Magna Carta (1215 A.D.)
Confirmation of Charters (1297 A.D.)
Petition of Right (1628 A.D.)
Bill of Rights (1689 A.D.)
With this charter, granted by Henry when
he ascended the throne, the king formally bound himself to the laws, setting
the stage for the rule of law and constitutionalism. The Charter of Liberties
inspired those who compelled King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215
and served as the model for that great document.
Henry, king of the English, to Bishop
Samson and Urso de Abetot and all his barons and faithful, both French
and English, of Worcestershire, [copies were sent to all the shires] greeting.
1. Know that by the mercy of God and
the common counsel of the barons of the whole kingdom of England I have
been crowned king of said kingdom; and because the kingdom had been oppressed
by unjust exactions, I, through fear of god and the love which I have toward
you all, in the first place make the holy church of God free, so that I
will neither sell nor put to farm, nor on the death of archbishop or bishop
or abbot will I take anything from the church's demesne or from its men
until the successor shall enter it. And I take away all the bad customs
by which the kingdom of England was unjustly oppressed; which bad customs
I here set down in part:
2. If any of my barons, earls, or others
who hold of me shall have died, his heir shall not buy back his land as
he used to do in the time of my brother, but he shall relieve it by a just
and lawful relief. Likewise also the men of my barons shall relieve their
lands from their lords by a just and lawful relief.
3. And if any of my barons or other
men should wish to give his daughter, sister, niece, or kinswoman in marriage,
let him speak with me about it; but I will neither take anything from him
for this permission nor prevent his giving her unless he should be minded
to join her to my enemy. And if, upon the death of a baron or other of
my men, a daughter is left as heir, I will give her with her land by the
advice of my barons. And if, on the death of her husband, the wife is left
and without children, she shall have her dowry and right of marriage, and
I will not give her to a husband unless according to her will.
4. But if a wife be left with children,
she shall indeed have her dowry and right of marriage so long as she shall
keep her body lawfully, and I will not give her unless according to her
will. And the guardian of the land and children shall be either the wife
or another of the relatives who more justly ought to be. And I command
that my barons restrain themselves similarly in dealing with the sons and
daughters or wives of their men.
5. The common seigniorage, which has
been taken through the cities and counties, but which was not taken in
the time of King Edward I absolutely forbid henceforth. If any one, whether
a moneyer or other, be taken with false money, let due justice be done
6. I remit all pleas and all debts which
were owing to my brother, except my lawful fixed revenues and except those
amounts which had been agreed upon for the inheritances of others or for
things which more justly concerned others. And if any one had pledged anything
for his own inheritance, I remit it; also all reliefs which had been agreed
upon for just inheritances.
7. And if any of my barons or men shall
grow feeble, as he shall give or arrange to give his money, I grant that
it be so given. But if, prevented by arms or sickness, he shall not have
given or arranged to give his money, his wife, children, relatives, or
lawful men shall distribute it for the good of his soul as shall seem best
8. If any of my barons or men commit
a crime, he shall not bind himself to a payment at the king's mercy as
he has been doing in the time of my father or my brother; but he shall
make amends according to the extent of the crime as he would have done
before the time of my father in the time of my other predecessors. But
if he be convicted of treachery or heinous crime, he shall make amends
as is just.
9. I forgive all murders committed before
the day I was crowned king; and those which shall be committed in the future
shall be justly compensated according to the law of King Edward.
10. By the common consent of my barons
I have kept in my hands forests as my father had them.
11. To those knights who render military
service for their lands I grant of my own gift that the lands of their
demesne ploughs be free from all payments and all labor, so that, having
been released from so great a burden, they may equip themselves well with
horses and arms and be fully prepared for my service and the defense of
12. I impose a strict peace upon my
whole kingdom and command that it be maintained henceforth.
13. I restore to you the law of King
Edward with those amendments introduced into it by my father with the advice
of his barons.
14. If any one, since the death of King
William my brother, has taken anything belonging to me or to any one else,
the whole is to be quickly restored without fine; but if any one keep anything
of it, he upon whom it shall be found shall pay me a heavy fine.
