Henry III’s Confirmation of Magna Carta in March 1265

Magna Carta 1215The purpose of this Feature of the Month is to bring attention to a little-known text of the confirmation of Magna Carta made by Henry III, in March 1265. The text survives in the form of an inspeximus of the 1225 issue of Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest and includes a witness list naming those who endorsed the confirmation. Four copies of the inspeximus are known, all from statute books compiled in England in either the later thirteenth or early fourteenth century (BL, Cotton MS. Claudius D II; BL, Harley MS. 489; Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS. 70, Bodliean Library, MS. Add. C.188). These copies have largely escaped the notice of historians, meaning that this text has not formed part of the evidence base for studies of the period of reform and rebellion, 1258-67. No mention was made of the inspeximus copies in Rymer’s Foedera. The early-nineteenth-century editors of Statutes of the Realm noted their preservation in three manuscripts (the Cotton, Harley and Cambridge versions) and, in the table of contents, provided a transcription of the Harley text,1 while the inspeximus in the Cotton manuscript was given in the Munimenta Gildhallae Londoniensis.2 No version, though, was included in Treharne and Sanders’ edition of documents covering the period of reform and rebellion.3 The existence of these copies was again noted by Nicholas Vincent, principal investigator of the Magna Carta Project, in the 2007 Sotheby’s catalogue he wrote for an engrossment of the 1297 confirmation of Magna Carta.4 The fourth copy of the 1265 inspeximus, given in the Bodleian manuscript, was earlier discovered by co-investigator Paul Brand. The significance of the inspeximus and its relative obscurity was pointed out by another of the project’s investigators, David Carpenter, on seeing the text in the British Library’s Cotton manuscript. A transcription and translation of the text is provided below.

The inspeximus and its witness list provide important evidence about the parliament called by Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, which took place at Westminster, between the octaves of Hilary (20 January) and c.14 March 1265.5 The parliament was held during the concluding stage of the period of reform and rebellion. The previous year, on 14 May, Montfort had defeated and captured Henry III and his son, the lord Edward, at the battle of Lewes.6 He and his confederates had subsequently seized the reins of government and established a council of magnates, bishops and knights to rule in the king’s name. The new regime, though, rested on unsteady foundations. The seizure of royal power by subjects was radical and hard to justify. When a council was first imposed on Henry by a court coup, in 1258, and briefly re-imposed, in 1263, the reformers had claimed that the king had given his consent. Montfort’s victory at Lewes meant that this line was now insupportable.7 The new regime was founded on a precarious military superiority and lacked the consent not only of the king but also much of the comital and baronial elite. Meanwhile, the lord Edward’s allies among the barons of the Welsh marches threatened a counter-attack. The future of Montfort’s government rested on the earl’s ability to mobilise a broader base of support, amongst the senior churchmen who could lend his regime moral authority as well as the county knights and townsmen who could implement its rule on the ground and defend it from a royalist resurgence.8 To this end Montfort had summoned to parliament 120 prelates as well as two knights elected from every county and citizens from the towns and Cinque Ports.9

Sophie Ambler, ‘Feature of the month: March 2014 – Henry III’s Confirmation of Magna Carta in March 1265’, The Magna Carta Project [http://magnacartaresearch.org/read/feature_of_the_month/Mar_2014 accessed 04 March 2014]

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