Revival and survival: reissuing Magna Carta
- Article by: David Carpenter
- Themes: Medieval origins, Clauses and content
- Published: 13 Mar 2015
Magna Carta 1215
One of the four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta containing the famous clause ‘to no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice’.View images from this item (1)
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)
What saved the Charter was John’s death in October 1216. He left his nine-year-old son, Henry III (r.1216–72), in a terrible situation, for Louis was now controlling over half the country. The governors of Henry III thus took a momentous decision, one which shaped the future course of history. In order to tempt rebels back into Henry’s camp, they decided to accept what John had rejected and Louis had ignored. In November 1216, as almost their first act, they issued a new version of Magna Carta. Evidently they judged that the Charter, despite its abandonment, would have a great appeal. Their decision is readily explicable. In its short life the Charter had already sunk deep roots into the hearts and minds of the political community. In 1215 official versions had been distributed to the bishops. This is why, of the four surviving originals of the 1215 Charter, two remain in the possession of cathedrals — those of Lincoln and Salisbury — while a third (as recent research has shown) was held at Canterbury Cathedral before later finding its way into the collections of the British Library. Just as important, there was a wide distribution of unofficial versions of the Charter. These were probably derived from drafts produced during the negotiations at Runnymede. Evidently appetite for the Charter was great.
The poisoning of King John and coronation of King Henry III
After his death, rumours circulated that John had been poisoned by a Lincolnshire monk. This 13th-century miniature depicts John being offered a cup of poison.View images from this item (2)
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)
The siege of Lincoln Castle and battle of Sandwich
John’s army was defeated at Lincoln in May 1217, and his naval forces destroyed off the coast of Sandwich in August 1217. Both events were drawn by Matthew Paris in the Chronica maiora.View images from this item (2)
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)
After 1225, Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest were confirmed many times by both Henry III and his son, Edward I (r.1272–1307). Henry’s confirmation in 1237 removed any final doubts about the validity of the Charters since he was now, as he said, of full age as he had not been in 1225. But while the king paid lip service to Magna Carta, did he obey it in practice? Did Magna Carta make a difference to the working of kingship? To that question contemporaries often gave a depressing answer. They pointed again and again to breaches in the Charter. In reality they were too pessimistic. Magna Carta did make a difference. In many ways it was a watershed between lawless and lawful rule. The Charter limited the financial exactions of the king and prevented the sale of justice. It greatly diminished the king’s ability to deprive his subjects of property in an arbitrary fashion and demand money to assuage his anger and recover his good will. In asserting that taxation needed the consent of national assemblies (soon to be called parliaments), and by increasing the need for such taxation by reducing other sources of income, Magna Carta helped lay the foundations for the tax-based parliamentary state.
Above all, by the end of the 13th century, Magna Carta was known from top to bottom of English society. The numerous confirmations, culminating in those of Edward I in 1297 and 1300, and their accompanying sentences of excommunication, had seen to that. In 1300 Magna Carta was proclaimed in English, the language of the great majority of the population. Around the same time the peasants of Bocking in Essex appealed to the Charter in their struggle against their lord’s bailiff. Magna Carta had established the base from which it would go round the world.
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)
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