We have also granted to all freemen* of our kingdom, for us and our heirs for ever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs for ever.
*Freeman – those of free status in the eyes of the law (that is, not villeins) and as such having certain rights denied to villeins, such as access to the Kings courts in certain actions, freedom to move about and marry and exemption from certain onerous duties.
Magna Charta Clause 61 (The Security Clause):
Since for God, for the improvement of our kingdom, and to better allay the discord arisen between us and our barons, we have granted all these concessions, and wishing that the concessions be enjoyed in their entirety with firm endurance (for ever ), we give and grant to the barons the following security:
Namely, that the barons choose any twenty-five barons of the kingdom they wish, who must with all their might observe and hold, and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties we have granted and confirmed to them by this our present Charter. Then, if we, our chief justiciar, our bailiffs or any of our officials, offend in any respect against any man, or break any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is notified to four of the said twenty-five barons, the four shall come to us—or to our chief justicicar if we are absent from the kingdom—to declare the transgression and petition that we make amends without delay.
And if we, or in our absence abroad the chief justice, have not corrected the transgression within forty days, reckoned from the day on which the offence was declared to us (or to the chief justice if we are out of the realm), the four barons mentioned before shall refer the matter to the rest of the twenty-five barons. Together with the community of the whole land, they shall then distrain and distress us in every way possible, namely by seizing castles, lands, possessions and in any other they can (saving only our own person and those of the queen and our children), until redress has been obtain in their opinion. And when amends have been made, they shall obey us as before.
Whoever in the country wants to, may take an oath to obey the orders of the twenty-five barons for the execution of all the previously mentioned matters and, with the barons, to distress us to the utmost of his power. We publicly and freely give permission to every one who wishes to take this oath, and we shall never forbid any one from taking it. Indeed, all those in the land who are unwilling to this oath, we shall by our command compel them to swear to it.
If any one of the twenty-five barons dies or leaves the country, or is in any other manner incapacitated so the previously mentioned provisions cannot be undertaken, the remaining barons of the twenty-five shall choose another in his place as they think fit, who shall be duly sworn in like the rest.
If there is any disagreement amongst the twenty-five barons on any matter presented to them, or if some of them are unwilling or unable to be present, what the majority of those present ordain or command shall be held as fixed and established, exactly as if all twenty-five had consented in this.
The said twenty-five barons shall swear to faithfully observe all the aforesaid articles and will do all they can to ensure that the articles are observed by others.
And we shall procure nothing from any one, either personally or indirectly, whereby any part of these concessions and liberties might be revoked or diminished; and if any such thing has been procured, let it be void and null, and we shall never make use of it ourselves or through someone else.
Lord Renton: My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps I may mention one point in relation to his fascinating speech. He suggested that we should amend Magna Carta. We cannot do that. Magna Carta was formulated before we ever had a Parliament. All that we can do is to amend that legislation which, in later years when we did have a Parliament, implemented Magna Carta.
Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Lord is of course correct in relation to present legislation. However, 17th century Parliaments treated Magna Carta, in its 1229 version, as being an Act of Parliament. I spoke loosely and I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me.
“Prerogative is created for the benefit of the people and cannot be exercised to their prejudice.” (The Royal Prerogative is the power delegated by the sovereign to ministers to sign treaties on behalf of the nation.) – Nichols v Nichols 1576
The Full Text
A Petition to
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
presented under clause 61 of Magna Carta, 1215
To Defend British Rights and Freedoms
as our humble duty, we draw to Your Majesty’s attention:
1. the loss of our national independence and the erosion of our ancient rights, freedoms and customs since the United Kingdom became a member of the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1973;
2. the terms of the Treaty of Nice, 2000, which, if ratified, will cause significant new losses of national independence, and further imperil the rights and freedoms of the British people, by surrendering powers to the European Union:
a) to enter into international treaties binding on the United Kingdom, without the consent of your Government;
b) to ban political parties, deny free association and restrict the free expression of political opinion;
c) which can be used to introduce an alien system of criminal justice, abolish the ancient British rights of habeas corpus and trial by jury, and allow onto British soil men-at-arms from other countries with powers of enforcement;
d) to create a military force which will place British service personnel under the command of the European Union without reference to British interests, and contrary to:
i) the oath of personal loyalty to the Crown sworn by British forces,
ii) the Queen’s Commission, and
iii) the United Kingdom’s obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation;
e) which remove the United Kingdom’s right to veto decisions not in British interests;
3. the creation by the European Union of a Charter of Fundamental Rights, which purports to give it the power to abolish such “rights” at will;
4. the unlawful use of the Royal Prerogative to
a) suspend or offend against statutes in ways which are prejudicial and detrimental to your sovereignty, contrary to the Coronation Oath Act, 1688;
b) subvert the rights and liberties of your loyal subjects, contrary to the ruling in Nichols v Nichols, 1576;
5. Your Majesty’s power to withhold the Royal Assent, and the precedent set by Queen Anne under a similar threat to the security of the Realm in 1707;
WHEREFORE it is our humble duty TO PETITION Your Majesty
to withhold the Royal Assent from any Parliamentary Bill which attempts to ratify the Treaty of Nice unless and until the people of the United Kingdom have given clear and specific approval;
to uphold and preserve the rights, freedoms and customs of your loyal subjects as set out in Magna Carta and the Declaration of Rights, which you, our Sovereign, swore before the nation to uphold and preserve in your Coronation Oath of June 1953.