Witnesses Maurice bishop of London,
and William bishop elect of Winchester, and Gerard bishop of Hereford,
and earl Henry, and earl Simon, and Walter Giffard,and Robert de Montfort,
and Roger Bigot, and Eudo the steward, and Robert son of Hamo, and Robert
Malet. At London when I was crowned. Farewell.
Translated in Albert Beebe
White and Wallce Notestein, eds., Source Problems in English History(New York: Harper and Brothers, 1915).
©1999 National Humanities Institute
1. Edward, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, and Duke of Aquitaine, to all those that these present letters shall hear or see, greeting. Know ye that we to the honor of God and of holy Church, and to the profit of all our realm, have granted for us and our heirs, that the Great Charter of Liberties and the Charter of the Forest, which were made by common assent of all the realm, in the time of King Henry our father, shall be kept in every point without breach. And we will that these same charters shall be sent under our seal to our justices, both to those of the forest and to the rest, and to all sheriffs of shires, and to all our other officers, and to all our cities throughout the realm, together with our writs in which it shall be contained, that they cause the aforesaid charters to be published, and have it declared to the people that we have granted that they shall be observed in all points, and that our justices, sheriffs, mayors, and other officials which under us have to administer the laws of our land, shall allow the said charters in pleas before them and in judgments in all their points; that is to wit, the Great Charter as the common law and the Charter of the Forest according to the Assize of the Forest, for the relief of our people.
2. And we will that if any judgment be given from henceforth, contrary to the points of the charters aforesaid, by the justices or by any other our ministers that hold plea before them against the points of the charters, it shall be undone and holden for naught.
3. And we will that the same charters shall be sent under our seal to cathedral churches throughout our realm, and there remain, and shall be read before the people twice in the year.
4. And that archbishops and bishops shall pronounce sentences of greater excommunication against all those that by word, deed, or counsel shall go against the foresaid charters, or that in any point break or go against them. And that the said curses be twice a year denounced and published by the prelates aforesaid. And if the same prelates or any of them be remiss in the denunciation of the said sentences, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York for the time being, as is fitting, shall reprove them and constrain them to make that denunciation in form aforesaid.
5. And for so much as divers people of our realm are in fear that aids and mises which they have given to us beforetime toward our wars and other businesses, of their own grant and good-will, howsoever they were made, might turn to a bondage to them and their heirs, because they might be at another time found in the rolls, and so likewise the prises taken throughout the realm by our ministers in our name: we have granted for us and our heirs, that we shall never draw such aids, mises, nor prises into a custom for anything that hath been done heretofore or that may be found by roll or in any other manner.
6. Moreover we have granted for us and our heirs, as well to archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, and other folk of holy Church, as also to earls, barons, and to all the community of the land, that for no business from henceforth will we take such manner of aids, mises, nor prises from our realm, but by the common assent of all the realm, and for the common profit thereof, saving the ancient aids and prises due and accustomed.
7. And for so much as the more part of the community of the realm find themselves sore grieved with the maletote on wools, that is to wit, a toll of forty shillings for every sack of wool, and have made petition to us to release the same; we, at their requests, have fully released it, and have granted that we shall never take this nor any other without their common assent and good-will; saving to us and our heirs the custom of wools, skins, and leather granted before by the commonalty aforesaid. In witness of which things we have caused to be made thes our letters patent. Given at Ghent the fifth day of November in the twenty-fifth year of our reign.
Translated in Albert Beebe White and Wallce Notestein, eds., Source Problems in English History (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1915).
©1999 NATIONAL HUMANITIES INSTITUTE
Petition of RIGHT, 1628
The petition exhibited to his majesty by the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons in this present parliament assembled, concerning divers rights and liberties of the subjects...
