The Charter of Maryland
King Charles I and his supporters envisioned structures of power and authority in the development of the English Empire. Consider how Lord Baltimore and his heirs were granted “absolute” lordship and power in the Charter of Maryland of 1632. How do notions of absolutism and inherited power manifest in the expanding empire?
This was one of five surviving charters for new English colonies granted by Charles I between 1625 and 1640. It is interesting for many reasons. It shows the reasons that the King gave for why he could give out this land. It shows the powers that he is granting to his friend Lord Baltimore—to make laws, to make war, to administer justice, to give out land on whatever terms he wants. Pay particular attention to language. How many times does the word “absolute” appear? A sentence at the beginning of every paragraph explains what it is in it. Footnotes explain some of the words that we no longer use. The charter is issued by the king and is all in his name. A CHARTER was a grant of land and governance to a man and his heirs— or to a group of men and their heirs—forever.
Cite this page
CHARTER OF MARYLAND
Charles, by the Grace of God, of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, KING, Defender of the Faith, &c. To all to whom these Presents come, Greeting.
II. [This paragraph explains why the King is giving the Province of Maryland to Lord Baltimore. Note what it says about “Savages having no knowledge of the Divine Being.” It also simply asserts the king’s right.] Whereas our well beloved and right trusty Subject Caecilius Calvert, Baron of Baltimore, in our Kingdom of Ireland, Son and Heir of George Calvert, Knight, late Baron of Baltimore, in our said Kingdom of Ireland, treading in the steps of his Father, being animated with a laudable, and pious Zeal for extending the Christian Religion, and also the Territories of our Empire, hath humbly besought Leave of us, that he may transport, by his own Industry, and Expense, a numerous Colony of the English Nation, to a certain Region, herein after described, in a Country hitherto uncultivated, in the Parts of America, and partly occupied by Savages, having no knowledge of the Divine Being, and that all that Region, with some certain Privileges, and Jurisdiction, appertaining unto the wholesome Government, and State of his Colony and Region aforesaid, may by our Royal Highness be given, granted and confirmed unto him, and his Heirs.
III. [This paragraph describes the geographic boundaries of the province of Maryland.] Know Ye therefore, that We, encouraging with our Royal Favour, the pious and noble purpose of the aforesaid Barons of Baltimore, of our special Grace, certain knowledge, and mere Motion, have Given, Granted and Confirmed, and by this our present Charter, for Us our Heirs, and Successors, do Give, Grant and Confirm, unto the aforesaid Caecilius, now Baron of Baltimore, his Heirs, and Assigns, all that Part of the Peninsula, or Chersonese, lying in the Parts of America, between the Ocean on the East and the Bay of Chesapeake on the West, divided from the Residue thereof by a Right Line drawn from the Promontory, or Head-Land, called Watkin’s Point, situate upon the Bay aforesaid, near the river Wigloo, on the West, unto the main Ocean on the East; and between that Boundary on the South, unto that Part of the Bay of Delaware on the North, . . .
