Blogging the Magna Carta #23
Other versions of this document break up the last clause into five separate paragraphs that lump together a number of political issues. I have broken them with my comments for easier reading. Numbering the clauses came at a much later date, possibly so the Pope could declare them illegal and invalid.
57. Further, for all those possessions from which any Welshman has, without the lawful judgment of his peers, been disseised or removed by King Henry our father or King Richard our brother, and which we retain in our hand (or which are possessed by others, to whom we are bound to warrant them) we shall have respite until the usual term of crusaders; excepting those things about which a plea has been raised or an inquest made by our order before we took the cross; but as soon as we return (or if perchance we desist from our expedition), we will immediately grant full justice in accordance with the laws of the Welsh and in relation to the aforesaid regions.
This is the same wording promising redress for unlawful fines and seizure as granted the English barons. Again John has the built-in delaying tactic of waiting for his return from the Crusades.
We will immediately give up the son of Llywelyn and all the hostages of Wales, and the charters delivered to us as security for the peace. We will do toward Alexander, King of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and his hostages, and concerning his franchises, and his right, in the same manner as we shall do toward our other barons of England, unless it ought to be otherwise according to the charters which we hold from William his father, formerly King of Scots; and this shall be according to the judgment of his peers in our court.
In returning hostages held from Wales and from Scotland, John is declaring peace. He acknowledges that he must return the hostages in order to gain peace and keep it. He is also granting proper trial procedures to address wrongs done on both sides of the border by all parties concerned.
Moreover, all these aforesaid customs and liberties, the observance of which we have granted in our kingdom as far as pertains to us toward our men, shall be observed by all of our kingdom, as well clergy as laymen, as far as pertains to them toward their men.
A restatement of why they have all gathered on the field of Runneymeade to sign this charter.
And then the most important part, an empowered body of men standing between the king and those with complaints against him; protecting both sides in the dispute and provisions for fairness in their judgments. John allows twenty-five barons to be chosen to arbitrate all of the conflicts between John and his barons; a sort of supreme court of its day. Please note that John’s property may be confiscated or held in bond to insure the proper settlement of these claims, but he, his queen, and his children can not be held hostage.
Since, moreover, for God and the amendment of our kingdom and for the better allaying of the quarrel that has arisen between us and our barons, we have granted all these concessions, desirous that they should enjoy them in complete and firm endurance for ever, we give and grant to them the underwritten security, namely, that the barons choose five-and-twenty barons of the kingdom, whomsoever they will, who shall be bound with all their might, to observe and hold, and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties we have granted and confirmed to them by this our present Charter, so that if we, or our justiciar, or our bailiffs or any one of our officers, shall in anything be at fault toward any one, or shall have broken any one of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offense be notified to four barons of the aforesaid five-and-twenty, the said four barons shall repair to us (or our justiciar, if we are out of the realm) and, laying the transgression before us, petition to have that transgression redressed without delay. And if we shall not have corrected the transgression (or, in the event of our being out of the realm, if our justiciar shall not have corrected it) within forty days, reckoning from the time it has been intimated to us (or to our justiciar, if we should be out of the realm), the four barons aforesaid shall refer that matter to the rest of the five-and-twenty barons, and those five-and-twenty barons shall, together with the community of the whole land, distrain and distress using all possible ways, namely, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, and in any other way they can, until redress has been obtained as they deem fit, saving harmless our own person, and the persons of our queen and children; and when redress has been obtained, they shall resume their old relations toward us. And let whoever in the country desires it, swear to obey the orders of the said five-and-twenty barons for the execution of all the aforesaid matters, and along with them, to molest us to the utmost of his power; and we publicly and freely grant leave to every one who wishes to swear, and we shall never forbid any one to swear.
Those bringing suit to the twenty-five barons are free to swear to abide by their decisions without threat of vengeance from any party.
All those, moreover, in the land who of themselves and of their own accord are unwilling to swear to the twenty-five to help them in constraining and molesting us, we shall by our command compel the same to swear to the effect aforesaid.
Vacancies among the twenty-five barons are left to those barons to fill. John cannot appoint a favorite to step in.
And if any one of the five-and-twenty barons shall have died or departed from the land, or be incapacitated in any other manner which would prevent the aforesaid provisions being carried out, those of the said twenty-five barons who are left shall choose another in his place according to their own judgment, and he shall be sworn in the same way as the others.
Considering time and difficulty in travel, not all twenty-five barons can be expected to meet every time they are called. So provision is made for a quorum. Decisions made by the quorum are considered as valid and binding as if all twenty-five had voted.
Further, in all matters, the execution of which is entrusted to these twenty-five barons, if perchance these twenty-five are present, that which the majority of those present ordain or command shall be held as fixed and established, exactly as if the whole twenty-five had concurred in this; and the said twenty-five shall swear that they will faithfully observe all that is aforesaid, and cause it to be observed with all their might.
John cannot bribe the twenty-five or be bribed by one of them. Such actions negate any actions taken regarding that one decision.
And we shall procure nothing from any one, directly or indirectly, whereby any part of these concessions and liberties might be revoked or diminished; and if any such thing has been procured, let it be void and null and we shall never use it personally or by another.
And a general pardon to anyone signing the Charter. Thus must end the civil war. Except a few powerful lords decided that since the Charter left John alive and on the throne the entire document was invalid and refused to sign. The civil war continued another year until John died of dysentery. His death finally ended the war.
And all the ill-will, hatreds, and bitterness that have arisen between us and our men, clergy and lay, from the date of the quarrel, we have completely remitted and pardoned every one. Moreover, all trespasses occasioned by the said quarrel, from Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign till the restoration of peace, we have fully remitted to all, both clergy and laymen, and completely forgiven, as far as pertains to us. And, on this head, we have caused to be made for them letters testimonial patent of the lord Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, of the lord Henry, archbishop of Dublin, of the bishops aforesaid, and of Master Pandulf (Papal Legate) as touching this security and the concessions aforesaid. Wherefore it is our will, and we firmly enjoin, that the English Church be free, and that the men in our kingdom have and hold all the aforesaid liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably, freely and quietly, fully and wholly, for themselves and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all respects and in all places for ever, as is aforesaid. An oath, moreover, has been taken, as well on our part as on the part of the barons, that all these conditions aforesaid shall be kept in good faith and without evil intent. Given under our hand—the above-named and many others being witnesses—in the meadow which is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June, in the seventeenth year of our reign.
Here ends the first attempt to codify the laws of England. Long may it stand as an example of rule by law rather than the whim of a monarch.
For the entire Magna Carta document, you may go here: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/magnacarta.asp
For a more scholarly analysis of the Charter and its relevance to modern life: http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/magna-carta.htm
Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of the Book View Café. She first became interested in the Magna Carta while researching her master work series “Merlin’s Descendants.” Book View Café is proud to reissue these five volumes in a variety of DRM free e-book formats. The first book in the series, “Guardian of the Balance” can be found here:
You can read more about the author on her her bookshelf: https://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/bvc-author/phyllis-irene-radford/