We have the honour to be Your Majesty’s loyal and obedient subjects.
4. The House of Lords Records Office confirmed in writing as recently as last September that Magna Carta, signed by King John in June 1215, stands to this day. Home Secretary Jack Straw said as much on 1 October 2000, when the Human Rights Act came into force. Halsbury’s Laws of England says: “Magna Carta is as binding upon the Crown today as it was the day it was sealed at Runnymede.”
5. Copies of the petition – in calligraphy on vellum – will be available to supporters after the presentation on 7 February. Send a cheque for £25 (which includes postage and packing) to Sanity, 66 Chippingfield, Harlow, Essex, CM17 0DJ. All receipts will go toward defraying costs.
6. The day after the presentation of the petition (8 February) is the start of Her Majesty’s Jubilee Year. The following week marks the anniversaries of the dating (12 February) and signing (13 February) of The Declaration of Rights in 1688.
7. The meeting of peers is being organised by Lord Ashbourne, supported by Lord Sudeley and Lord Massereene & Ferrard acting in his capacity as Lord Oriel since his premier title is Scottish and pre-dates the Act of Union, 1707.
8. The Treaty of Nice signed by the British Government in December 2000 includes:
Article 24 – transforms the EU into an independent state with powers to enter into treaties with other states which would then be binding on all member states, subject to agreement determined by qualified majority voting. Article 23 allows the EU to appoint its own representatives in other countries, effectively with ambassadorial status.
Article 191 – assumes for the EU the right to “lay down regulations governing political parties at European level [ie: in the EU]” and withdraw or prevent the funding of political parties which do not “contribute to forming a European awareness.” This is a clear restriction of free speech and free political association. It also introduces two particularly abhorrent propositions – taxation without representation and the use of sanctions to suppress public opinion.
Articles 29 and 31 – establish common policing and judicial cooperation (Eurojust). Article 67 allows matters of justice and home affairs to be agreed by QMV. These articles open the door to the imposition of Corpus Juris on the UK (article 31 specifically calls for cross-border policing and prosecution, and the removal of conflicts of jurisdiction), and the deployment of armed Europol law enforcement officers on the streets of Britain. These matters were originally dealt with under article 280, which mysteriously disappeared from the draft of the Nice Treaty at the very last minute, in part at least following heavy pressure from British eurorealists.
Article 17 – establishes a common foreign and defence policy for the EU, with its own military force. The House of Commons was told on 11 December 2000, that: “The entire chain of command must remain under the political control and strategic direction of the EU. NATO will be kept informed.” Her Majesty The Queen is Commander in Chief of all her armed forces and Colonel in Chief of 46 of Her Regiments of the British army, every other regiment owing its loyalty directly via another member of The Royal Family as its Colonel in Chief to Her Majesty.
The loss of the UK veto applies to 39 new areas of EU “competence”, including indirect taxation, the environment, immigration, trade, employment, industrial policy, and regional funding. The EU also has plans for QMV to be expended to other areas not agreed at Nice, and without further treaty negotiations.
9. Charter of Fundamental Rights – signed at Biarritz, autumn 2000. Article 52 purports to give the EU the power to abolish them at will, effectively making them meaningless. The whole proposition that the state has the right to grant and abolish fundamental human rights [ie: those we inherent at birth and hold in trust for future generations] is not only absurd but also contrary to Magna Carta, 1215, the Declaration of Rights, 1688, and the Bill of Rights 1689.