IV. [Gives Baltimore control over all land, rivers, ports, seas, and creatures. Gives him the power of the Bishop of Durham—which is very broad—to control everything without anyone else’s wishes except, it is unsaid, the king himself. Note the County Palatinate of Durham gave immense powers of governance to the Bishop of Durham, powers that went back to the middle ages and denied representation in Parliament to its residents. Those powers had just been confirmed by England’s high court in a 1616 case.] Also We do grant and likewise Confirm unto the said Baron of Baltimore, his Heirs, and Assigns, all Islands and Inlets within the Limits aforesaid, all and singular the Islands, and Islets, from the Eastern Shore of the aforesaid Region, towards the East, which had been, or shall be formed in the Sea, situate within Ten marine Leagues from the said shore; with all and singular the Ports, Harbours, Bays, Rivers, and Straits belonging to the Region or Islands aforesaid, and all the Soil, Plains, Woods, Marshes, Lakes, Rivers, Bays, and Straits, situate, or being within the Metes, Bounds, and Limits aforesaid, with the Fishings of every kind of Fish, as well of Whales, Sturgeons, and other royal Fish, as of other Fish, in the Sea, Bays, Straits, or Rivers, within the Premises, and the fish there taken; And moreover all Veins, Mines, and Quarries, as well opened as hidden, already found, or that shall be found within the Region, Islands, or Limits aforesaid, of Gold, Silver, Gems, and precious Stones, and any other whatsoever, whether they be of Stones, or Metals, or of any other Thing, or Matter whatsoever; And furthermore the Patronages, and Advowsons of all Churches which (with the increasing Worship and Religion of Christ) within the said Region, Islands, Islets, and Limits aforesaid, hereafter shall happen to be built, together with License and Faculty of erecting and founding Churches, Chapels, and Places of Worship, in convenient and suitable places, within the Premises, and of causing the same to be dedicated and consecrated according to the Ecclesiastical Laws of our Kingdom of England, with all, and singular such, and as ample Rights, Jurisdictions, Privileges, Prerogatives, Royalties, Liberties, Immunities, and royal Rights, and temporal Franchises whatsoever, as well by Sea as by Land, within the Region, Islands, Islets, and Limits aforesaid, to be had, exercised, used, and enjoyed, as any Bishop of Durham, within the Bishoprick or County Palatine of Durham, in our Kingdom of England, ever heretofore hath had, held, used, or enjoyed, or of right could, or ought to have, hold, use, or enjoy.
V. [Makes Lord Baltimore and his heirs the “true and absolute Lords and Proprietaries.”] And we do by these Presents, for us, our Heirs, and Successors, Make, Create, and Constitute Him, the now Baron of Baltimore, and his Heirs, the true and absolute Lords and Proprietaries of the Region aforesaid, and of all other Premises (except the before excepted) saving always the Faith and Allegiance and Sovereign Dominion due to Us, our Heirs, and Successors; to have, hold, possess, and enjoy the aforesaid Region, Islands, Islets, and other the Premises, unto the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, and to his Heirs and Assigns, to the sole and proper Behoof and Use of him, the now Baron of Baltimore, his Heirs and Assigns, forever. To Hold of Us, our Heirs and Successors, Kings of England, as of our Castle of Windsor, in our County of Berks, in free and common Soccage, by Fealty only for all Services, and not in Capite, nor by Knights Service, Yielding therefore unto Us, our Heirs and Successors Two Indian Arrows of these Parts, to be delivered at the said Castle of Windsor, every Year, on Tuesday in Easter Week: And also the fifth Part of all Gold and Silver Ore, which shall happen from Time to Time, to be found within the aforesaid Limits.
VI. [Creates a new “province” of Maryland.] Now, That the aforesaid Region, thus by us granted and described, may be eminently distinguished above all other Regions of that- Territory, and decorated with more ample Titles, Know Ye, that We, of our more especial Grace, certain knowledge, and mere Motion, have thought fit that the said Region and Islands be erected into a Province, as out of the Plenitude of our royal Power and Prerogative, We do, for Us our Heirs and Successors, erect and incorporate the same into a Province, and nominate the same Maryland, by which Name We will that it shall from henceforth be called