To the king's most excellent majesty: Humbly show unto our sovereign lord the king the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons in parliament assembled, that, whereas it is declared and enacted by a statute made in the time of the reign of King Edward the First, commonly Statutum de Tallagio non Concedendo, that no tallage or aid should be laid or levied by the king or his heirs in their realm by the king or his heirs in this realm without the goodwill and assent of the archbishops, bishops, earls, barons, knights, burgesses, and other the freemen of the commonalty of this realm; and, by authority of parliament holden in the five-and-twentieth year of the reign of King Edward III, it is declared and enacted that from thenceforth no person should be compelled to make any loans to the king against his will, because such loans were against reason and the franchise of the land; and by other laws of this realm it is provided that none should be charged by any charge or imposition, called a benevolence, or by such like charge; by which the statues before mentioned, and other the good laws and statutes of this realm, your subjects have inherited this freedom, that they should not be compelled to contribute to any tax, tallage, aid, or other like charge not set by common consent in parliament: yet, nevertheless, of late divers commissions directed to sundry commissioners in several counties have issued, by means whereof your people have been in divers places assembled and required to lend certain sums of money unto your majesty; and many of them, upon their refusal to do so, have had an oath administered unto them, not warrantable by the laws or statutes of this realm, and have been constrained to become bound to make appearance and give attendance before your privy council and in other places; and others of them have been therefor imprisoned, confined, and sundry other ways molested and disquieted; and divers other charges have been laid and levied upon your people in several counties by lord lieutenants, deputy lieutenants, commissioners for musters, justices of peace, and others, by command or direction from your majesty or your privy council, against the laws and free customs of the realm.
And where also, by the statute called the Great Charter of the Liberties of England, it is declared and enacted that no freeman may be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold or liberties or his free customs, or be outlawed or exiled or in any manner destroyed, but by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land; and in the eight-and-twentieth year of the reign of King Edward III it was declared and enacted by authority of parliament that no man, of what estate or condition that he be, should be put out of his land or tenements, nor taken, nor imprisoned, nor disinherited, nor put to death, without being brought to answer by due process of law: nevertheless, against the tenor of the said statutes and other the good laws and statutes of your realm to that end provided, divers of your subjects have of late been imprisoned without any cause showed; and when for their deliverance they were brought before your justices by your majesty's writs of habeas corpus , there to undergo and receive as the court should order, and their keepers commanded to certify the causes of their detainer, no cause was certified, but that they were detained by your majesty's special command, signified by the lords of your privy council; and yet were returned back to several prisons without being charged with anything to which they might make answer according to the law.
And whereas of late great companies of soldiers and mariners have been dispersed into divers counties of the realm, and the inhabitants against their wills have been compelled to receive them into their houses, and there to suffer them to sojourn, against the laws and customs of this realm, and to the great grievance and vexation of the people: and whereas also, by authority of parliament in the five-and-twentieth year of the reign of King Edward III, it is declared and enacted that no man should be forejudged of life or limb against the form of the Great Charter and the law of the land; and, by the said Great Charter and other the laws and statutes of this your realm, no man ought to be adjudged to death but by the laws established in this your realm, either by the customs of the same realm or by acts of parliament; and whereas no offender of what kind soever is exempted from the proceedings to be used and punishments to be inflicted by the laws and statutes of this your realm; nevertheless of late divers commissions under your majesty's great seal have issue forth, by which certain persons have been assigned and appointed commissioners, with power and authority to proceed within the land according to the justice of martial law against such soldiers or mariners, or other dissolute persons joining with them, as should commit any murder, robbery, felony, mutiny, or other outrage or misdemeanour whatsoever, and by such summary course and order as is agreeable to martial law and is used in armies in time of war, to proceed to the trial and condemnation of such offenders, and them to cause to be executed and put to death according to the law martial; by pretext whereof some of your majesty's subjects have been by some of the said commissioners put to death, when and where, if by the laws and statutes of the land they had deserved death, by the same laws and statutes also they might, and by no other ought to have been, adjudged and executed; and also sundry grievous offenders, by colour thereof claiming an exemption, have escaped the punishments due to them by the laws and statutes of this your realm, by reason that divers of your officers and ministers of justice have unjustly refused or forborne to proceed against such offenders according to the same laws and statutes, upon pretence that the said offenders were punishable only by martial law and by authority of such commissions as aforesaid; which commissions and all other of like nature are wholly and directly contrary to the said laws and statutes of this your realm.
