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JOHN AND THE BARONS,
perturbed affairs of the kingdom. Henry, in the 5th volume of his History of Great Britain, has given this account of it:
66 The schemes that had been forming, for some time past, amongst the English Barons, for recovering and securing their liberties, being now (1215) become ripe for execution, a great number of THESE BARONS, attended by their followers, in arms, waited upon the King at London, Jan. 6, and demanded a confirmation of the liberties that had been granted to their ancestors by Henry the First in his Charter, a copy of which they produced. After some altercation, The King promised to return an answer to this demand at the end of Easter next; and the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the Bishop of Ely and the Earl of Pembroke, becoming sureties for his performing this promise, THE BARONS were satisfied, and retired. John, resolving in his own mind not to grant the demands of the Barons, employed various arts to secure himself from the effects of their resentment. With this view he commanded all his subjects to renew their oaths of fealty-granted to all cathedrals, monasteries and conventual societies the right of electing their superiors-took the cross for the recovery of the Holy Land--and sent ambassadors to his Sovereign Lord the Pope, to accuse his Barons of rebellion, and solicit the thunders of the Church against them! By these steps the Barons being convinced that nothing could be obtained without a sufficient power to enforce their demands, assembled at Stamford, in Easter week,
MAGNA CHARTA OBTAINED.
with all their followers, who constituted a formidable army, and marched, April 27, to Brackley, about fifteen miles from Oxford, where the King then resided. On the approach of the Barons, John sent the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Earl of Pembroke to ask what were the liberties and privileges that they desired. To these ambassadors the Barons delivered a schedule, containing the heads of their demands; which being presented to the KING, he rejected them with indignation, declaring that he never would grant snch liberties to his subjects as would make himself a slave! On receiving this answer, the Barons, without paying any regard to the Pope's letters threatening them with excommunication, broke into open war, and invested the Castle of Northampton, which they could not take for want of battering engines. But they were more successful in their next attempts. For, after they had taken the Castle of Bedford, having received an invitation from the chief citizens of London, they marched thither, and, May 24, took possession of the capital. The King, who had retired from Oxford to Odiham, finding himself abandoned almost by all the world, sent the Earl of Pembroke to the insurgents at London, to propose a conference, in order to an accommodation. This conference was accordingly held in a LARGE MEADOW, between Windsor and Staines, where, on Friday, June 19th, 1215, the famous Charter, called Magna Charta, or the GREAT CHARTER, was granted by KING John. To secure the possession of those inestimable privileges, granted by this
PRIVILEGES OF MAGNA CHARTA.
Charter, the Palladium of English Liberty, many precautions were taken by the Barons, and in particular, twenty-five of their own number were appointed to be conservators of the CHARTER, and invested with the most extensive powers for that purpose."
The privileges and liberties that were granted or confirmed to the people of England by this CHARTER, may be divided into these four classes :-" 1. Those that were granted to the church and clergy. 2. To the earls, barons, knights and others, who held of the king in capite. 3. To cities, towns and merchants, for the encouragement of trade; and 4. To the whole body of freemen.”
It is justly observed, that “ though John was certainly one of the worst princes that ever filled the throne of England, his reign will be for ever memorable for the melioration of the Constitution, by the Great Charter of LIBERTIES then obtained. His merit, however, in this melioration was very small, as he contributed to it only by rendering himself odious by his vices, contemptible by his follies, and impotent by his losses, which both constrained and encouraged his subjects to demand, and enabled them to obtain, by means already related, this great Palladium of English Liberty."
As a curious specimen of the manners of the times, and to impart some idea of the personages concerned in this memorable transaction, the commencement
of THE CHARTER, or of Magna Charta, shall be transcribed :
“ John, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Earl of Anjou, to all his Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Earls, Barons, Justiciaries, Foresters, Sheriffs, Commanders, Officers, and to all his Bailiffs and faithful subjects, wisheth health. Know ye, that WE, from our regard to God, and for the salvation of our own soul, and of the souls of our ancestors and of our heirs, to the honour of God and the exaltation of holy church, and amendment of our kingdom, by the advice of our venerable fathers, Stephen, Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England, and Cardinal of the holy Roman Church ; Henry, Archbishop of Dublin ; William, of London ; Peter, of Winchester; Joceline, of Bath and Glastonbury; Hugh, of Lincoln; Walter, of Worcester ; William, of Coventry ; Benedict, of Rochester, Bishops ;-Master Pandulph, the Pope's Sub-deacon and Familiar ;-Brother Eymeric, Master of the Knights Templars in England ; and of these noble persons, William Marischal, Earl of Pembroke; William, Earl of Salisbury; William, Earl of Warren ; William, Earl of Arundel ; Allen, of Galloway, Constable of Scotland; Warren Fitzgerald, Peter Fitzherbert, Hubert de Burgh, Steward of Poicton; Hugh de Nevil, Matthew Fitzherbert, Thomas Basset, Allan Basset, Philip de Albany, Robert de Raphel, John Marischal, John Fitzhugh,
CHIEF ARTICLE OF MAGNA CHARTA.
and of others of our Liege men, have granted to God, and by this, our present CHARTER, have confirmed for us and our heirs for ever!”
Then follow sixty articles in long and minute succession, THE CHIEF of which is the Thirty-ninth, running thus-“ No freeman shall be seized, or imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or any way dedestroyed ; nor will we go upon him, nor will we send upon him, except by the legal judgment of his Peers, or by the law of the land !” This is the most valuable stipulation in the whole Charter, and the grand security of the liberties, persons and properties of the people of England, which cannot be justly invaded, if this law is not violated. The expressions, we will not go upon him, we will not send upon him, signify, that the King would not sit in judgment, or pronounce sentence on any freeman, either in person or by his judges, except by the verdict of a jury, or by a process conducted according to the established laws of the land.
The Great Charter contains many articles, either of a temporary or private pature, or relate to law writs and forms, long ago obsolete, or are of little importance, or so plain that they need no illustration.
As I have given the commencement of THE CHARTER, take the conclusion.
“ Wherefore our WILL is, and we firmly command, that the Church of England be free, and that the men in our kingdom have and hold all the foresaid liberties, rights and concessions, well and in peace,