The Great Charter – 1215

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Below is an Excerpt from The Rise and Fall of Nations: Ancient and Mediaeval by Josephus Nelson Larned – 1907 – it covers one of the most celebrated documents in history – The Magna Carta.

The Great Charter – 1215

King John signs the Magna CartaThe Great Charter (signed at Runnymede on the 15th of June, 1215) provided, says Bishop Stubbs, “that the Commons of the realm should have the benefit of every advantage which the two elder estates had won for themselves, and it bound the barons to treat their dependents as it bound the king to treat the barons.  Of its sixty-three articles, some provided securities for personal freedom; no man was to be taken, imprisoned, or damaged in person or estate, but by the judgment of his peers and by the law of the land. Others fixed the rate of payments due by the vassal to his lord.  Others presented rules for national taxation and for the organization of a national council, without the consent of which the king could not tax.  Others decreed the banishment of the alien servants of John.  Although it is not the foundation of English liberty, it is the first, the clearest, the most united, and historically the most important of the great enunciations of it.”

Most of the other peoples in Europe, as a German historian has remarked, obtained from their rulers, at some time in their history, agreements of the nature of the, English Magna Charta, but allowed them to become a dead letter. The English never suffered their charter to be forgotten, but kept it in force by confirmations, which, first and last, were repeated no less than thirty-eight times.

A few weeks after signing the great charter John tried to annul it, with authority from the pope.  Then certain of the barons, in their rage, offered the English crown to the heir of France, afterwards Louis VIII; and the French prince came to England with an army to secure it.  But, before the forces gathered were brought to any decisive battle, John died.  Louis’ partisans then dropped away from him and the next year, after a defeat at sea, he returned to France.  John left a son, a lad of nine years, who grew to be a better man than himself, though not a good king, for he was untruthful and weak. He held the throne for fifty-six years, during which long time, after his minority was passed, no minister of ability and honorable character could get and keep office in his service.  He was jealous of ministers, preferring mere administrative clerks, but was docile to favorites, and picked them for the most part from a swarm of foreign adventurers whom the nation detested.

Excerpt from The Rise and Fall of Nations: Ancient and Mediaeval by Josephus Nelson Larned – 1907


Further Reading and External Links

The Magna Carta at the British Library

The Magna Carta at the National Archives