VII. [Note this paragraph gives “full free and absolute power” to the Baron Baltimore to make laws. This paragraph does say they should ideally be made with the consent of freemen, but see the next paragraphs…!] And forasmuch as We have above made and ordained the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, the true Lord and Proprietary of the whole Province aforesaid, Know Ye therefore further, that We, forges, our Heirs and Successors, do grant unto the said now Baron, (in whose Fidelity, Prudence, Justice, and provident Circumspection of Mind, We repose the greatest Confidence) and to his Heirs, for the good and happy Government of the said Province, free, full, and absolute Power, by the Tenor of these Presents, to Ordain, Make, and Enact Laws, of what Kind soever, according to their sound Discretions whether relating to the Public State of the said Province, or the private Utility of Individuals, of and with the Advice, Assent, and Approbation of the Free-Men of the same Province, or the greater Part of them, or of their Delegates or Deputies, whom We will shall be called together for the framing of Laws, when, and as often as Need shall require, by the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, and his Heirs, and in the Form which shall seem best to him or them, and the same to publish under the Seal of the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, and his Heirs, and duly to execute the same upon all Persons, for the time being, within the aforesaid Province, and the Limits thereof, or under his or their Government and Power, in Sailing towards Maryland, or thence Returning, Outward bound, either to England, or elsewhere, whether to any other Part of Our, or of any foreign Dominions, wheresoever established, by the Imposition of Fines, Imprisonment, and other Punishment whatsoever; even if it be necessary, and the Quality of the Offence require it, by Privation of Member, or Life, by him the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, and his Heirs, or by his or their Deputy, Lieutenant, Judges, Justices, Magistrates, Officers, and Ministers, to be constituted and appointed according to the Tenor and true Intent of these Presents, and to constitute and ordain Judges, Justices, Magistrates and Officers of what kind, for what Cause, and with what Power soever, within that Land, and the Sea of those Parts, and in such form as to the said now Baron of Baltimore, or his Heirs, shall seem most fitting; And also to Remit, Release, Pardon, and Abolish, all Crimes and Offences whatsoever against such Laws, whether before, or after Judgment passed; and to do all and singular other Things belonging to the Completion of Justice, and to Courts, Praetorian Judicatories, and Tribunals, Judicial Forms and Modes of Proceeding, although express Mention thereof in these Presents be not made; and, by Judges by them delegated, to award Process, hold Pleas, and determine in those Courts, Praetorian Judicatories, and Tribunals, in all Actions, Suits, Causes, and Matters whatsoever, as well Criminal as Personal, Real and Mixed, and Praetorian: Which said Laws, so to be published as above-said, We will enjoin, charge, and command, to be most absolute and firm in Law, and to be Kept in those Parts by all the Subjects and Liege-Men of Us, our Heirs, and Successors, so far as they concern them, and to be inviolably observed under the Penalties therein expressed, or to be expressed. So, nevertheless, that the Laws aforesaid be consonant to Reason, and be not repugnant or contrary, but (so far as conveniently may be) agreeable to the Laws, Statutes, Customs, and Rights of this Our Kingdom of England.
VIII. [Note below: the Governor and his council can make laws without calling an assembly] And forasmuch as, in the Government of so great a Province, sudden accidents may frequently happen, to which it will be necessary to apply a Remedy, before the Freeholders of the said Province, their Delegates, or Deputies, can be called together for the framing of Laws; neither will it be fit that so great a Number of People should immediately, on such emergent Occasion, be called together, We therefore, for the better Government of so great a Province, do Will and Ordain, and by these Presents, for Us, our Heirs and Successors, do grant unto the said now Baron of Baltimore, and to his Heirs, that the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, and his Heirs, by themselves, or by their Magistrates and Officers, thereunto duly to be constituted as aforesaid, may, and can make and constitute fit and Wholesome Ordinances from Time to Time, to be Kept and observed within the Province aforesaid, as well for the Conservation of the Peace, as for the better Government of the People inhabiting therein, and publicly to notify the same to all Persons whom the same in any wise do or may affect. Which Ordinances We will to be inviolably observed within the said Province, under the Pains to be expressed in the same. So that the said Ordinances be consonant to Reason and be not repugnant nor contrary, but (so far as conveniently may be done) agreeable to the Laws, Statutes, or Rights of our Kingdom of England: And so that the same Ordinances do not, in any Sort, extend to oblige, bind, charge, or take away the Right or Interest of any Person or Persons, of, or in Member, Life, Freehold, Goods or Chattels.
. . .
X. [Children born to English subjects will also be subjects.] We will also, and of our more abundant Grace, for Us, our Heirs and Successors, do firmly charge, constitute, ordain, and command, that the said Province be of our Allegiance; and that all and singular the Subjects and Liege-Men of Us, our Heirs and Successors, transplanted, or hereafter to be transplanted into the Province aforesaid, and the Children of them, and of others their Descendants, whether already born there, or hereafter to be born, be-and shall be Natives and Liege-Men of Us, our Heirs and Successors, of our Kingdom of England and Ireland . . .
