History

Moments that defined the British Monarchy – The introduction of the Magna Carta



From the introduction of the first English Monarch [William the Conqueror] in 1066, Monarchs ruled absolutely, with no requirement for public input, government or indeed any opportunity for it, with the exception of a comparatively weak and more-or-less disregarded charter under Henry I in 1100.

This almost absolute, unquestioned autocracy continued for nearly 200 years until a revolution took place that shook the British Monarchy to its core. The Magna Carta, Latin for Great Charter, was introduced by the Feudal Barons under King John of England. When I say introduced, that is a bit of an understatement. The Great Charter was forced on John by his less-than-loyal subjects. It remains the only example of a document being forced upon a King by his subjects.

The premise for Magna Carta began when some barons started to conspire against King John in 1209 and 1212; promises made to the northern barons and John’s submission to the universal rule of the papacy in 1213 delayed a French invasion. Throughout his reign, a combination of higher taxes, unsuccessful wars that resulted in the loss of English barons’ titled possessions in Normandy following the Battle of Bouvines, and the conflict with Pope Innocent III (ending with John’s submission in 1213) had made King John unpopular with many of his barons.

In 1215 some of the most important barons engaged in open rebellion against their king. Such rebellions were not particularly unusual in this period. Every king since William the Conqueror had faced rebellions. What was unusual about the 1215 rebellion was that John had no apparent replacement; in every previous case, there had been an alternative monarch around whom the resistance could rally.

John attempted to use the lengthy negotiations to avoid a confrontation while he waited for support from the Pope and hired mercenaries, adopting various measures to weaken the rebels’ position and improve his own.

He failed in his attempts to stop the rebel Barons seizing effective control of the crown, and many of the moderates not in overt rebellion, forced King John to agree to a document later known as the ‘Articles of the Barons’, to which his Great Seal was attached in the meadow at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. In return, the barons renewed their oaths of fealty to King John on 19 June 1215, which is when the document Magna Carta was created.

Currently, there are still three parts of Magna Carta that are still on the statute book in the UK including the right to the freedom of the English Church, a clause regarding intestacy and one protecting the liberties of the City of London.

Magna Carta shaped the future of the Monarchy and its extreme power. It made the King a less autocratic figure and almost ruled by consent.