Magna carta (Великая хартия вольностей)

Magna carta (Великая хартия вольностей)

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“I’ll tell you a story, a story anon,

Of a noble Prince, and his name was King John,

For he was a Prince, a Prince of great might,

He held up great wrongs, he put down great right.”

The Reign of John, 1199-1216.

The reign of King John was the time when people did not know what tomorrow would bring to them. Their King was cruel and unpredictable. It was the time when churches halted their services for a while, when taxes were raised day after day, when nearly everyone could be destroyed without having any guilt.

In his early age John was given the nickname of Lackland, because being the youngest in the family, he indeed had no his own lands, unlike his elder brothers. The other historians say that this nickname was given to him because during his reign he practically lost everything that he possessed. When he was 19 he was send to govern Ireland. But in a few months he returned, covered with disgrace, because he offended the loyal chiefs by his childish insolence, and entirely failed to defend the people from the hostile tribes.

John became the English king in 1199, at the age of 33. His little nephew Arthur had also the claim to the throne. John with the help of his men seized him in his bed and send to the castle in Normandy. Then he told his people: “Put out his eyes and keep him in prison”, others said: “Have him stabbed”, others: “Have him hanged”, others: “Have him poisoned”. Finally the boy was stubbed and his body was sunk.

John was a victim of his own character and of circumstances. Although he was courageous and clever he had knack of alienating nearly everyone by his cruelty, greed and failure to honor his word. And circumstances were: Richard’s empty treasury, the restive barons and a war in France. Besides he had the bad lack of being an enemy of two the most powerful figures of The Middle Ages: Philip Augustus of France and Pope Innocent III.

John and the King of France.

John was preparing for his second marriage. He was planning to wed a Portuguese princes, but he fell in love with a fourteen-year-old French girl who was betrothed to one of his vassals. Despite of that he married her and his vassal appealed to King Philip II for justice. In order to resolve the situation the King of France as John’s suzerain (according to feudal custom, since John held Normandy, Anjou, and Aquitaine as fiefs, he was a vassal of the French King), summoned him to stand trial. When John refused to appear, Philip pronounced the forfeiture of all his French domains. The King’s prestige was completely lost.

John and the Pope.

After the death of Hubert Walter in 1205, John and the monks of Canterbury chose candidates as archbishop of Canterbury. But the Pope Innocent III rejected both candidates and picked a third (Stephen Langton). John refused to accept him and confiscated revenues of the seat of Canterbury; thereupon Innocent placed England under an interdict (1208) halting all church services. No bells were to be rung, no one was married or even buried by the clergy. This made everyone suffer, especially the poor, for they were used to get help from the monasteries and clergy. John in his turn seized Church property and became prosecuting the clergy. But all his actions encouraged his enemies. And in order not to lose his throne, as France was prepared to invade England with the Pope’s blessing, John submitted to Innocent in 1213.

John and the barons, reasons for the Charter.

During John’s reign the nobles had to suffer from all kinds of laws. King John abused his coronation and feudal oath. All English kings respected feudal law and tried to govern justly. But it was not for John. He demanded more military service from the feudal class than did the kings before him. He himself was always found, either to be eating and drinking, or to be running away, when the fighting took place. He sold royal positions to the highest bidders. He increased taxes without obtaining the consent of the barons, which was contrary to feudal custom. John’s courts decided cases according to his wishes, not according to the law. People who lost case had to pay crushing penalties. About half of the barons were prepared, in their own self-interest, to challenge John, as he had misused royal powers and upset the feudal balance.