The granting of a charter of liberties by King John in 1215 (subsequently known as Magna Carta) was not without precedent. Indeed, the practice of an English king making concessions to his barons, in order to maintain the peace and to secure the throne, was well established. Some historians have traced this tradition back to Anglo-Saxon times, but the most notable example is contained in the charter issued by Henry I at his coronation in 1100.
Henry was the third and youngest surviving son of William I (r. 1066–87). He was preceded on the English throne by William Rufus (r. 1087–1100), while their older brother, Robert Curthose (1050–1134), ruled the dukedom of Normandy. When William Rufus died in suspicious circumstances, Henry moved swiftly to seize the English Crown, despite Robert’s more obvious claims. Henry rushed to Winchester, was elected king by a group of barons, and then proceeded to his coronation at Westminster. The document issued on that occasion is the first surviving English Coronation Charter, and it begins with these words:
Henry I’s Coronation Charter was known to King John's barons, and it influenced the negotiations at Runnymede in 1215. This version of the Coronation Charter was copied at Canterbury around the time that Magna Carta itself was issued.
Know that by the mercy of God and by the common counsel of the barons of England I have been crowned king of this realm. And because the kingdom has been oppressed by unjust exactions, being moved by reverence towards God and by the love I bear you all, I make free the Church of God … I abolish all the evil customs by which the kingdom of England has been unjustly oppressed.
- Article by:
- Nicholas Vincent
- Medieval origins
Professor Nicholas Vincent explores the medieval context in which the historic agreement at Runnymede was created, examining King John’s Plantagenet heritage, his loss of French territory and his relationship with the Church and the barons.
- Article by:
- Medieval origins, Legacy
Stretching from 979 to 2015, this simple timeline charts the key events leading up to the declaration of Magna Carta in 1215, and explores the legacy of the document up to the present day.