XII. [Baltimore to have the powers of a military general.] But because, that in so remote a Region, placed among so many barbarous Nations, the Incursions as well of the Barbarians themselves, as of other Enemies, Pirates and Ravagers, probably will be feared. Therefore We have Given, and for Us, our Heirs, and Successors, do Give by these Presents, as full and unrestrained Power, as any Captain-General of an Army ever hath had, unto the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore. . .
XIII. [Baltimore can declare Martial law and govern just by his own will.] We also will, and by this our Charter, do give unto the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, and to his Heirs and Assigns, Power, Liberty, and Authority, that, in Case of Rebellion, sudden Tumult, or Sedition, if any (which God forbid) should happen to arise, whether upon Land within the Province aforesaid, or upon the High Sea in making a Voyage to the said Province of Maryland. or in returning thence, they may, by themselves, or by their Captains, or others Officers, thereunto deputed under their Seals (to whom We, for Us, our Heirs and Successors, by these Presents, do Give and Grant the fullest Power and Authority) exercise Martial Law as freely, and in as ample Manner and Form, as any Captain-General of an Army, by virtue of his Office may, or hath accustomed to use the same, against the seditious Authors of Innovations in those Parts, with-drawing themselves from the Government of him or them, refusing to serve in War, flying over to the Enemy, exceeding their Leave of Absence, Deserters, or otherwise howsoever offending against the Rule, Law, or Discipline of War.
. . . .
XVII. [Baltimore can collect any taxes he wants—the king gives him permission.] Moreover, We will appoint, and ordain, and by these Presents, for Us, our Heirs and Successors, do grant unto the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, his Heirs and Assigns, that the same Baron of Baltimore, his Heirs and Assigns, from Time to Time, forever, shall have, and enjoy the Taxes and Subsidies payable, or arising within the Ports, Harbors, and other Creeks and Places aforesaid within the Province aforesaid, for Wares bought and sold, and Things there to be laden, or unladen, to be reasonably assessed by. them, and the People there as aforesaid, on emergent Occasion; to whom We grant Power by these Presents, for Us, our Heirs and Successors, to assess and impose the said Taxes and Subsidies there, upon just Cause and in due Proportion.
XVIII. [Baltimore can grant land under whatever conditions and terms he wants—so he can grant it freely, or grant only leases, or rentals, etc.] And furthermore, of our special Grace, and certain Knowledge, and mere Motion, We have given, granted, and confirmed, and by these Presents, for Us, our Heirs and Successors, do give, grant and confirm, unto the said now Baron of Baltimore, his Heirs and Assigns, full and absolute License, Power, and Authority, that he the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, his Heirs and Assigns, from Time to Time hereafter, forever, may and can, at his or their Will and Pleasure, assign, alien, grant, demise, or enfeoff so many, such, and proportionate Parts and Parcels of the Premises, to any Person or Persons willing to purchase the same, as they shall think convenient, to have and to hold to the same Person or Persons willing to take or purchase the same, and his and their Heirs and Assigns, in Fee-simple, or Fee-tail, or for Term of Life, Lives or Years; to hold of the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, his Heirs and Assigns, by so many, such, and so great Services, Customs and Rents of this Kind, as to the same now Baron of Baltimore, his Heirs, and Assigns, shall seem fit and agreeable, and not immediately of Us, our Heirs and Successors. . . .
XIX. [He can appoint judges and hold courts, and force all residents to swear allegiance to him and to the lords of manors.] We also, by these Presents, do give and grant License to the same Baron of Baltimore, and to his Heirs, to erect any Parcels of Land within the Province aforesaid, into Manors, and in every of those Manors, to have and to hold a Court-Baron, and all Things which to a Court Baron do belong; and to have and to Keep View of Frank-Pledge, for the Conservation of the Peace and better Government of those Parts, by themselves and their Stewards, or by the Lords, for the Time being to be deputed, of other of those Manors when they shall be constituted, and in the same to exercise all Things to the View of Frank Pledge belong.
. . .
XXIII. In Witness Whereof We have caused these our Letters to be made Patent. Witness Ourself at Westminster, the Twentieth Day of June, in the Eighth Year of our Reign. 
EARLY ACCESS: Transcription is under editorial review and may contain errors.
Please do not cite or otherwise reproduce without permission.