HL Deb 09 May 1946 vol 141 cc117-21

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

(The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair.)

Clause 1:

Power of Trustees to arrange for exhibition of Magna Chaste in Library of Congress.

1.—(1) The Trustees of the British Museum may enter into and carry out an agreement with the Librarian of Congress for lending the Lacock Abbey Magna Charta for a period not exceeding two years for public exhibition in the Library of Congress of the United States of America.

(3) In this Act the expression "the Lacock Abbey Magna Charta" means the reissue of Magna Charta made in the ninth year of the reign of King Henry the Third, with an impression of the Great Seal attached thereto, presented to the Trustees of the British Museum by Miss Matilda Theresa Talbot.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD JOWITT) moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "Charta" and insert "Carta." The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I invite your Lordships in this case to drop your "h," and I must say I think I have got very strong grounds for doing so. How the "h" crept in is a matter of interest but, after all, what matters is what our forefathers at the time called the document. I have made some researches in the very limited time at my disposal, ably assisted by our librarian, and this is what I have found. The Magna Carta of King John, sealed by him at Runnymede in 1215, is a document which, like many other documents preceding it and coming after it, refers actually to the word "carta" without the "h," and that in several places. After having sealed the Charter, to use the English phrase, King John was gathered to his fathers and was succeeded by King Henry—Henry of Winchester—who was a boy of nine years of age. He was crowned at Gloucester, and, by his Regent, sealed a Charter in 1216, the following year, which differed in some not unimportant respects from the Charter of King John. In 1217 two Charters were issued on behalf of the King, the Charter of Liberties, and the Forest Charter.

In 1218, I find from the Close Rolls, letters were directed to the Sheriff of Yorkshire sending him Cartas de libertatibus—spelt without the "h"—and ordering him to take action thereon. In that document reference is actually made to Magna Carta. Then in 1225, the King, being then 18 years old (it is rather a debatable point as to whether he had or had not attained his majority, because the Pope Honorius had decreed that he should be deemed to be of age subject to certain conditions, and it is questionable whether those conditions were fulfilled or not) issued two Charters, the Charter of Liberties, which is the Lacock Abbey Charter which we contemplate sending to America, and the Forest Charter. In all those documents the word "Carta" appears. In the same year Royal letters were directed to the Bishop of Durham referring to certain liberties written in magna carta nostra de libertatibus. In the Statutes of the Realm in 1237, King Henry (now beyond all question having attained the age of 21), thought fit to confirm all the liberties and free customs contained in the Charters which he caused to be issued when he was under age, namely both in Magna Carta nostra quam in carta nostra de foresta. They were issued by the Bishop of Chichester at Westminster in 1237, the Bishop of Chichester then being Chancellor.

Matthew Paris of St. Alban's, the chronicler of the times, refers to the confirmation of that Charter, and records that Henry promised that thenceforward the libertates magnae cartae should be inviolably observed. It is interesting to note that a few years later, in 1242, in a Debate at Westminster, Matthew Paris records that Henry conceded the liberties contained in Magna Carta and then granted a certain small charter of his own, parvam cartam suam. I have very little doubt from my researches that the parvam cartam was in fact the carta de foresta, in contradistinction to the carta de libertatibus, which was the magna carta simply because it was a much longer and more formidable document. Edward I succeeded to the throne in 1272, and in 1297 he granted a confirmation of the Great Charter of the Liberties of England and of the Liberties of the Forest, in which he used the phrase that he had "inspected Magna Carta" of his father. I could go on at great length, but I may say that this "h" has never previously disgraced our Parliamentary records.

Perhaps I may now jump rapidly to 1938. When the Administration of Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was introduced and was passed by your Lordships' House, it was proposed to leave out the words "outlawed or" from what was described as "Magna Carta." Although the Commons took a different view—they did not want Magna Carta to be interfered with—it is interesting to note that as late as 1938 that was the view which the Legislature took. Blackstone, Stubbs (whose work used to delight successive generations of Oxford undergraduates), Maitland, Holdsworth, and McKechnie, in his very excellent book on Magna Carta, all used the word "Carta," and the rivals who used the word "Charta" are not to be compared with those greater writers. The earliest authentic use of "Charta" within the knowledge of the compilers of the New Mediæval Latin Dictionary is as late as the 15th Century.

If your Lordships will go to the Library and take down for yourselves the book which is called Rotuli Chartarum, with the "h," published in 1837, you will find that it is a collection of these ancient charters which, from before King John's time, all referred to the word "Carta," without an "h." So that the "h" crept in, I suggest, through some careless scribe in mediæval times or perhaps rather earlier. With regard to Cicero and Pliny, I confess I have not had time to make my researches into what are the earliest manuscripts. I think I am right in saying that the very earliest and the most imperfect manuscript of Catullus is about A.D. 900. What the Ciceronian manuscripts are I do not know, but I have already in my researches come across illustrations where tran- scribers have transcribed the word "carta" or "cartula" by "charta" or "chartula." Although it is no doubt the fact that some of these people do make Cicero appear to say, "Charta," and Pliny too, I am not sure whether they actually did or did not use that word, but I do feel that what is relevant is not the words they used but the words that our forefathers used when this Act was passed. Therefore I beg your Lordships to drop the "h," and to let us use the old word "carta" instead of this new "charta." I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 7, leave out ("Charta") and insert ("Carta").—(The Lord Chancellor.)


I hope we shall all agree with what the Lord Chancellor has said. I am glad he puts it upon the right ground. The right ground undoubtedly is that these ancient documents in our own history have constantly spelt this word without the "h" and it is only right that we should follow that good English tradition. It would, I think, be quite inaccurate to say that the "h" has crept in as a sort of superfluous "h" because there cannot be any doubt that in any standard Latin dictionary the word spelt with an "h" will be found as used by many authorities. It is quite true that when you talk about these classical texts, the actual text at which you have to look is probably a copy of a copy of a copy made centuries after the authors wrote their works, and I do not feel any doubt myself that there has been a certain amount of changing from one form to the other as time went on. That does not seem to me to matter and I ventured to say on the Second Reading that I can quite understand that great authorities think—and I agree with them—that the important thing is to follow our ancient English tradition.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


The next Amendment, in subsection (3), is consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 15, leave out ("Charta") in both places where that word occurs and insert ("Carta").—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.


It is necessary now that these amendments have been made in the Bill to make a consequential alteration in the title. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Title, leave out ("Charta") and insert ("Carta").—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

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