Writ for publishing Magna Carta


Magna Carta, finally agreed on 15 June 1215, was intended to re-establish peace. For this to be implemented, the rebel barons had first to renew their homages to the king, repudiated since May. This they did at Runnymede, probably on 19 June. The terms of the settlement then had to be communicated to the country at large. This letter, dated from Runnymede on 20 June, informs the sheriff of Gloucestershire that a firm peace has been restored (‘pacem firmam esse reformatam’). The sheriff is to ensure that the men of his county pledge obedience to the 25 barons appointed to keep the peace. At the next meeting of the Gloucestershire county court, so the writ demands, 12 knights were to be elected to enquire into abuses by sheriffs, foresters and others of the king’s officers.

Letters identical to this were drawn up for publication in at least 33 counties, as well as in London and the Cinque Ports. The problem was that the king’s sheriffs, who would normally have published the settlement, were themselves the subject of complaint and investigation in Magna Carta. The solution adopted was to have the King’s letters read out by the sheriffs but for the most part distributed and preserved by bishops or clerics; hence the survival of the present document in the archives of Hereford Cathedral. The sheriff to whom it was addressed was a Frenchman, Engelard de Cigogné (d. 1244). In Magna Carta he had been specifically named among those of King John’s foreign favourites forbidden to hold office as sheriff. As this suggests, the peace established at Runnymede was a fragile affair. In the event, the King’s refusal to dismiss Engelard and his other loyal servants was one of many points on which peace foundered, and from which civil war very swiftly re-emerged.

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Writ for publishing Magna Carta
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