Granted November 6th, A.D. 1217,



HENRY, by the grace of God, king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy, Acquitaine, and count of Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, justiciaries, foresters, sheriffs, governors, officers, and all his bailiffs and faithful subjects, Greeting.

Know ye that we, for the honour for God and for the salvation of our own soul and the souls of our ancestors and successors, for the exaltation of Holy Church and the reform of our realm, have granted and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs for ever, by the counsel of our venerable father, the lord Gualo, T.T. cardinal priest of St. Martin and legate of the apostolic see, of the lord Walter archbishop of York, William bishop of London and the other bishops of England and of William Marshal earl of Pembroke, guardian of us and of our kingdom, and of others our faithful earls and barons of England, these underwritten liberties to be held in our kingdom of England for ever.

[1] Imprimis, all the forests made by our grandfather king Henry, shall be viewed by good and lawful men, and if he made any other than his own proper woods into forests to the damage of him whose wood it was, it shall forthwith be disafforested. And if he made his own proper woods forest, it shall remain forest, saving the common (right) of pasturage, and of other things in the same forest, to those who were formerly accustomed to have them.

[2] Men who live outside the forest, from henceforth shall not come before our justiciaries of the forest, upon a common summons, unless they are impleaded there or are sureties for any other (persons) who were attached for something concerning the forest.

[3] Also all woods which were afforested by King Richard our uncle, or by King John our father, until our own first Coronation, shall forthwith be disafforested, unless they shall be our demesne woods.

[4] Archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, knights and freeholders who have woods within forests shall have them the same as they held them at the time of the first coronation of our grandfather king Henry, [Henry II was first crowned on Sunday December 19th, 1154] so that they shall be discharged forever of all purprestures, wastes, and assarts made in their woods after that time until the beginning of the second year of our coronation. And those who in future shall without our licence make wastes, purprestures or assarts within them, shall answer for such wastes, (purprestures) or assarts. [Waste - cleared but uncultivated worthless land; Purpresture - trespass and erection of dwellings; Assart - land cleared for cultivation]

[5] Our regarders shall go through the forests to make a view as it was used to be made at the time of the first coronation of our grandfather, king Henry ,and not otherwise.

[6] The inquisition or view for lawing of dogs living within the forest, for the future shall be when the view ought to be made, namely, the third year in three years; and then it shall be done by the view and testimony of lawful men, and not otherwise. And he whose dogs shall be found then unlawed, shall give three shillings for mercy, and for the future no one’s ox shall be taken for lawing. Such lawing also shall be done by the assize commonly used; which is, that three claws shall be cut off outside the ball of the fore-foot. Nor shall dogs be lawed from henceforth, excepting in places where it hath been customary to expeditate them from the time of the first coronation of king Henry our grandfather. [Lawing or ‘expeditation’ of an animal, especially a dog, was to cut off its claws in order to inhibit deer chasing]

[7] No forester nor beadle shall for the future make any scotale, nor collect sheaves of corn or oats, or any grain, or lambs, or swine, nor shall make any gathering but by the view and oath of twelve regarders; and when they shall make their view: as many foresters shall be appointed to keep the forests, as they shall think reasonably sufficient for the purpose. [Scotale - the keeping of an ale-house within a forest by an officer of the forest, who might abuse his position to get trade]

[8] No swainmote for the future shall be held in our kingdom, excepting thrice a year; namely, in the beginning of fifteen days before the feast of Saint Michael when the agistators meet for the agisting of our (royal) demesne woods; and about the feast of Saint Martin, when our agistators ought to receive our pannage-dues: and in those two swainmotes the foresters, verderers, and agistators shall meet, and no others by distraint; and the third swainmote shall be held in the beginning of the fifteen days before the Feast of Saint John the Baptist concerning the fawning of our does; and at that swainmote the tenants shall meet the foresters and verderers, and no others shall be distrained to be there. Moreover every forty days through the whole year, the foresters and verderers shall meet for seeing to attachments of the forests, as well of vert as of venison, by the presentment of the foresters themselves and before those who are attached. And the aforesaid swainmotes shall not be holden, except in those counties where they were accustomed to be held. [Swainmote - a court held before the verderers as judges, by the steward of the court, with swains, freeholders within the forest, making up the jury; Vert - green forest vegetation forming cover or providing food for deer]

