The Magna Carta is one of the most famous political documents in history. It laid the foundation for the present-day tax-based parliamentary state and was responsible for making everyone (even the king) accountable, under the law. Below is a brief timeline of the Magna Carta, from its conception up until present-day England:
Following the death of his brother, Richard I, in France on April 6, 1199, John was crowned King of England the same year.
When King John refused to accept the Papal candidate for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope Innocent III laid a general interdict on England and Wales on March 24, 1208. Under such circumstances, the entire kingdom was forbidden from attending Mass, receive extreme unction, or even bury their dead in consecrated grounds with religious ceremony. In 1209, King John was excommunicated by the Church.
The interdict forced King John to accept Stephen Langdon, the Papal candidate for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury. In return, Langdon absolved King John of his excommunication from the Church. King John agreed to become a papal vassal the same year. He even went so far as to take an oath to become a crusader in a bid to gain the support of the Pope.
Nearly a year after Langdon was made Archbishop, King John placed England and Ireland under the lordship of Rome, fearing papal support for a French invasion of England. The meeting where this decision was taken took place outside of Dover. The official letter, issued by Pope Innocent III, was the final confirmation of the decision.
In 1204, Philip II had taken over the ancestral lands of King John in France. These lands were permanently lost to England from then onwards. To regain the lands, King John waged a long, protracted and expensive war against France. To fund the war, he had to levy new taxes. When he finally lost the war in 1214, he was forced to sue for peace and pay even more compensation to the French crown. This further burdened the tax-paying barons in England.
King John’s heavy taxation policies to fund his expensive (and disastrous) war against France finally drove the barons under his rule into outright rebellion. They rode to London with full military strength and captured the tower of London, scattering most of King John’s men across the kingdom. The barons held London at a standstill, forcing King John to agree to a peace treaty and come to a compromise.
The rebels had previously demanded that the King uphold the Charter of Liberties which had previously been granted by Henry I in 1100. King John, along with his supporters and Archbishop Langdon, met with the rebel barons at Runnymede on June 10, 1215. While not many details about the meeting are available, the Barons presented the king with the ‘Articles of the Barons’. These reforms were an attempt to divert an all-out civil war, and as such formed the basis for the Magna Carta.
The meeting at Runnymede resulted in King John granting the Magna Carta. The Grand Charter, as it is known in English, laid the first foundations for a taxable parliamentary state and claimed all people (including the Sovereign) to be subjects under the law. The charter protected everyone from illegal imprisonment as well as access to fair justice and trial. In addition to the rights of the barons, the charter also guaranteed the rights of the serfs. It even empowered a council of 25 barons to take action against the King should he fail to adhere to the charter.
The first seven copies of the Magna Carta were distributed soon after, on June 24 in 1215.
Pope Innocent III annulled the Magna Carta on August 24, 1215; declaring it null and void.
Following the annulment, Prince Louis of France invaded England and gained substantial baronical support.
King John died a sudden death at the age of 50-years-old due to an attack of dysentery, which turned fatal. His nine-year-old son Prince Henry III inherited the throne after him.
William Marshal, the Regent and leader of the minority government, issued the first revised edition of Magna Carta less than a month after King John’s death. This was meant to shore up support for the new king, Henry III and bring the rebels to his cause. However, the charter failed to mitigate opposition to Henry III’s government.
The second revised edition of the Magna Carta was issued by Regent William Marshal on November 6, a year later in 1217. This time, it was issued after the French had been defeated and Henry III now had better prospects in England. As a result, the second revision of the charter included more concessions to the crown than to the rebels, although it also forgave most of the rebels.
The final edition of Magna Carta was issued by Henry III, now of age, in 1225. It is this that lay the foundation of a new Parliamentarian state. Countering suspicions that the charter was forced on the King, Henry III proclaimed that he considered himself bound by the charter of his free will. This enabled Henry III to levy taxes and gain a firmer control of the previously rebellious counties and regions.
In the later part of his rule, controversy over Magna Carta continued. Henry III would occasionally use it to pressure the rebels and the charter itself also circumscribed the King’s powers as well. In 1253, for instance, Henry levied new taxes after confirming the charter once more.