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charters, laws, liberties, king, henry, people, crown and time

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CHARTER. This word is from the Latin charta, a word of uncertain origin : the Greek form of the word is charts.

(XdPves). Charts appears to have signi fied writing material made of papyrus. The term was afterwards applied not only to the materials for writing, hut to the writing itself, as to a letter or the leaf of a book. In English law it was used to denote any public instrument, deed, or writing, being written evidence of things done between man and man, and standing as a perpetual record. (Bracton, lib 2, c. 2u.) Among the Saxons such instruments were known as gewrite, or writings.

Charters are divided into—I. charters of the crown, and II. Charters of private persons.

I. Royal charters were used at a very early period, for grants of privileges, ex emptions, lands, honours, pardon, and other benefits that the crown had to con fer; and thus the term became restricted to such instruments as conferred some right or franchise. These instruments did not differ in form from letters patent, being usually addressed by the king to all his subjects, and exposed to open view, with the great seal pendent at the bot tom ; but such as contained grants of particular kinds were distinguished by the name of charters. Thus as giving was the object of a charter, the term became very popular, and was used in a more extended sense, to denote laws of a popu lar character.

Whatever may have been the pre rogatives and legislative authority of the kings of England, it is certain that from the earliest times there were many rights and liberties which by the law of the land belonged to the people. As these were often restrained and violated, nothing was more acceptable to the nation than a formal recognition of them by the crown: and the popular name of charter was applied to those written laws by which the kings from time to time confirmed or enlarged the liberties of the people. Such laws were regarded not only as concessions from the king, but as contracts between man and man—be tween the king and his subjects ; while, at the same time, they were promulgated as the legislative acts of the sovereign authority in the state.

The charter of William the Conqueror, for observing the laws throughout Eng land, was in the nature of a public law. It settled the religion of the state and provided for its peace and government, for the administration of justice, the pun ishment of criminals, and the regulation of markets ; it confirmed the titles to lands, and the exemption of the tenants in chief of the crown from all unjust ex action and from tallage. The words are

those of a lawgiver appointing and com manding; "statuimus," "volumes et fir miter precipimus," "interdicimus," "de eretem est," are the forms of expression by which matters are ordered or prohi bited. (Feedere Rec. Comm. Ed., vol. i. P. I.) The charters of liberties granted by Henry I., Stephen, Henry IL, John, Henry III., and Edward I., are all, more or less, in the nature of public laws, either making new provisions, or confirm ing, enlarging, and explaining existing laws, and relate to the freedom and good government of the people, and all the most important interests of the country. Some of them are still regarded as autho ritative declarations of the rights and privileges which the people of England have enjoyed for centuries.* So valid and binding were the royal charters esteemed as laws, that in the 37 Henry III. (A.D. 1253), in the presence of the king, several of the first nobles, " and other estates of the realm of England," the archbishop and bishops excommuni cated and accursed all who should violate or change "the church's liberties or the ancient approved customs of th., realm, and chiefly the liberties contained in the charters of the common liberties and of the forest, granted by our lord the king." In those times no sanction more solemn could have been given to the authority of any law. It was intended chiefly as a check upon the king himself, whose power had been restrained by the popular concessions made in the charters of liber ties, but it was also directed against all his subjects who should violate the liber. ties of the people. [MAGNA CHARTA.] These charter-laws, though often ex pressed to have been made by the advice of the king's council, implied an absolute legislative power vested in the crown ; and as royal prerogative became restrained and the public liberties enlarged, legis lation by charter was gradually super seded by the statutes and ordinances made in Parliament. During the reigns of Henry III. and Edw. I. laws were promulgated in both forms ; but since that time statutes and ordinances have been the only records of legislation—not differing materially, at first, either in form or in the nature of the authority from which they emanated, from the charters of earlier reigns, but gradually assuming their present character as acts agreed to by the entire legislature.

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