« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
JOHN AND THE BARONS' OAT).
freely and quietly, fully and entirely, to them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and places for ever, as aforesaid. An oath hath been taken, as well on our part as on the part of the Barons, that all these things mentioned above, shall be observed in good faith and without any evil intention, before the above named witnesses and many others. Given by our hand in the Meadow, which is called RUNNINGMED, between Windsor and Staines, this 19th day of June, in the seventeenth of our reign, 1215."
Henry, from whose excellent History of Great Britain the above particulars of Magna Charta have been quoted, has added these observations by way of conclusion:
“ The BARONS, who procured this famous CHARTER, were not ignorant that the King had granted it with the most extreme reluctance, and therefore they took every precaution they could invent to render it effectual, and to secure the rights and liberties they had obtained. The GREAT SEAL was not only appended to it in due form, but both the King and the Barons took a solemn oath to observe it, in all particulars, with good faith, and without any
dissimulation. It was not, however, till after a long and bloody struggle, that the people of Englund obtained the peaceable enjoyment of the rights and liberties contained in the Great Charter of King John, and in the similar Charters of his successors. With so much difficulty, by such slow degrees, and at so great an
expense of blood and treasure, was the venerable fabric of THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION erected. Esto perpetua. May it remain for ever the pride and felicity of those who enjoy its blessings, the envy and admiration of surrounding nations !"
Opposite Runnymede is Ankerwyke House, formerly a Benedictine Nunnery, now the seat of John Blagrave, Esq., remarkable for a Yew-tree, supposed to have flourished upwards of a thousand years. It is still large and flourishing
What scenes have passed since first this ancient Yew
A slaughter'd yictim in their beauteous Queen!
COLUMN OP LIBERTY.
Near RUNNYMEDE, on the river Thames, is MAGNA CHARTA ISLAND, said to be the temporary and fortified residence of the BARONS, to which they retired from the pressure of the surrounding multitude assembled on Runnymede, that they might have a better opportunity of obtaining the signature of King John confirming the rights held under that palladium of our LIBERTY ; it is now nearly covered with willows that shade the hut of the fisherman. Akenside, the Poet of Liberty, has imagined a COLUMN on Runnymede, with these lines:
Thou who the verdant plain dost traverse here,
But you, my young Friend, may inquire who were these BARONS to whom we are so much indebted; they make a conspicuous figure in the earlier pages
of British History. When WILLIAM the ConQUEROR had subdued England, he gave to Hugh De Abrincis, his nephew, the whole county of Chester, which he erected into a Palatinate ; Robert, Earl of Mortaigne, had nine hundred and seventy-three manors and lordships; William, Earl Warrene, had two hundred and ninety-eight; and, when one of his descendants was questioned as to his right to the lands which he possessed, he drew his SWORD, which he produced as his title, adding, that William the Bastard did not conquer the kingdom himself but that the BARONS, and his ancestors among the rest, were joint adventurers in the enterprise. The possession of land thus obtained soon ceased to be precarious; it seemed to be reasonable that he who had cultivated and sowed a field should reap the harvest; hence the occupation of a portion of land or a fief, as it was called in the feudal language, was soon made annual as a reward for long and faithful services; they were soon granted for life; and, as it was observed that a soldier would, in battle, risk his life more willingly if confident that his family would continue to enjoy his estate, fiefs were allowed to descend from father to
Thus the institution of permanent property was ingrafted upon that of military service, and each century made some addition to the stability of these tenures. In this manner the great vassals of the crown acquired that land as unalienable property which was originally a grant during pleasure, and with it they secured proportionable authority and
power, and a kind of sovereign jurisdiction, both civil and criminal, within their own domains. The BARON, or Feudal Lord, exhibiting the shew of royalty, and surrounded by the officers of his household and court of justice, resided in his principal castle, which was a strong and well-garrisoned fortress. There he frequently feasted his retainers, with all the rude hospitality of the times, in his spacious hall, amused them with tilts and tournaments, attached them to bis service by the ties of dependence and personal attention, and they were ready to draw their swords and devote their lives to his service. He was often involved in some hereditary or personal quarrel with his neighbouring chieftains, or formed a confederacy with them to decide some contest with a rival power. Sometimes they led their vassals in hostile array against the king himself, a circumstance that frequently happened in the reign of John, Henry the Third, and the Civil Wars of the House of. York and Lancaster. *
This Magna Charta, or National Record, is said to have been drawn up by the Barons in a cavern near Ryegate, in Surry, which I explored, some years ago, along with my late venerable friend John Brent, Esq. of Blackheath; it is to be seen at the present day :
* See article History, in Kett's valuable Elements of General Knowledge.