Page images
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

shire. The clergy had not, of course, taken up arms, and had not been forced to break with the king outwardly. The archbishop, therefore, was one of the men whom John sent to ask the barons what they wanted. He came back with a long list of their demands, which John in anger refused.

Then the barons marched to London, and the Londoners greeted them with joy. This was not, like the revolts of the barons which we have spoken about before, a struggle to gain power for themselves. It was a struggle to get good government for the whole country, for the people as well as the barons. Everyone left John, even the men of his court and household. The whole country was against the king, who had shown himself to be nothing but a brutal tyrant.

3. John was at last obliged to bid the barons meet Runnymede, him at Runnymede, that they might talk

together about their demands and come to some agreement.

Runnymede was a meadow through which the Thames ran, between Windsor and Staines. On one side of the river the barons spread out their forces and put up their tents. On the other side was the king. On an island in the middle of the river, the messengers from either side met and discussed the disputed points.

John, deserted on all sides, was ready to grant anything that was asked, though probably he did not mean to keep his promises. In one day he agreed to the Charter which the barons proposed, and put his seal to it.

4. This charter, which is so important in the history of English liberty that it has always been called The

Great Charter, was as it were a treaty be

tween the king and his people. In it the interests of the people were considered side by side with the interests of the barons. This is the important point


[ocr errors]

The Great

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

to mark about it, that for the first time the whole nation, and not only one class in it, rose against the king to fight for its liberties.

5. Till now we have always seen the people on the side of the king against the barons. Now the nation had become one.

The Normans and the Eng. Union of lish were one people: they felt that they had the nation. the same interests, and that they could get on best by working together.

Under Henry I. and Henry II. the barons had learnt that it was useless trying to get power for themselves, like the great barons in France; and the people had learnt what good government was. The order that had reigned all over the country had educated the people. They had learnt what law was, what good government was. They had seen the Church resist the king with success even when he seemed most powerful, and from this they had learnt that they too might struggle for their liberty. So it came about that the nation met the king at Runnymede and forced him to put his seal to the Great Charter. The barons in no way acted selfishly, and we do not see in the Great Charter that they tried at all to get new power for themselves.

6. The Great Charter was very like the Charter of Henry I. The barons had taken that charter for their model. But the Great Charter went farther than that had done, for since its day many

the Charter. new rights and new claims had sprung up, and now all these had to be thought of.

First of all the Great Charter promised to the Church all its rights, and said clearly that the English Church was to be free. Then it went on to promise that the king would not go beyond his feudal rights in the treatment of his vassals, and would not use unlawful means to get money from them.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

Articles of

[ocr errors]

The Great

7. Its most important articles are those in which the king promised that he would not try to raise

money from the nation by a scutage or Council.

other aid without the consent of the Great Council. To this council were to be called by name all the great clergy, the earls, and the greater barons. The lesser barons were to be summoned generally in a writ which was to be sent to the sheriff of their shire. This is important, because it clearly states that the consent of the council was to be given to all taxes, and also states how the Great Council was to be made up. There was nothing new in it, but it had never been put so clearly before. To have the means by which they could hope to govern themselves so clearly put, must have been a great help in the future progress of the people towards liberty.

8. Legal abuses were also put right by the Great Charter. John had got together a great deal of money Abuses by laying very heavy fines upon offending

persons. This was now forbidden, and the old order was brought back into the Exchequer and the Curia Regis.

An end was put to some of the forest abuses. The forests that John had made were to be destroyed, and all the bad customs of the forest law were to be done away with.

One great rule was clearly laid down, that no free man was to be taken and in any way punished save by judgment of his peers, or equals, or by the law of the land.

Twenty-five barons were to be chosen by the whole number of barons to see that the charter was carried out. If the king would not hearken to what they said to him, they might make war upon him, so as to force him to observe the Charter.

9. John had signed the Charter because he could not


[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

help himself. He did so with rage in his heart, and rode away from Windsor as soon as he could to see how he could find means to resist the barons. John's last This time the Pope was on his side. John struggle. had made himself Innocent III.'s vassal, and he was now rewarded by Innocent's help. Innocent sent letters to England, in which he said that he looked upon the Charter as unlawful and put it aside, whilst he bade Stephen Langton no longer act as archbishop. Then he went on to excommunicate the barons, but they were not frightened by this, but clung to their cause.

John hired troops from abroad, and both sides got ready for war; for the barons soon saw that John did not mean to keep the Charter. But the king's troops were the strongest, for they were trained to fight as their business in life. The barons turned to France for help. They offered the crown of England to Lewis, eldest son of King Philip.

10. Lewis and the barons, together were too strong for John. He was marching southwards to try and save Dover, which held out for him, when, as he crossed the Wash, the tide rose suddenly and John, 1216. carried away the baggage of the army, with the royal treasure. This was a bitter blow to the king, who loved money dearly. Soon after he was seized with a fever, which was made much worse by the greed with which he partook of a great banquet. He died at Newark, in October 1216, just three months after the death of Pope Innocent III.

During his life he had never tried to serve God, and had always scoffed at His name. On his deathbed fear seized him, and he gave orders that he was to be buried in the habit of a monk, as if he hoped that religion, which he had scorned during his life, would protect him after his death.


Death of

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

We cannot pity him even for his miserable end, but can only feel that he deserved it all. As he had loved no one and been true to no one, we cannot wonder that none loved or clung to him. He was left alone, because his utter selfishness and meanness made all men shrink from him. “Foul as it is, hell itself is defiled by the fouler presence of John,' are the terrible words that men of his time spoke of him. They have told us nothing which can make us think less harshly of him.

11. It is not hard to see what a great change had come over England since the days of William the Con

queror. Under Henry II. we have seen how Summary.

the Normans and English had become one people; and we have seen how, under John, barons, Church, and people learned that they all had the same interests, and wanted good government and order.

The Norman kings had taught them to value good government, and now they would not do without it. But the Great Charter marks the beginning of a new change. It shows us that the people had begun to wish for some share in the government themselves. They had learned their strength, and did not mean any longer to put up with such a harsh rule as that of the Norman kings had been. In the years that follow you will see how the people learned to govern themselves.

« PreviousContinue »