Consequences of Magna Carta
- Article by: Nicholas Vincent
- Themes: Clauses and content, Medieval origins
- Published: 13 Mar 2015
Professor David Carpenter and Professor Nicholas Vincent explore the survival of Magna Carta after King John’s death, considering its numerous reissues during the reign of King Henry III, and its influence on the creation of Parliament.
Memorandum of the distribution of copies of Magna Carta
It is uncertain how many copies of Magna Carta were dispatched in 1215. This memorandum states that on 24 June two copies were given to the Bishop of Lincoln, another to the Bishop of Worcester and four more to Master Elias of Dereham. It is likely that there were 13 manuscripts in total.View images from this item (1)
Writ for publishing Magna Carta
This letter informs the sheriff of Gloucestershire that peace has been restored through the granting of Magna Carta and that this sheriff should ensure that obedience is pledged to the 25 barons. This letter, dated from Runnymede on 20 June, informs the sheriff of Gloucestershire that peace has been restored. The sheriff is to ensure that the men of his county pledge obedience to the 25 barons appointed to keep the peace.View images from this item (1)
Verse account of Magna Carta in the Chronicle of Melrose Abbey
One of the earliest accounts of the settlement reached at Runnymede. Written in verse, the description starts, ‘A new state of things began in England; such a strange affair as had never before been heard; for the body wished to rule the head, and the people desired to be masters over the king.’View images from this item (2)
From peace settlement to civil warFrom the very beginning, two problems endangered this process of enforcement. The first was relatively easily resolved. The sheriffs could not be trusted to administer arrangements in which their own misdeeds were the object of attack. Nor could they be trusted to act as custodians of the charter itself. As a result, the bishops seem to have stepped in both to ensure that the charter was properly publicised, and to ensure its preservation in their own cathedral archives. Thirteen original exemplars of Magna Carta were written and released from the King’s writing office during the summer of 1215, corresponding precisely to the number of English bishops in office. Three of the four Runnymede charters that survive today were preserved in cathedral archives, and the fourth very probably also.
Much more seriously, the King had no intention of permitting the charter’s long-term survival. Having re-established peace, and in return for a limited investigation of past misdeeds, John intended to rule as he had ruled in the past. A copy of the charter was dispatched to Rome, clearly in the hope that the Pope would annul it. No sovereign authority, either king or pope, could be expected to endorse a charter that placed a ruler under his subjects’ supervision or the head of state under a committee of barons. On 24 August 1215, Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) duly declared the charter null and void.
The papal bull annulling Magna Carta
This document, issued by Pope Innocent III on 24 August 1215, quashed the 1215 Magna Carta.View images from this item (1)
Letter naming the rebels and declaring that their lands be confiscated
Archbishop Stephen Langton was ordered by the Pope to excommunicate the rebel barons. This letter, sent to Langton by the Papal Commissioners, named the rebels and declared that their lands should be confiscated.View images from this item (1)
Revival of Magna CartaTwo factors ensured the survival of the spirit and at least part of the letter of Magna Carta. In October 1216, King John (r.1199-1216) fell ill with dysentery and died at Newark. He left a nine-year-old son to succeed him as King Henry III (r.1216-1272). The boy king’s advisors were determined to break with the past. To advertise this determination, at Bristol, in November 1216, they reissued Magna Carta. Now stripped of its more obnoxious clauses, and above all without the insistence on a baronial committee of 25, the charter was used to recover the allegiance of those increasingly convinced that King Louis would be little better than King John. When the tide of political fortune swung decisively in the boy king’s favour, following defeats for Louis and his supporters in battle at Lincoln, Henry III once again reissued the charter, in November 1217. On this occasion, it was accompanied by a second charter covering those parts of England set aside as ‘forest’ (in theory reserved for the King’s hunting, beyond the usual rule of law). It was the contrast between the great charter of liberties and the smaller charter governing the forests that gave rise, from 1217 onwards, to the name ‘Magna Carta’ (the 'Big' or 'Great' Charter) applied to the larger of these two documents.
The will of King John
King John’s will, drawn up days before his death, is the earliest original English royal will in existence.View images from this item (1)
King John's thumb-bone, hose, shoe and shroud
This thumb-bone, reputed to be that of King John, was presented to Worcester Cathedral in 1957, and is thought to have been removed from his tomb in 1797.View images from this item (6)
Teeth of King John
These teeth were taken from King John’s tomb in 1797.View images from this item (1)
Magna Carta, 1216
This version of Magna Carta aimed to bring support to the newly crowned King Henry III. Shown here is the only surviving 1216 version of the charter.View images from this item (1)
Magna Carta with the seal of Cardinal Guala, 1217
In 1217, Henry III was only ten years old, and did not have his own seal. Consequently, Magna Carta, although issued in the king’s name, was sealed by the papal legate, Guala Bicchieri, and the regent, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke.View images from this item (2)
Magna Carta, 1225
The 1225 version of Magna Carta, freely issued by Henry III in return for a tax granted to him by the whole kingdom, became the definitive version of the text.View images from this item (2)
The Forest Charter of 1225
The Charter of the Forest, issued with the revised Magna Carta by Henry III in 1217, re-established rights of access to the forest for free men.View images from this item (1)
Taxation and representation: proto parliamentMagna Carta did not put an end to royal tyranny. Henry III and his successors were capable of ruling just as badly as King John. Kings continued to make war for their own glory rather than for the public good. Taxes continued to mount. Several of the clauses of Magna Carta went unenforced. Judicial visitation of the counties, for example, remained a haphazard affair. Justice continued to favour the rich over the poor. The influential remained more powerful than those without influence at court. Even so, within society at large, the repeated and frequent reissue of the charter encouraged the growth of a belief in essential rights and liberties standing above the authority of any particular king. On occasion, when baronial or local discontent boiled over, as it did in 1258, 1264 and again in 1297, there were calls not only for the reissue of Magna Carta but for root and branch reform of royal government on behalf of the ‘community of the realm’. This ‘community’, first referred to in the security clause of the Runnymede charter, came to play an increasingly significant role in politics, as the King’s need for taxation led to the summoning of ‘parliaments’ (literally ‘speakings together’). Here the barons were expected to approve taxation in return for the hearing of petitions and the redress of their own particular grievances.
Magna Carta, 1297
One of the most famous confirmations of Magna Carta was that of King Edward I in 1297, since it was this confirmation that was copied on to the Statute Roll.View images from this item (1)
Statute book containing Magna Carta issued by King John and Henry III
This manuscript of statutes, which would have been used by lawyers and administrators, contains the text of the 1215 Magna Carta, the 1225 Magna Carta issued by Henry III and the Charter of the Forest.View images from this item (1)
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