Magna carta (Âåëèêàÿ õàðòèÿ âîëüíîñòåé)
Magna carta (Âåëèêàÿ õàðòèÿ âîëüíîñòåé)
tell you a story, a story anon,
Of a noble Prince, and his name was King John,
For he was a Prince, a Prince of great might,
He held up great wrongs, he put down great right.”
of John, 1199-1216.
The reign of King John was the time when people did
not know what tomorrow would bring to them. Their King was cruel and
unpredictable. It was the time when churches halted their services for a while,
when taxes were raised day after day, when nearly everyone could be destroyed
without having any guilt.
In his early age John was given
the nickname of Lackland, because being the youngest in the family, he indeed
had no his own lands, unlike his elder brothers. The other historians say that
this nickname was given to him because during his reign he practically lost
everything that he possessed. When he was 19 he was send to govern Ireland. But in a few months he returned, covered with disgrace, because he offended the
loyal chiefs by his childish insolence, and entirely failed to defend the
people from the hostile tribes.
John became the English king in
1199, at the age of 33. His little nephew Arthur had also the claim to the
throne. John with the help of his men seized him in his bed and send to the
castle in Normandy. Then he told his people: “Put out his eyes and keep him in
prison”, others said: “Have him stabbed”, others: “Have him hanged”, others:
“Have him poisoned”. Finally the boy was stubbed and his body was sunk.
John was a victim of his own
character and of circumstances. Although he was courageous and clever he had
knack of alienating nearly everyone by his cruelty, greed and failure to honor
his word. And circumstances were: Richard’s empty treasury, the restive barons
and a war in France. Besides he had the bad lack of being an enemy of two the
most powerful figures of The Middle Ages: Philip Augustus of France and Pope
John and the King of France.
John was preparing for his second
marriage. He was planning to wed a Portuguese princes, but he fell in love
with a fourteen-year-old French girl who was betrothed to one of his vassals.
Despite of that he married her and his vassal appealed to King Philip II for
justice. In order to resolve the situation the King of France as John’s
suzerain (according to feudal custom, since John held Normandy, Anjou, and Aquitaine as fiefs, he was a vassal of the French King), summoned him to stand
trial. When John refused to appear, Philip pronounced the forfeiture of all his
French domains. The King’s prestige was completely lost.
John and the Pope.
After the death of Hubert Walter
in 1205, John and the monks of Canterbury chose candidates as archbishop of Canterbury. But the Pope Innocent III rejected both candidates and picked a third (Stephen
Langton). John refused to accept him and confiscated revenues of the seat of Canterbury; thereupon Innocent placed England under an interdict (1208) halting all church
services. No bells were to be rung, no one was married or even buried by the
clergy. This made everyone suffer, especially the poor, for they were used to
get help from the monasteries and clergy. John in his turn seized Church property
and became prosecuting the clergy. But all his actions encouraged his enemies.
And in order not to lose his throne, as France was prepared to invade England with the Pope’s blessing, John submitted to Innocent in 1213.
and the barons, reasons for the Charter.
During John’s reign the nobles had
to suffer from all kinds of laws. King John abused his coronation and feudal
oath. All English kings respected feudal law and tried to govern justly. But it
was not for John. He demanded more military service from the feudal class than
did the kings before him. He himself was always found, either to be eating and
drinking, or to be running away, when the fighting took place. He sold royal
positions to the highest bidders. He increased taxes without obtaining the
consent of the barons, which was contrary to feudal custom. John’s courts
decided cases according to his wishes, not according to the law. People who
lost case had to pay crushing penalties. About half of the barons were
prepared, in their own self-interest, to challenge John, as he had misused
royal powers and upset the feudal balance.
In 1213 a group of barons and
church leaders met at St.Albans, near London. They called to a halt to the
King’s injustices and drew up a list of rights they wanted John to grant them.
Twice King John refused to grant these rights. After the second time, the
barons raised an army to force the King to meet their demands. John saw that he
could not defeat the army and so he agreed to the articles on June 15, 1215. There is a little island on the Thames, near Windsor, called Magna Carta
Island, and on it John met the barons to put the seal on a lamp of wax to show
that he signed and consented to keep the promises set out in the Charter. He
was in a furious state of anger all the time. It is said that as soon as the deed
was done ‘he through himself on the ground; gnashing his teeth, and gnawing
sticks and straws in his rage’. Four days later, the articles were engrossed (written
out in legal form) as a royal charter. Copies of the charter were distributed
throughout the kingdom.
