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PREFACE TO FIRST EDITION.
No Commentary upon Magna Carta has hitherto been written from the standpoint of modern research. No serious attempt has yet been made to supersede, or even adequately to supplement, the works of Coke and Richard Thomson, published respectively in 1642 and 1829, and now hopelessly out of date. That this conspicuous gap in our historical and legal literature should have remained so long unfilled is the more remarkable in view of the great advance, amounting almost to a revolution, which has been effected since Coke and Thomson wrote. Within the last twenty years, in especial, a wealth of new material has been explored with notable results. Discoveries have been made, profoundly affecting our views of every branch of law, every organ of government, and every aspect of social and individual life in medieval England. Nothing, however, has hitherto been done towards applying to the systematic elucidation of Magna Carta the new stores of knowledge thus accumulated.
With this object in view, I have endeavoured, throughout several years of hard, but congenial work, to collect, sift, and arrange the mass of evidence, drawn from many scattered sources, capable of throwing light upon John’s Great Charter. The results have now been condensed into the Commentary which fills two–thirds of the present volume. This attempt to explain, point by point, the sixty–three chapters of Magna Carta, embracing, as these do, every topic—legal, political, economic and social—in which John and his barons felt a vital interest, has involved an analysis in some detail of the whole public and private life of England during the thirteenth century. The Commentary is preceded by a Historical Introduction, which describes the events leading to the crisis of 1215, analyzes the grievances which stirred the barons to revolt, discusses the contents and characteristics of the Charter, traces its connection with the subsequent course of English history, and gives some account of previous editions and commentaries.
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PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION.
The numerous and weighty criticisms upon the first edition of this Commentary (published in 1905 and now out of print) were doubly welcome to the author as showing a widespread interest in the subjects discussed, and as enabling him to profit from the collaboration of eminent specialists in the elucidation of Magna Carta and of the age that gave it birth. The last eight years have been fertile in discussions on the form and contents, the historical setting, and the constitutional value of the Great Charter. Monographs and contributions to periodical literature, devoted exclusively to Magna Carta, have been published in France, Germany and the United States of America, as well as in Great Britain; while few books have appeared on English medieval history or on the development of English law without throwing light incidentally on one or more of the Charter’s various aspects.
An endeavour has been made, by severe condensation, to find room in this new edition for whatever seemed relevant and of permanent value in this mass of new material, without sacrificing anything of importance contained in the first edition. Effect has been given, so far as space permitted, to the suggestions cordially offered by critics and fellow–workers, both privately and in published books and articles; while the author’s own recent researches have supplied additional illustrations, and have led him to modify several of his earlier impressions. Although no reason has been found for altering fundamental propositions, the whole work has been recast; hardly a page, either of Commentary or of Historical Introduction, remains as originally written; and care has been taken to supply the reader with references to the most recent authorities on the various topics discussed or referred to.
The new material will be found mainly (1) in the portions of the Introduction treating respectively of scutages, the Coronation Charter of Henry I., the juridical nature of Magna Carta, its contemporary and permanent effects on constitutional development, its reissues by Henry III., and the nature of the so–called “unknown charter” of John; and (2) in chapters 12, 13, 14, 18, 20, 25, 27, 34, 38, 39 and 61 of the Commentary. In the Appendix, Professor Liebermann’s amended text of Henry I.’s Charter of Liberties has been adopted, and the Great Charter of 1225 substituted for that of 1217; while an attempt has been made, by means of italics and foot–notes, to show at a glance the chief points in which the three reissues by Henry III. differ from one another and from the Charter as originally...