[9] Every free man shall agist his own wood in the forest as he wishes and have his pannage. We grant also that every free-man may drive his swine through our demesne wood freely and without impediment to agist them in his own woods or anywhere else as he wishes. And if the swine of any free-man shall remain one night in our forest, he shall not on that account lose anything of his for it. [Agist - to pasture livestock for a fee; Pannage - the right to allow pigs to forage in woodland. A fee might be charged for this.]

[10] No man henceforth shall lose life or limb for taking our venison, but if he shall be seized and convicted of taking venison he shall be fined heavily if he has the means to pay; but if he has not the means, he shall lie in our prison for a year and a day; and if after a year and a day he can find sureties, he shall leave prison; but if not, he shall abjure the kingdom of England.

[11] Whatever archbishop, bishop, earl or baron shall be passing through our forest, it shall be lawful for them to take one or two deer under the view of the forester, if he shall be present; but if not, he shall cause a horn to be blown, lest it should seem like theft.

[12] Every free-man for the future, may, without being prosecuted, erect a mill in his own wood or upon his own land which he has in the forest; or make a warren, or pond, or marl-pit, or ditch, or turn it into arable land, so that it be not to the detriment of any of the neighbours.

[13] Every free-man shall have the eyries of hawks, sparrowhawks, falcons, eagles and herons in his own woods, and he shall likewise have the honey found in his woods.

[14] No forester from henceforth, who is not a forester in fee-farm, giving to us rent for his bailiwick, shall take any cheminage, within his bailiwick; but a forester in fee, paying to us rent for his bailiwick, shall take cheminage; that is to say, for every cart two-pence for the one half year, and two-pence for the other half year; and for a horse that carries burdens, one half-penny for the one half year, and one half-penny for the other half year: and not that excepting of those who come out of their bailiwick by licence of their bailiff as dealers, to buy underwood, timber, bark, or charcoal; to carry it to sell in other places where they will: and of no other carts nor burdens shall any cheminage be taken; and cheminage shall not be taken excepting in those places where anciently it used to be and ought to be taken. Also those who carry wood, bark, or coal, upon their backs to sell, although they get their livelihood by it, shall not for the future pay cheminage. Also cheminage shall not be taken by our foresters, for any besides our demesne woods. [Cheminage - A toll levied on transport in the forest]

[15] All persons outlawed for forest offences from the time of king Henry our grandfather up to our first coronation, shall be released from their outlawry without legal proceedings; and they shall find sureties that for the future they will not trespass unto us in our forests.

[16] No castellan or other person shall hold forest pleas whether concerning vert or venison but every forester-in-fee shall attach forest pleas as well concerning both vert and venison and shall present them to the verderers of the provinces; and when they have been enrolled and put under the seals of the verderers they shall be presented to our chief forester, when he comes into those parts to hold forest pleas and before him they shall be determined.

And these liberties concerning the forests we have granted to all men, saving to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, knights, and others, ecclesiastical as well as secular; Templars and Hospitallers, their liberties and free customs, in forests and outside, in warrens and other places, which they had previously. All these aforesaid customs and liberties which we have granted to be observed in our kingdom for as much as it belongs to us; all our whole kingdom shall observe, clergy as well as laity, for as much as belongs to them. Because we have at present no seal, we have caused the present charter to be sealed with the seals of our venerable father the lord Gualo T.T. cardinal-priest of St. Martin, legate of the apostolic see, and of William Marshal earl of Pembroke, guardian of us and of our kingdom. Witness the before-named and many others. Given by the hands of the aforesaid lord, the legate, and of William Marshal at St. Paul’s, London, on the sixth day of November in the second year of our reign.

Based on the translation in Richard Thomson, An Historical Essay on the Magna Charta of King John, John Major, London, 1829. With reference to Harry Rothwell (ed.), English Historical Documents, Vol. 3, 1189-1327 (London, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1975.