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PREAMBLE.1 - Misc (Magna Carta), Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction 
Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction, by William Sharp McKechnie (Glasgow: Maclehose, 1914).
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Johannes Dei gratia rex Anglie, dominus Hibernie, dux Normannie et Aquitannie, et comes Andegavie, archiepiscopis, episcopis, abbatibus, comitibus, baronibus, justiciariis, forestariis, vicecomitibus, prepositis, ministris et omnibus ballivis et fidelibus suis salutem. Sciatis nos intuitu Dei et pro salute anime nostre et omnium antecessorum et heredum nostrorum, ad honorem Dei et exaltationem sancte Ecclesie, et emendacionem regni nostri, per consilium venerabilium patrum nostrorum, Stephani Cantuariensis archiepiscopi tocius Anglie primatis et sancte Romane ecclesie cardinalis, Henrici Dublinensis archiepiscopi, Willelmi Londoniensis, Petri Wintoniensis, Joscelini Bathoniensis et Glastoniensis, Hugonis Lincolniensis, Walteri Wygorniensis, Willelmi Coventriensis, et Benedicti Roffensis episcoporum; magistri Pandulfi domini pape subdiaconi et familiaris, fratris Aymerici magistri milicie Templi in Anglia; et nobilium virorum Willelmi Mariscalli comitis Penbrocie, Willelmi comitis Sarresburie, Willelmi comitis Warennie, Willelmi comitis Arundellie, Alani de Galeweya constabularii Scocie, Warini filii Geroldi, Petri filii Hereberti, Huberti de Burgo senescalli Pictavie, Hugonis de Nevilla, Mathei filii Hereberti, Thome Basset, Alani Basset, Philippi de Albiniaco, Roberti de Roppeleia, Johannis Mariscalli, Johannis filii Hugonis et aliorum fidelium nostrorum.
John, by the grace of God, king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and count of Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justiciars, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his bailiffs and liege subjects, greeting. Know that, having regard to God and for the salvation of our souls, and those of all our ancestors and heirs, and unto the honour of God and the advancement of holy Church, and for the reform of our realm, [we have granted as underwritten]1 by advice of our venerable fathers, Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England and cardinal of the holy Roman Church, Henry archbishop of Dublin, William of London, Peter of Winchester, Jocelyn of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh of Lincoln, Walter of Worcester, William of Coventry, Benedict of Rochester, bishops; of master Pandulf, subdeacon and member of the household of our lord the Pope, of brother Aymeric (master of the Knights of the Temple in England), and of the illustrious men2 William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, William, earl of Salisbury, William, earl Warenne, William, earl of Arundel, Alan of Galloway (constable of Scotland), Waren Fitz Gerald, Peter Fitz Herbert, Hubert de Burgh (seneschal of Poitou), Hugh de Neville, Matthew Fitz Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip d’Aubigny, Robert of Roppesley, John Marshal, John Fitz Hugh, and others, our liegemen.
The Great Charter of John opens, in the form common to royal charters of the period, with a greeting from the sovereign to his magnates, officials, and faithful subjects, and announces, in the pious legal formula used by impious and pious kings alike, that he had made certain grants by the advice of counsellors whom he names. Three features call for comment.
I. The King’s Title. Points of interest are suggested by the form of royal style here adopted. John’s assumption of the royal plural “Sciatis Nos” reads, in the light of subsequent history, as a tribute to his arrogance rather than his greatness, when compared with the humbler first person singular used by his father. In this particular, however, Richard, not John, had been the innovator.1 For a further alteration, John was alone responsible: to the titles borne by his father and brother, he added that of “lord of Ireland.” When the wide territories of Henry II., had been distributed among his elder sons, the young John (hence known as “John Lackland”) was left without a heritage, until his father bestowed on him the island of Ireland, recently appropriated; and this brought with it the right to style himself “dominus Hiberniae,” a title retained after he had outlived his brothers and inherited their wide lands and honours.
John began his reign in 1199 as ruler over the undivided possessions of the House of Anjou from the Cheviots to the Pyrenees. These lands were held, by him as by his father, under a variety of titles and conditions. Anjou, the original fief of the Plantagenet race, still carried with it only the title of count. Henry II. had, at an early age, become duke of Normandy in his mother’s right, and thereafter duke of Aquitaine by marriage with Eleanor, its heiress.2 These fiefs were held by Henry and his sons under the King of France as Lord Paramount. Long before 1215, John had lost these wide dominions, except the most distant of them all, his mother’s dowry of Aquitaine. Anjou and Normandy were irretrievably lost, but he still retained their empty titles; and in this Henry III. followed him at first, until, by the Treaty of 1259, he surrendered to Louis IX. all claim to Normandy and Anjou with their dependencies, in return for a confirmation of his claims on Aquitaine.3
Of Ireland, John was still, as formerly, “lord” not “king.”4 The exact denotation of “dominus” has formed the subject of learned controversy. It is not, as has sometimes been suggested, an inferior title to that of rex, appropriate only to a preliminary stage of the process culminating in kingship. The two words imply distinct relationships differing in kind. The one is national and the other personal and feudal. Kingship is conferred by “election” (or at least proclamation) followed by coronation; lordship depends on the feudal contract made with the individual vassal, by homage and fealty.1 England, alone of John’s possessions, was held by the style of “Rex,” implying sovereign rule, although John in 1213 had accepted Innocent as feudal overlord. In calling himself “Rex Angliae,” in place of “Rex Anglorum” (as Henry I. had done), he followed precedents of Stephen and of Henry II.2
No vindication of John’s title is given. The simple words, “Dei gratia rex Angliae,” may be contrasted with the laboured attempt of Stephen’s second and more formal charter of liberties (of April, 1136) to set forth a valid title to the throne; where he describes himself as appointed (“electus”) by consent of clergy and people; consecrated by William, Archbishop of Canterbury and Legate of Holy Roman Church; and thereafter confirmed by Innocent, Pontiff of the Holy See of Rome.3
Conscious of the claims of his cousin Matilda, Stephen here ignores the element of hereditary succession in determining the title to the Crown, and emphasizes the element of appointment or “election,” both of which were blended in the twelfth, as in earlier centuries, in proportions not easy to define with accuracy. Professor Freeman pushed to excess the supposed right of the Witenagemot to elect the King, and transferred it to the Norman Curia. A recent German writer, Dr. Oskar Rössler,4 denies that the Normans admitted the elective element at all. The theory now usually held is a mean between these extremes, namely, that the Norman Curia had a limited right of selecting among the sons, brothers, or near relations of the last King, the individual best suited to succeed him.1 Such a right, never authoritatively enunciated, gradually sank to an empty formality. Its place was taken, to some extent, by the successful assertion by the spiritual power of a claim to give or withhold the consecrating oil, without which no one could be recognized as rex. John, secure in possession, contents himself with the terse assertion of the fact of kingship: “John, by God’s grace, King of England.”
