Volume 3: 1771 Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica!

Magna Charta

Magna Charta, the great charter of the liberties of Britain, and the basis of our laws and privileges.

This charter may be said to derive its origin from King Edward the Confessor, who granted several privileges to the church and state by charter: these liberties and privileges were also granted and confirmed by King Henry I. by a celebrated great charter now lost; but which was confirmed or re-enacted by King Henry II and king John. Henry III, the successor of this last prince, after having caused twelve men to make inquiry into the liberties of England in the reign of Henry I, granted a new charter, which was the same as the present magna charta: this he several times confirmed and as often broke; till, in thirty-seventh year of his reign he went to Westminster hall, and there, in the presence of the nobility and bishops, who held lighted candles in their hands, magna charta was read, the king all the while holding his hand to his breast, and at last solemnly swearing faithfully and inviolably to observe all the things therein contained, etc. then the bishops extinguishing the candles, and throwing them on the ground, they all cried out, "Thus let him be extinguished, and stink in hell, who violates this charter." It is observed, that notwithstanding the solemnity of this confirmation, King Henry, the very next year, again invaded the rights of his people, till the barons entered into a war against him, when, after various success, he confirmed this charter, and the charter of the forest, in the fifty second year of his reign. This excellent charter, so equitable and beneficial to the subject, is the ancientest written law in the Kingdom: by the 25 Edward I it is ordained that it shall be taken as the common law; and by the 43 Edward III, all statutes made against it are declared to be void.

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