MAGNA CHARTA. The Great Charter of English liberties, so called (but which was really a compact between the king and his barons, and almost exclusively for the benefit of the latter, though confirming the ancient liberties of Englishmen in some few parti culars), was wrung from king John by his barons assembled in arms, on the 19th of June, 1215, and was given by the king's hand, as a confirmation of his own act, on the little island in the Thames, within the county of Buckinghamshire, which is still called "Mag na Charta Island." The preliminary interview was held in the mea dow of Running Mede, or Runny Mede (fr. Sax. 'line, council), that is, council meadow, which bad been used constantly for national assemblies, and which was situated on the southwest side of the Thames, between Staines and Windsor. Though such formalities wore observed, the provisions of the ()barter were disregarded by John and succeed ing kings, each of whom, when wishing to do a popular thing, confirmed this charter. There were thirty-two confirmations between 1215 and 1416, the most celebrated of which were those by Hen. III. (1225) and Edw. I., whioh last confirmation was sealed with the great seal of England at Ghent, on tbe oth Nov. 1297. The Magna Charta printed in all the books as of 9 Hen. III. is really a tran script of the roll of parliament of 25 Edw. I. There were many originals of Magna Cbarta made, two of whioh are preserved in the British Museum.
2. Magna Charta consists of thirty.-seven chapters, the subject-matter of which is very various. C. 1 provides that the Anglican church shall be free and possess its rights unimpaired, probably referring chiefly to im munity from papal jurisdiction. C. 2 fixes relief which shall be paid by king's tenant of full age. C. 3 relates to heirs and their being in ward: C. 4 ; guardians of wards within age art by this chapter restrained from waste of ward's estate, "vasto hominum et rerum," waste of men and of things, which shows that serfs were regarded as slaves even by this much-boasted charter ; and as serfs and freemen were at this time the divisions , of society, and as freemen included, almost Without exception, the nobility alone, we can see somewhat how much this charter deserves its name. C. 5 relates to the land and other
property of heirs, and the delivering them up when the heirs are of age. C. 6, the marriage of heirs. C. 7 provides that widow shall have quarantine of forty days in her husband's chief house, and shall have her dower set out to her at once, without paying any thing for it, and in mean while to have reasonable estovers; the dower to be one-third of lands of husband, unless wife was endowed of less at the church-door ; widow not to be compelled to marry, but to find surety that she will not marry without consent of the lord of whom she holds.
3. Marriage settlements have now in Eng land taken the Place, in great measure, of dower.
C. 8, the goods and chattels of crown-debtor to be exhausted before his rents and lands are distrained ; the surety not to be called upon if the principal can pay.; if sureties pay the debt, they to have the rents and lands of debtor till the debt is satisfied. C. 9 se cures to London and other cities and boroughs and town barons of the five ports, and all other ports, to have their ancient liberties.
C. 10 prohibits excessive distress for more services or rent than was due. C. 11 pro vides that court of common pleas should not follow the court of the king, but should be held in a certain place. They have been, ac cordingly, located at Westminster. C. 12 declares the manner of taking assizes of novel disseisin and mort d'ancestor. These were actions to recover lost seisin (q. v.), now abolished. C. 13 relates to assizes darein presentment brought by ecclesiastics to try right to present to ecclesiastical benefice. Abolished. C. 14 provides that amercemcut of a freeman for a fault shall be proportion ate to his crime, and not excessive, And that the villein of any other than the king shall be amerced in same manner, his farm, uten sils, etc. being preserved to him (salvo wa nagio suo). For otherwise he could not culti vate lord's land. C. 15 and c. 16 relate to making of bridges and keeping in repair of sewers and sea-walls. This is now regulated by local parochial law.