As a peace treaty Magna Carta failed. Within ten weeks of its sealing, King John convinced the pope to render it void and England was plunged into internal war. This might have been the end of Magna Carta. Nevertheless, King John’s successors found re-issuing Magna Carta to be a useful political measure for keeping peace with the barons of the kingdom. It declared the king’s good faith in protecting the barons’ interests, couched in the language of the rule of law. King Henry III (reigned 1217–1272), as a minor, issued a significantly abridged version of Magna Carta in 1216, and then again in 1217 along with a companion charter, the Charter of the Forest. King Henry III later confirmed Magna Carta in 1225, 1237, 1253, and 1265 as the need to levy new taxes arose. Henry’s successor, King Edward I (reigned 1272–1307), reissued Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest in his Confirmation of the Charters (1297) to gain funds to support his war in Flanders.
Over time, however, Magna Carta came to symbolize a commitment to the rule of law. By the fourteenth century reconfirmation of Magna Carta by Parliament became a regular public event by which members of Parliament asserted the king’s obligation to uphold the rule of law. Modern research has revealed as many as forty-four distinct, reaffirmations of Magna Carta, with the last occurring in 1423.
Miniature Manuscript of Magna Carta
This finely rendered miniature manuscript contains the text of Magna Carta, the Charter of the Forest, and the thirteenth-century statutes of England. The illuminated letter “E” at the beginning of the text is the first letter of the name Eduardus, or King Edward I, who confirmed Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest in 1297. Bound volumes of the statutes of England, like the one on display, were produced in large numbers in the fourteenth century to be used as portable legal references.
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Magna Carta, 1225
This early-fourteenth-century manuscript opens with Magna Carta. The gilt letter “H” at the beginning of the text is the first letter of the name Henricus, or King Henry III, son of King John, who reissued Magna Carta (through his regent, the Earl of Pembroke) in 1216, in 1217, and then again in 1225. The Magna Carta included in this manuscript is the heavily abridged 1225 issue of the charter, which eliminated many passages that appeared in King John’s original 1215 issue, including the requirement to take counsel with the kingdom’s stakeholders before raising taxes and the provisions that empowered the barons to enforce the charter if the king violated its terms.
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Confirmation of the Charters
King Edward I reissued Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest in 1297 by an act known as the Confirmation of the Charters. The 1297 issue was especially important because it was the first time Magna Carta was recorded in the Statute Rolls, the official registry of the statutes of England. The Confirmation of the Charters adopted the text of King Henry III’s 1225 issue of Magna Carta, which has consequently been cited in legal contexts as a statute of King Henry III. The present work was part of a collection of all English statutes based on an examination of historical sources, including a review of the medieval documents of record.
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Magna Carta in Print
Small reference works containing the laws of England circulated in manuscript form for two hundred years before they were reproduced in print. In 1508, English printer Richard Pynson produced this small format book that contains King Henry III’s 1225 Magna Carta and England’s earliest statutes. This book was immensely popular, appearing in at least twenty editions by 1587 and inspiring the creation of many similar collections of law by competing printers. Later collections of English statutes adopted Pynson’s custom of beginning the record of statutes with Magna Carta, a practice that continues in England today.
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First Printed Abridgment of English Law
This item, printed by John Lettou and William De Machlinia as early as 1481, is the first printed abridgment of English statutes and may be the first law book to be printed in England. Created as a handbook for lawyers, the work summarizes the law and presents it in categories. Under the category “Peers of the Kingdom” can be found a summary of Chapter 29 of King Henry III’s 1225 Magna Carta (Chapter 39 in King John’s Magna Carta), which prohibits both the imprisonment and physical punishment of a free man without the legal judgment of his peers.
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