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Legislation: Magna Carta

Subjects: Law, Law - Foreign Law

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Great Britain -- Politics and government -- 1154-1399

John, King of England, 1167-1216

Magna Carta

Establishing a text & the first stirrings of "constitutional" restraints

There are 4 surviving copies of the first Charter of 1215, then 1 of 1216 re-issue, and 4 of 1217 and 4 of 1225.

"The charter of 1215 was not cast in parliamentary form, and was not a statute in teh later sense: Re Sir John Skene (1475) 15 Edw IV fo.13, pl.17 per Littleton J. [Edward] Coke, however, thought that i should be deemed to be an act of parliament becuase it changed the law and had been accepted as such: The Prince's Case (1606) 8 Co.Rep. 1." per Baker, in IELH.

The 1225 re-issue & confirmation was significant in that the King (a minor) declared he was issuing it of his own free will & that he would not do anything to undermine it. In exchange he was given the returns of a taz on movables. Later medieval lawyers would accept that this marked the start of a notional canon: it became the first entry in manuscript collections of statutes.

In 1237, Henry III (a child no longer) issued a small charter of confirmation.

In 1265, at a parliament summoned by Simon de Montfort, Henry III's loyalty to Magna Carta was re-affirmed. The clerks in the royal chancery drew up an inspeximus - "an authoritative verbatim recitation ... to provide an authoritative exemplification or copy of the existing document"
in this instance the 1225 text, (Four copies of the inspeximus are known including Bodleian MS. Add. C.188.)

1297 a good copy issued to overcome problems of mistranscriptions

1300 Final reissue sealed under monarch's great seal & distributed to counties and cathedrals

By mid 14th century it seems to have been accepted that important provisions such as right to justice & safety did indeed extend to the "Common People"

Recent studies

Magna Carta is a subject search you can use in SOLO

Using subject searches

Constitutional history -- Great Britain

Civil rights - Great Britain -- History

Political science   Great Britain   History

should find you books which consider MC's role in the development of the English constitution in both fact and myth.

The 2015 anniversary stimulated new publications and evaluations.

The recent works available in the Law Bod include the works below. 

Selected readings and commentaries on Magna Carta : 1400-1604 is Selden Society volume 132 available in hard copy only.

Not in the Law Bod, but available online (remote access requires Oxford SSO), is a revised edition of Holt's classic work

Classic examinations

Before the new research, re-examinations triggered by the 800th anniversary of the original 1215 engrossment, the following were the go-to commentaries...

Holt, Magna Carta (2nd edn 1995) is at Legal Hist H758a2