II. The Names of the consenting Nobles. It was natural that the Charter should place on record the assent of those magnates who remained in at least nominal allegiance, and were therefore capable of acting as mediators.2 The leading men in England during this crisis may be arranged in three groups: (1) the leaders of the host opposed to John at Runnymede; (2) the agents of John’s oppressions, extreme men, mostly aliens, many of whom were in command of royal castles or of mercenary levies; and (3) moderate men, churchmen or John’s ministers or relations, who, whatever their sympathies might be, remained in allegiance to the King and helped to arrange terms of peace—a comparatively small band, as the paucity of names recited in Magna Carta testifies.3 The men, here made consenters to John’s grant, are again referred to, though not by name, in chapter 63, in the character of witnesses.
III. The Motives of the Grant. The preamble contains a statement of John’s reasons for conceding the Charter. These are quaintly paraphrased by Coke:1 “Here be four notable causes of the making of this great charter rehearsed. 1. The honour of God. 2. For the health of the King’s soul. 3. For the exaltation of holy church, and fourthly, for the amendment of the Kingdom.” The real reason must be sought in another direction, namely, in the army of the rebels; and John in after days did not scruple to plead consent given under threat of violence, as a reason for voiding his grant. The technical legal “consideration,” the quid pro quo which John received as the price of this confirmation of their liberties was the renewal by his opponents of the homage and fealty that they had solemnly renounced. This “consideration” was not stated in the charter, but the fact was known to all.2
[1 ]The division of Magna Carta into a preamble and sixty–three chapters is a modern device for which there is no warrant in the Charter. Cf. supra, 170. No title or heading precedes the substance of the deed in any one of the four known originals, but on the back of the Lincoln MS. (cf. supra, 167) these words are endorsed; “Concordia inter Regem Johannem et Barones pro concessione libertatum ecclesie et regni Anglie.” The form of the document is discussed supra, 104–9. The text is taken from that issued by the Trustees of the British Museum founded on Cottonian version No. 2. Cf. supra, 166.
[1 ]The sentence is concluded in chapter one (see infra)—the usual division, here followed, being a purely arbitrary one.
[2 ]The phrase “nobiles viri” was not used here in any technical sense; the modern conception of a distinct class of “noblemen” did not take shape until long after 1215. Cf. what is said of “peerage” under cc. 14 and 39.
[1 ]Coke (Second Institute, pp. 1–2) errs in attributing the change to John.
[2 ]Aquitaine included Poitou and Gascony with the four dependent counties of Angoulême, La Marche, Limoges and Perigord. See Norgate, Minority, 132.
[3 ]See Giry, Manuel de diplomatique, 798.
[4 ]Henry VIII. was the first to call himself “King of Ireland”—a singular proof “of the success of Henry’s policy.” Gairdner, Lollardy, ii. 473.
[1 ]Cf. supra, p. 95. See Orpen, Ireland, I. 300 and II. 31, where it is pointed out that William Marshal refused to support his King against his “lord.” For other theories, see Round’s Mandeville, 70; Rössler’s Matilde, 291–4 and 424; Ramsay’s Foundations, II. 403; Davis, England under Normans, 170.
[2 ]Stubbs, Early English History, p. 122, seems to be in error here.
[3 ]See Charter in Appendix.
[4 ]Matilde, passim.
[1 ]See, however, Chadwick, Anglo–Saxon Institutions, p. 355 ff.
[2 ]Dr. Stubbs, Const. Hist., I. 582, gives the motive of thus naming them as “the hope of binding the persons whom it includes to the continued support of the hard–won liberties.” Those named were all moderate men. M. Paris (Chron. Maj., II. 589) describes them as “quasi ex parte regis.” Cf. Annals of Dunstable, III. 43. The neutrality of the prelates is proved by other evidence. (1) C. 62 gave them authority to certify by letters testimonial the correctness of copies of the Charter. (2) The 25th of the Articles of the Barons left to their decision whether John should enjoy a crusader’s privileges; while c. 55 gave Langton a special place in determining what fines were unjust. (3) The Tower of London was placed in the custody of the archbishop. (4) Copies are preserved of two protests by the prelates in favour of the King. See Appendix.
[3 ]Cf. supra, 36; for biographical information see authorities there cited.
[1 ]Second Institute, 1 n.
[2 ]Cf. supra, 40.