10. Clause 61 of Magna Carta was last invoked when the Bishop of Salisbury (Gilbert Burnet) acted on behalf of the barons and bishops of England to invite William of Orange and Mary to come to London in 1688, after King James II had failed to re-establish Roman Catholicism in England, and lost the confidence of the people. His act of abdication was to throw the Great Seal into the Thames and flee the country.
11. The ruling in Nichols v Nichols 1576 included the words: “Prerogative is created for the benefit of the people and cannot be exercised to their prejudice.” (The Royal Prerogative is the power delegated by the sovereign to ministers to sign treaties on behalf of the nation.)
12. In 1707, Queen Anne withheld the Royal Assent from the Scottish Militia Bill when it became apparent that James Francis Stuart (pretender Prince of Wales, and the Queen’s half-brother) was planning with Louis XIV of France to invade Scotland from Calais in an attempt to establish a Jacobite sovereign. Were such an invasion to be successful, the Queen feared a Scottish militia might be turned against the monarchy. Thus, parliament’s will was denied in the interests of the sovereignty of the nation and the security of the realm.
13. Addressing both Houses of Parliament on 20 July 1988, at an historic meeting of both houses to mark the 300th anniversary of the Declaration of Rights, Her Majesty said that it was “still part of statute law…on which the whole foundation and edifice of our parliamentary democracy rests.” The Declaration of Rights spelt out the details:
“…the said Lords…and Commons, being the two Houses of Parliament, should continue to sit and…make effectual provision for the settlement of the …laws and liberties of this kingdom, so that the same for the future might not be in danger again of being subverted. …the particulars aforesaid shall be firmly and strictly holden and observed…and all officers and ministers whatsoever shall serve their Majesties and their successors according to the same, in all time to come.”
14. Both Magna Carta and the Declaration of Rights are contracts between the sovereign and the people. Because they are not statute law they cannot be repealed. Both proclaimed what were taken to be self-evident freedoms which exist by right. Equally, both were based on a concept of permanence.
List Of Signatories
Peers signing the petition:
Lord Ashbourne, The Duke of Rutland, Viscount Massereene & Ferrard (as Lord Oriel) Lord Hamilton of Dalzell signed and presentated the petition at Buckingham Palace.
The petition was also signed by:
Lord Napier & Ettrick,
Earl of Romney,
Lord Napier of Magdala,
Lord Barber of Tewkesbury,
Earl of Devon,
Earl of Cromer,
Earl of Shannon (as Lord Carleton),
Marquis of Aberdeen (as Earl Aberdeen),
The Countess of Dysart also signed, but the Dysart title is Scottish and pre-dates the Union of 1707.
Letter To The Queens Private Secretary
Sir Robin Janvrin, KCVO, CB
Principal Private Secretary to Her Majesty The Queen
23 March 2001
You were kind enough to invite a letter of amplification to accompany
our petition to Her Majesty. Thank you.
The Treaty of Nice raises issues of major constitutional importance. It
directly threatens our rights and freedoms, and undermines oaths of
loyalty to the Crown. Such fundamental matters cannot be considered
merely the stuff of day-to-day politics. They directly concern the
Crown, the constitution and every British subject, including generations
We find ourselves living in exceptional times, which call for
exceptional measures. Hence our petition to Her Majesty, which
exercises rights unused for over 300 years – clause 61 of Magna Carta,
which were reinforced by article 5 of the Bill of Rights.
As you know, the wording of clause 61 says: …and, laying the
transgression before us, petition to have that transgression redressed
without delay…And we shall procure nothing from anyone, directly or
indirectly, whereby any part of these concessions and liberties might be
revoked or diminished; and if any such things has been procured, let it
be void and null.
We have petitioned Her Majesty to withhold the Royal Assent from any
Bill seeking to ratify the Treaty of Nice because there is clear
evidence (which we shall address in a moment) that it is in direct
conflict with the Constitution of the United Kingdom. It conflicts with
Magna Carta, with the Declaration and Bill of Rights and, above all,
with Her Majestys Coronation Oath and the Oaths of Office of Her
Majestys ministers. Every one of these protections stand to this day,
which is why they are now being invoked by our petition.
Ultimately, our supreme protection is Her Majestys obligations under
the Coronation Oath. The Queen has solemnly promised to govern the
peoples of the United Kingdom according to the Statutes in Parliament
agreed on and according to their laws and customs. Her Majesty also
swore to preserve all rights and privileges as by law do or shall
appertain to any of them.