Magna Carta contained 63 articles
most of which reminded the King that there were certain limitations to his
power. Some of them granted the church freedom from royal interference. A few
articles guaranteed the rights of the rising middle class of the towns. Also
were mentioned the ancient liberties of London, the rights of merchants, and
weights and measures. Ordinary freemen and peasants were hardly mentioned in
the charter, even though they made up by far the biggest part of England’s population.
Some articles applied only to the
feudal class later became important to all the people. For example, the Charter
stated that the King must seek the advice and consent of the barons in all
matters important to the kingdom. The King was not to make the people to pay
taxes without the consent of the Great Council. Later such articles were used
to support the argument that no law should be made or tax raised without the
consent of England’s parliament. Hundreds of years later Magna Carta was used
by parliament to protect itself from a powerful King.
Still other articles became
foundations for modern justice. One article says that no freeman was to be punished,
no one was to be imprisoned, deprived of property, send out of the country or
destroyed without a proper trial according to the law of the land. The idea of
due process of law, including trial by jury, developed from this article.
Protection from arbitrary arrest was strengthened by clause 39, making it
unlawful to arrest a freeman “except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by
the law of the land”.
One of specific points of Great
Charter was the setting up of a permanent committee of 25 barons to see that
Jon’s promises were kept. If John ignored the warnings of the Council, it had
the right to raise an army and force him to live by the Charter’s provisions.
This Charter was much broader
confirmation of the rights and privileges than the Charter of Henry I.
Nevertheless, its detailed provisions were essentially feudal and soon became
dated. Over the centuries, however, the Charter became increasingly meaningful
and a part of common law as attested by its confirmation forty times in later
Charter after 1215.
Magna Carta did not end the
struggle between John and the barons. Neither side intended to abide by the
Carter completely. War broke out immediately, and John died in the midst of it
in 1216. But in the years that followed, other English kings agreed to the
terms of the Charter. It came to be recognized as part of the fundamental law
Magna Carta was largely forgotten
during the 1500’s. But members of parliament brought it to the life again
during the 1600’s. They used it to rally support in their struggle against the
despotic rule of the Stuart kings. Members of parliament came to view the
Charter as a constitutional check on royal power.
In the 1700’s, Sir William
Blackstone, a famous lawyer, set down ideals of the Charter as legal rights of
the people in his famous Commentaries on the Laws of England.
Four originals of the 1215 Charter
remain in England. Two are in the British Library in London, one in Salisbury
Cathedral, and one in Lincoln Cathedral. The one in Lincoln Cathedral is
considered to be in the best condition. For many years, the document was
commonly known as Magna Charta. But in 1946, the British government
officially adopted the Latin spelling, Magna Carta.
decline of feudalism.
Magna Carta marks a clear stage in
the collapse of English feudalism. Feudal society was based on links between
lord and vassal. At Runnymede the nobles were not acting as vassals but as a
class (remember the council of 25 members). In addition, the nobles were acting
in co-operation with the merchant class of towns. There were other small signs
that the feudalism was changing. When the King went to war he had the right for
forty days’ fighting service from each of his lords. But forty days were not
long enough for fighting a war in France. The nobles refused to fight for
longer, so the King was forced to pay soldiers to fight for him. At the same
time many lords preferred their vassals to pay them in money rather than in
services. Besides, the use of land in return for service was beginning to
weaken. Vassals were gradually beginning to change into tenants.
Cities grew wealthier and became
more important than stone castles.
Nevertheless, feudalism was still
strong and it took another three hundred years before it disappeared
1. An illustrated history of Britain/ David McDowal, 1989.
2. Panorama of Great Britain/ L.S.Baranovskij, D.D.Kozikis, 1990.
3. British History/ Harold J.Schultz,
4. The World Book Encyclopedia (volume
7, 13), 1994.
5. Èñòîðèÿ Àíãëèè/ ñîñòàâèòåëü
In conclusion I’d like
to summon up all there results of the signing of Magna Carta:
1. In Magna Carta many rights were
granted to the English aristocracy;
2. Magna Carta placed the King under
the law and decisively checked royal power;
3. The Charter stated that the King must
seek advice and consent of the barons in all matters important to the kingdom.
In later centuries such articles were used to support the argument that no law
should be made or tax raised without the consent of England’s parliament;
4. A few articles became foundations for
modern justice. The idea of due process of law, including trial by jury,
developed from these articles;
5. Magna Carta did the first step in the
decline of feudalism;
6. Magna Carta is a document that played
an important role in the development of constitutional government in England. In later centuries much of the rest of the world also benefited from it, because many
other democratic countries followed English law in creating their own
1. The Reign of King John, 1199-1216.
2. John and the King of France.
3. John and the Pope.
4. John and the barons, reasons for the
5. Magna Carta.
6. The Charter after 1215.
7. The decline of feudalism.