They do therefore humbly pray your most excellent majesty that no man hereafter be compelled to make or yield any gift, loan, benevolence, tax, or such like charge without common consent by act of parliament; and that none be called to make answer, or take such oath, or to give attendance, or be confined, or otherwise molested or disquieted concerning the same, or for refusal thereof; and that no freeman, in any such manner as is before mentioned, be imprisoned or detained; and that your majesty would be pleased to remove the said soldiers and mariners; and that your people may not be so burdened in time to come; and that the foresaid commissions for proceeding by martial law may be revoked and annulled; and that hereafter no commissions of like nature may issue forth to any person or persons whatsoever, to be executed as aforesaid, lest by colour of them any of your majesty's subjects be destroyed or put to death, contrary to the laws and franchise of the land (all of which they most humbly pray of your most excellent majesty as their rights and liberties according to the laws and statutes of this realm); and that your majesty would also vouchsafe and declare that the awards, doings, and proceedings to the prejudice of your people in any of the premises shall not be drawn hereafter into consequence or example; and that your majesty would be also graciously pleased, for the further comfort and safety of your people, to declare your royal will and pleasure that in the things aforesaid all your officers and ministers shall serve you according to the laws and statutes of this realm, as they tender the honour of your majesty and the prosperity of this kingdom.
Taken from Stephenson and Marcham, Sources of English Constitutional History, vol. 1.
An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown
Whereas the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons assembled at Westminster, lawfully, fully and freely representing all the estates of the people of this realm, did upon the thirteenth day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred eighty-eight [old style date] present unto their Majesties, then called and known by the names and style of William and Mary, prince and princess of Orange, being present in their proper persons, a certain declaration in writing made by the said Lords and Commons in the words following, viz.:
Whereas the late King James the Second, by the assistance of divers evil counsellors, judges and ministers employed by him, did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of this kingdom;
By assuming and exercising a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws and the execution of laws without consent of Parliament;
By committing and prosecuting divers worthy prelates for humbly petitioning to be excused from concurring to the said assumed power;
By issuing and causing to be executed a commission under the great seal for erecting a court called the Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes;
By levying money for and to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative for other time and in other manner than the same was granted by Parliament;
By raising and keeping a standing army within this kingdom in time of peace without consent of Parliament, and quartering soldiers contrary to law;
By causing several good subjects being Protestants to be disarmed at the same time when papists were both armed and employed contrary to law;
By violating the freedom of election of members to serve in Parliament;
By prosecutions in the Court of King's Bench for matters and causes cognizable only in Parliament, and by divers other arbitrary and illegal courses;
And whereas of late years partial corrupt and unqualified persons have been returned and served on juries in trials, and particularly divers jurors in trials for high treason which were not freeholders;
And excessive bail hath been required of persons committed in criminal cases to elude the benefit of the laws made for the liberty of the subjects;
And excessive fines have been imposed;
And illegal and cruel punishments inflicted;
And several grants and promises made of fines and forfeitures before any conviction or judgment against the persons upon whom the same were to be levied;
All which are utterly and directly contrary to the known laws and statutes and freedom of this realm;
And whereas the said late King James the Second having abdicated the government and the throne being thereby vacant, his Highness the prince of Orange (whom it hath pleased Almighty God to make the glorious instrument of delivering this kingdom from popery and arbitrary power) did (by the advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and divers principal persons of the Commons) cause letters to be written to the Lords Spiritual and Temporal being Protestants, and other letters to the several counties, cities, universities, boroughs and cinque ports, for the choosing of such persons to represent them as were of right to be sent to Parliament, to meet and sit at Westminster upon the two and twentieth day of January in this year one thousand six hundred eighty and eight, in order to such an establishment as that their religion, laws and liberties might not again be in danger of being subverted, upon which letters elections having been accordingly made;
And thereupon the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons, pursuant to their respective letters and elections, being now assembled in a full and free representative of this nation, taking into their most serious consideration the best means for attaining the ends aforesaid, do in the first place (as their ancestors in like case have usually done) for the vindicating and asserting their ancient rights and liberties declare:
And they do claim, demand and insist upon all and singular the premises as their undoubted rights and liberties, and that no declarations, judgments, doings or proceedings to the prejudice of the people in any of the said premises ought in any wise to be drawn hereafter into consequence or example; to which demand of their rights they are particularly encouraged by the declaration of his Highness the prince of Orange as being the only means for obtaining a full redress and remedy therein.