>From the spiritual point of view, it is unimaginable that Her Majesty
would seek, in effect, a divorce from her duty. From a secular point
of view, the Coronation Oath is a signed contract.
Recent statements by ministers, and by the previous prime minister,
confirm that they would not advise any measure which might tend to
breach the Coronation Oath nor betray Her Majestys promise to her loyal
subjects. Her Majesty accepts the advice of her ministers. Conversely,
it is their duty to advise in accordance with the Coronation Oath. They
cannot lawfully advise a breach. Nor can they gain or remain in power
without swearing allegiance to the Crown. Yet the Treaty of Nice
represents precisely such a breach, and it has now been signed by the
foreign secretary using the Royal Prerogative.
Blackstones Commentaries (volume 1, page 239) says of the Royal
Prerogative: The splendour, rights, and powers of the Crown were
attached to it for the benefit of the people. They form part of, and
are, generally speaking, as ancient as the law itself . De prerogativa
regis is merely declaratory of the common law…
The duties arising from the relation of sovereign and subject are
reciprocal. Protection, that is, the security and governance of his
dominions according to law, is the duty of the sovereign; and allegiance
and subjection, with reference to the same criterion, the constitution
and laws of the country, form, in return, the duty of the governed We
have alreadyobserved that the prerogatives are vested in him for the
benefit of his subjects, and that his Majesty is under, and not above,
For such words to have meaning, the act of signing the Treaty of Nice by
the foreign secretary demonstrates that ministers have de facto
renounced their oaths of allegiance.
Indeed, faced in due course with a Bill seeking ratification of the
Treaty of Nice, the only options appear to be for Her Majesty to
dissolve Parliament, or for the government to resign and fight an
election on the issue. The ex-government would then be faced with
seeking elective power to introduce new oaths of loyalty under a new
constitution as part of their new manifesto. This would distil the
issues as perhaps nothing else might, since it would allow the people of
the United Kingdom to decide whether or not they wished the constitution
to be breached in this way, their rights and freedoms to be curtailed,
and the position, powers and responsibilities of their sovereign to be
Of course, for the many thousands of subjects who have supported our
petition, no such option exists.
As the Act of Supremacy and the Bill of Rights put it: all usurped and
foreign power and authoritymay forever be clearly extinguished, and
never used or obeyed in this realm. no foreign prince, person,
prelate, state, or potentateshall at any time after the last day of
this session of Parliament, use, enjoy or exercise any manner of power,
jurisdiction, superiority, authority, preeminence or privilegewithin
this realm, but that henceforth the same shall be clearly abolished out
of this realm, for ever.
So it is clear that no-one – neither sovereign, nor parliament, nor
government, nor people – may tamper with, dismantle, destroy or
surrender our constitution. We are all tenants of it, and trustees. We
inherited these rights, and we have a supreme responsibility to pass
them in good order to future generations. They are not ours to discard
Which is why oaths of allegiance place an essential limitation on
parliament’s power, and the Queens Coronation Oath is crucial. The
Coronation Oath is a moral obligation, a religious obligation, a sworn
obligation, a contractual obligation, a statutory obligation, a common
law obligation, a customary obligation, an obligation on all who swear
allegiance, it is the duty of government, and it is sworn for the
nation, the commonwealth and all dominions.
The Coronation Oath is the peak of a pyramid, and all subordinate oaths
are bound by its limitations. The armed services swear allegiance to
the sovereign, not to the government of the day. This helps clarify the
principle that allegiance is necessary, and not optional – an essential
part of the checks and balances of our constitution. Without these
oaths, and their lawful enforcement, we have little to protect us from
government by tyranny.
We return now to our reasons for stating that the Treaty of Nice is
unconstitutional. Our petition highlights several such clauses. We
draw particular attention to article 191, which seeks to restrict the
political freedom of Her Majestys subjects.
The EU seeks to assume the right to lay down regulations governing
political parties at European level [ie: in the EU] and withdraw or
prevent the funding of political parties which do not contribute to
forming a European awareness. This is a clear restriction of free
speech and free political association. It also introduces two
particularly abhorrent propositions – taxation without representation
and the use of state sanctions to suppress public opinion.
Our political freedom is absolute. The Bill of Rights says so. It
cannot be limited in any way. Her Majesty is rightfully inscribed on
our coins of the realm as Fid. Def. and Lib. Def. – Libertatis
Defensor, Defender of the Freedom of the People.
It has been suggested to us that a referendum or plebiscite might be an
acceptable response to the question of ratification of the Treaty of
Nice, but we do not hold that view. A referendum or plebiscite which
purported to make lawful the infringement of our common law rights would
itself be unlawful.
