MAGNA CARTA AND STATUTES OF THE REALM, in Latin and Anglo-Norman French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, [England, possibly York, c.1300-1310]
MAGNA CARTA AND STATUTES OF THE REALM, in Latin and Anglo-Norman French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, [England, possibly York, c.1300-1310]

MAGNA CARTA AND STATUTES OF THE REALM, in Latin and Anglo-Norman French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, [England, possibly York, c.1300-1310]

100 x 72mm. 191 leaves including 9 medieval flyleaves (2 probably lifted pastedowns), COMPLETE: v + 1-138, 146, 15-238 + iv, occasional cropped catchwords, 22 lines in a small cursive anglicana documentary hand, written space 68 x 40mm. Chapter initials and paragraph marks before running headings and marginal chapter numbers alternately of blue and burnished gold, KL initials of the Calendar in gold against grounds of pink and blue, TWENTY-FIVE ILLUMINATED INITIALS with cusped bar borders extending to three sides and terminating in leafy sprays, LARGE HISTORIATED INITIAL with cusped ground and border to all four margins (some rubbing, offsetting and slight pigment loss, occasional stains). FIFTEENTH-CENTURY BINDING of panelled brown calf over wooden boards double-ruled in blind with a central diaper pattern, brass clasp and catch (extremities rubbed with small losses of leather, strap torn, head- and tail-bands possible early restoration). Black morocco slip-case.

(1) Among the principal feasts written in blue in the Calendar are several particularly indicative of York: most significantly the Feast of Relics (19 October), which is believed to be unique to that diocese. The inclusion of John of Beverley, archbishop of York (7 May and 25 October) indicates local observance, for his feast only entered the general Sarum Calendar in 1416.

(2) Fifteenth-century marginalia, particularly in the Charter of the Forest, provide English translations of some legal terms and demonstrate the continued use of the manuscript, perhaps by a land agent. A later owner noted the year 1649 on f.10 and a few words in shorthand on f.181. The name Josephus Waldner appears in an 18th-century hand on f.180 and that of the writer Soame Jenyns (1704-87) on f.23.

(3) PAUL FRANCIS WEBSTER (1907-1984), lyricist, author of three Oscar-winning songs: ‘Secret Love’; ‘Love is a Many-Splendored Thing’; ‘The Shadow of your Smile’. This manuscript was included in the 1985 sale of his collection, Sotheby’s New York 24 April, lot 59.


Calendar ff.2-7v; chapter list ff.10-22; MAGNA CARTA ff.25-42; Charter of the Forest ff.42-47v; Statute of Merton ff.41-46v; Statute of Marlborough ff.46v-60v; Statute of Gloucester, in Anglo-Norman French ff.61-68; First Statute of Westminster, in Anglo-Norman French, ff.68-96v; Second Statute of Westminster ff.97-152; Third Statute of Westminster ff.152v-153v; De conspiratoribus ff.154r-v; Champartour, in Anglo-Norman French ff.154v-155; De mercatoribus ff.155v-160; Circumspecte agatis ff.161-162; De vocatis ad warentum ff.162-163v; De wardis et releviis ff.164-165; Visus franciplegii ff.165v-167; Articuli contra prohibitionem regiam ff.167-168; Calumpnia Essonia ff.168v-169v; Homagium et fidelitatem ff.169v-170v; Quatuor modus dicitur exceptio ff.170v-171; De bigamis ff.171v-173v; De sokage et eius natura ff.173v-174; De religiosis ff.174v-175v; the Provisions of Windsor ff.176-176v; Articuli Wyntonie ff.176v-177v; De ponendis in Assisis et Iuris ff.178-179; Dies communes in banco f.179-180.

MAGNA CARTA IS THE MOST RENOWNED AND INFLUENTIAL LEGAL DOCUMENT OF THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WORLD. By agreeing to the terms of the Charter at Runnymede on 15 June 1215 King John bound himself and all subsequent rulers of his kingdom to the rule of law. In a modified form it was reissued in the name of his son and successor, Henry III in 1216 and 1217, and in 1225 the King once again confirmed the Charter and the accompanying Forest Charter, and this fourth issue was final and definitive: it became a permanent legislative enactment guaranteeing the rights and liberties of all freemen of the kingdom. It already had totemic status – and its name – but not until Edward I’s 1297 confirmation was Magna Carta officially enrolled by Chancery and copied into the first Statute Roll.

Thanks to the interpretation of Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), Attorney General to Elizabeth I and Chief Justice of James I of England, the Charter had widespread and continuing influence. His interpretation of it when he cited it against the power of Charles I of England – ‘Magna Charta is such a fellow that he will have no sovereign’ – came to inspire the charters for the American colonies. Coke had himself had drafted the first charter for the Virginia Company. The colonies in turn used it to justify revolution against British policies, with the Massachusetts Assembly invoking it in declaring the 1765 Stamp Act null and void, and on the eve of revolution adopting a new seal showing a militia man with a sword in one hand and Magna Carta in the other.


The present manuscript is a fine and early example of the collections of enrolled Statutes that had begun to be produced by the beginning of the 14th century. They were made for use by lawyers and administrators and were often small in size for ease of portability and consultation. It is uncommon for them to be so extensively illuminated: there are large foliate initials with borders opening each statute and the Magna Carta in Edward I’s reconfirmation of 1300 opens with a portrayal of the monarch.

THE 800TH ANNIVERSARY IS CELEBRATED THIS YEAR and is marked by an exhibition at the British Library with an accompanying catalogue – Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy – edited by Claire Breay and Julian Harrison.

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