Having therefore an entire confidence that his said Highness the prince of Orange will perfect the deliverance so far advanced by him, and will still preserve them from the violation of their rights which they have here asserted, and from all other attempts upon their religion, rights and liberties, the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons assembled at Westminster do resolve that William and Mary, prince and princess of Orange, be and be declared king and queen of England, France and Ireland and the dominions thereunto belonging, to hold the crown and royal dignity of the said kingdoms and dominions to them, the said prince and princess, during their lives and the life of the survivor to them, and that the sole and full exercise of the regal power be only in and executed by the said prince of Orange in the names of the said prince and princess during their joint lives, and after their deceases the said crown and royal dignity of the same kingdoms and dominions to be to the heirs of the body of the said princess, and for default of such issue to the Princess Anne of Denmark and the heirs of her body, and for default of such issue to the heirs of the body of the said prince of Orange. And the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons do pray the said prince and princess to accept the same accordingly.
And that the oaths hereafter mentioned be taken by all persons of whom the oaths have allegiance and supremacy might be required by law, instead of them; and that the said oaths of allegiance and supremacy be abrogated.
I, A.B., do sincerely promise and swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to their Majesties King William and Queen Mary. So help me God.
I, A.B., do swear that I do from my heart abhor, detest and abjure as impious and heretical this damnable doctrine and position, that princes excommunicated or deprived by the Pope or any authority of the see of Rome may be deposed or murdered by their subjects or any other whatsoever. And I do declare that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm. So help me God.
Upon which their said Majesties did accept the crown and royal dignity of the kingdoms of England, France and Ireland, and the dominions thereunto belonging, according to the resolution and desire of the said Lords and Commons contained in the said declaration. And thereupon their Majesties were pleased that the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons, being the two Houses of Parliament, should continue to sit, and with their Majesties' royal concurrence make effectual provision for the settlement of the religion, laws and liberties of this kingdom, so that the same for the future might not be in danger again of being subverted, to which the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons did agree, and proceed to act accordingly.
Now in pursuance of the premises the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons in Parliament assembled, for the ratifying, confirming and establishing the said declaration and the articles, clauses, matters and things therein contained by the force of law made in due form by authority of Parliament, do pray that it may be declared and enacted that all and singular the rights and liberties asserted and claimed in the said declaration are the true, ancient and indubitable rights and liberties of the people of this kingdom, and so shall be esteemed, allowed, adjudged, deemed and taken to be; and that all and every the particulars aforesaid shall be firmly and strictly holden and observed as they are expressed in the said declaration, and all officers and ministers whatsoever shall serve their Majesties and their successors according to the same in all time to come.
And the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons, seriously considering how it hath pleased Almighty God in his marvellous providence and merciful goodness to this nation to provide and preserve their said Majesties' royal persons most happily to reign over us upon the throne of their ancestors, for which they render unto him from the bottom of their hearts their humblest thanks and praises, do truly, firmly, assuredly and in the sincerity of their hearts think, and do hereby recognize, acknowledge and declare, that King James the Second having abdicated the government, and their Majesties having accepted the crown and royal dignity as aforesaid, their said Majesties did become, were, are and of right ought to be by the laws of this realm our sovereign liege lord and lady, king and queen of England, France and Ireland and the dominions thereunto belonging, in and to whose princely persons the royal state, crown and dignity of the said realms with all honours, styles, titles, regalities, prerogatives, powers, jurisdictions and authorities to the same belonging and appertaining are most fully, rightfully and entirely invested and incorporated, united and annexed.