We come back to the oath of allegiance. Magna Carta says: We will
appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or other officials, only men
that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well…. How
can such officers of the Crown organize such a referendum or plebiscite?
These procedures would also infringe articles 1, 2 and 4 of the Bill of
1. That the pretended power of Suspending of Lawes or the Execution of
Lawes by Regall Authority without Consent of Parlyament is illegall.
(This must include the Coronation Oath Act.)
2. That the pretended Power of Dispensing with Lawes or the Execution
of Lawes by Regal Authoritie as it hath beene assumed and exercised of
late is illegall.
4. That levying Money for or to the Use of the Crowne by pretence of
Prerogative without Grant of Parlyament for longer time or in other
manner than the same is or shall be granted is Illegall. (This is
further protection of our common law rights.)
In the event that the Treaty of Nice is considered for Royal Assent we
respectfully request that Her Majesty grant us an opportunity to examine
the opinion of those who seek to alter our constitution by contrary
advice. Accordingly, under those same terms of Magna Carta and the
Bill of Rights quoted earlier, we the undersigned, and others – have
formed a Barons Constitutional Committee to be available for
consultation and to monitor the present situation as it develops
..until redress has been obtained.
We are and remain Her Majestys most loyal and obedient subjects.
Ashbourne Rutland Massereene & Ferrard Hamilton of Dalzell
“I am commanded by The Queen to reply to your letter of 23rd March and the accompanying petition to Her Majesty about the Treaty of Nice.
“The Queen continues to give this issue her closest attention. She is well aware of the strength of feeling which European Treaties, such as the Treaty of Nice, cause. As a constitutional sovereign, Her Majesty is advised by her Government who support this Treaty. As I am sure you know, the Treaty of Nice cannot enter force until it has been ratified by all Member States and in the United Kingdom this entails the necessary legislation being passed by Parliament.”
Peers use Magna Carta to oppose EU charter
By Sarah Womack, Political Correspondent 12:00AM GMT 07 Feb 2001
A GROUP of peers will today use ancient rights granted under Magna Carta to urge the Queen to block further European integration.
Their petition, presented under Clause 61 of the ancient charter, asks the Queen to withhold Royal Assent from the Nice Treaty. It has the backing of 65 Euro-sceptic peers led by Lord Ashbourne and has been organised by Sanity (Subjects Against the Nice Treaty).
Clause 61 of Magna Carta, signed by King John at Runnymede in June 1215, permits the “Sovereign’s subjects to present a quorum of 25 barons with a petition which four of their number are then obliged to take to the Monarch who is obliged to accept it. She then has 40 days to respond.” The “enforcement powers” granted by King John when he signed the Magna Carta were last used in 1688 at the start of the Glorious Revolution.
Lord Ashbourne, a Conservative hereditary peer ousted from the Lords under Tony Blair’s reforms, said: “These rights may not have been exercised for 300 years but only because they were not needed. Well, we need them now. They may be a little dusty but they are in good order.”
Peers petition Queen on Europe
By Caroline Davies 12:00AM GMT 24 Mar 2001
FOUR peers invoked ancient rights under the Magna Carta yesterday to petition the Queen to block closer integration with Europe.
The Duke of Rutland, Viscount Masserene and Ferrard, Lord Hamilton of Dalzell and Lord Ashbourne were imbued with the spirit of the ancient Charter, thrust on King John in 1215. In accordance with the Charter’s Clause 61, the famous enforcement clause, the four presented a vellum parchment at Buckingham Palace, declaring that the ancient rights and freedoms of the British people had to be defended.
The clause, one of the most important in the Charter, which was pressed on King John at Runnymede, allows subjects of the realm to present a quorum of 25 barons with a petition, which four of their number then have to take to the Monarch, who must accept it. It was last used in 1688 at the start of the Glorious Revolution.
The four peers, who were all thrown out of Parliament in November 1999, proved they had that quorum by presenting Sir Robin Janvrin, the Queen’s private secretary, with the petition signed by 28 hereditaries and letters of support from another 60. In addition, they claim the support of thousands of members of the public.
They say that several articles in the Treaty of Nice agreed by Tony Blair in December will destroy fundamental British liberties. The Queen has 40 days to respond. Under the Magna Carta’s provisions, if the Sovereign does not observe the Charter the people may rise up and wage war on her, seizing castles, lands and possessions until they have redress.