anglie’.14 Although there are some variations, there can be little doubt that this text was copied, directly or indirectly, from that in John of Wallingford’s  ‘collecteana’ since it shares many of the variants noted above.  


  R. Vaughan, Matthew Paris (Cambridge, 1958), p.60; Holt, ‘St Albans chroniclers and Magna Carta’, p.286.


  See Holt, ‘The St Albans Chroniclers’, p.268 and note 7. Holt gives four instances where he believes the 1225 text is followed. The most significant of these is the inclusion  of ‘et pueris suis’ omitted, he says, in 1217 from what became chapter 18 of the 1225 Charter.  It is indeed omitted from one of the four surviving engrossments (Bodleian Library MS. Ch. Glouc. 8), hence the text in Statutes of the Realm, i, p.18. But ‘et pueris suis’ appears in the other three engrossments.  The other instances Holt gives amount to no more than variations in tense and case which might have occurred whatever the source. Wendover’s saving clause is certainly in the position it occupies in the Charter of 1217 not that of 1225.




  For his wife see N. Vincent, ‘Who’s who in Magna Carta clause 50?’, in La Médiéviste et la monographie familiale: sources, méthodes et problématiqes, ed. M. Aurell (Brepols, 2004), p.237 note 10. Vincent (p.239) suggests that all those named in the chapter were Gerard’s sons, legitimate and otherwise.


Paris, Chronica Majora, ii, p.604 note 1. This was chapter 42 of the Articles of the Barons.


  Chronica Majora, ii, pp.589-98, 602-4.


  For his changes, see Holt, ‘St Albans chroniclers’, pp.281-2.


  As Luard noticed (Chronica Majora, ii, 597 note 3) Paris observes in a marginal comment that the (omitted) chapter on men living outside the forest can be found on the following folio, that is in the copy of the Forest Charter.


  See R. Vaughan, Matthew Paris (Cambridge, 1958),  p.59.


  See Holt, ‘St Albans chroniclers’, p.276.


  Susan Reynolds writes as follows. ‘The alterations made in the margin...seem to this author an intelligent and careful attempt to produce a 1215 text from what had started as a not uncommon sort of conflation.’  See S. Reynolds, ‘Magna Carta 1297 and the legal use of literacy’, Historical Research, 62 (1989), p.241 note 54.


  As Holt, ‘St Albans chroniclers’, p.281 noted.


  Vaughan, Matthew Paris, pp. 229-30.


  Chronica Majora, ii, p.604 note 6. See above p.18 and note 56.


  For this volume, see Bartholomaei de Cotton Historia Anglicana, ed. H.R. Luard (Rolls Series, 1859), pp. xx-xxii.

Referenced in

Magna Carta 1215 (The Copies of Magna Carta)

The Copies of Magna Carta