And for preventing all questions and divisions in this realm by reason of any pretended titles to the crown, and for preserving a certainty in the succession thereof, in and upon which the unity, peace, tranquility and safety of this nation doth under God wholly consist and depend, the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons do beseech their Majesties that it may be enacted, established and declared, that the crown and regal government of the said kingdoms and dominions, with all and singular the premises thereunto belonging and appertaining, shall be and continue to their said Majesties and the survivor of them during their lives and the life of the survivor of them, and that the entire, perfect and full exercise of the regal power and government be only in and executed by his Majesty in the names of both their Majesties during their joint lives; and after their deceases the said crown and premises shall be and remain to the heirs of the body of her Majesty, and for default of such issue to her Royal Highness the Princess Anne of Denmark and the heirs of the body of his said Majesty; and thereunto the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons do in the name of all the people aforesaid most humbly and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs and posterities for ever, and do faithfully promise that they will stand to, maintain and defend their said Majesties, and also the limitation and succession of the crown herein specified and contained, to the utmost of their powers with their lives and estates against all persons whatsoever that shall attempt anything to the contrary.
And whereas it hath been found by experience that it is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant kingdom to be governed by a popish prince, or by any king or queen marrying a papist, the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons do further pray that it may be enacted, that all and every person and persons that is, are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold communion with the see or Church of Rome, or shall profess the popish religion, or shall marry a papist, shall be excluded and be for ever incapable to inherit, possess or enjoy the crown and government of this realm and Ireland and the dominions thereunto belonging or any part of the same, or to have, use or exercise any regal power, authority or jurisdiction within the same; and in all and every such case or cases the people of these realms shall be and are hereby absolved of their allegiance; and the said crown and government shall from time to time descend to and be enjoyed by such person or persons being Protestants as should have inherited and enjoyed the same in case the said person or persons so reconciled, holding communion or professing or marrying as aforesaid were naturally dead; and that every king and queen of this realm who at any time hereafter shall come to and succeed in the imperial crown of this kingdom shall on the first day of the meeting of the first Parliament next after his or her coming to the crown, sitting in his or her throne in the House of Peers in the presence of the Lords and Commons therein assembled, or at his or her coronation before such person or persons who shall administer the coronation oath to him or her at the time of his or her taking the said oath (which shall first happen), make, subscribe and audibly repeat the declaration mentioned in the statute made in the thirtieth year of the reign of King Charles the Second entitled, "An Act for the more effectual preserving the king's person and government by disabling papists from sitting in either House of Parliament."
But if it shall happen that such king or queen upon his or her succession to the crown of this realm shall be under the age of twelve years, then every such king or queen shall make, subscribe and audibly repeat the same declaration at his or her coronation or the first day of the meeting of the first Parliament as aforesaid which shall first happen after such king or queen shall have attained the said age of twelve years. All which their Majesties are contented and pleased shall be declared, enacted and established by authority of this present Parliament, and shall stand, remain and be the law of this realm for ever; and the same are by their said Majesties, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons in Parliament assembled and by the authority of the same, declared, enacted and established accordingly.
II. And be it further declared and enacted by the authority aforesaid, that from and after this present session of Parliament no dispensation by "non obstante" of or to any statute or any part thereof shall be allowed, but that the same shall be held void and of no effect, except a dispensation be allowed of in such statute, and except in such cases as shall be specially provided for by one or more bill or bills to be passed during this present session of Parliament.
III. Provided that no charter or grant or pardon granted before the three and twentieth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred eighty-nine shall be any ways impeached or invalidated by this Act, but that the same shall be and remain of the same force and effect in law and no other than as if this Act had never been made.
©1998 National Humanities Institute