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his tyranny any longer. Langton, the archbishop, who was an Englishman, and who deserves to be remembered with gratitude by every Englishman, called a meeting of the
barons at Bury Št. Edmund's, shewed them a copy of a charter of Henry the First, and exhorted them to obtain a similar charter from John. “The barons, inflamed by his eloquence, incited by the sense of their own wrongs, and encouraged by the appearance of their power and numbers, solemnly took an oath to adhere to each other, and to make endless war on the king” till he should grant their demands.
But they could not do this of themselves, they must have an army to back them, and in order to get this, they promised the English a share in the privileges they hoped to obtain, if they would help them. They gladly assented, and thus arose the first cordial union between Saxons and Normans.
John as usual acted in an undignified and cowardly manner. At first, he swore he would not grant their demands, but when he saw that almost all the barons and people were against him, he reluctantly agreed to meet them, and deliberate with them on the matters they required. The meeting took place at Runnemede, near Windsor, in June, 1215, and after a few days' debate, John signed the celebrated “Magna CHARTA,' the Great Charter of our English liberties.
By this famous deed, all parties in the kingdom, the clergy, the barons, and the nobles secured important privileges. It contained sixty-three clauses, some of the most important of which were That no freeman should be deprived of his property, or be imprisoned, or outlawed, or banished, unless by judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. This clause established law as supreme, every man was taken under its protection, so long as he conducted himself well, and neither barons nor king could punish him arbitrarily. That one weight and one measure should be used throughout the realm : regulation to prevent the inconvenience and occasional
unfairness that arose from the measures in one place being different from those of another. That merchants should be allowed to transact all business, without being subjected to arbitrary tolls and impositions, and that all freemen should be at liberty to go out of, and return to the kingdom at their pleasure :—These clauses were intended to encourage trade and commerce. The courts of justice were to be stationary : Before this, the king's courts followed him wherever he went, and persons who had cases for trial, were often put to great inconvenience, delay, and expense in consequence. Justices were to go through the country four times in every year; thus bringing justice home to every man's door. Justice was not to be sold, delayed, or refused to any one, as had too often been the case before. Every freeman was to be fined in proportion to his fault and not to his utter ruin :—a clause specially intended for the benefit of the lower classes, as by it not even a villein or rustic could be deprived of his implements of husbandry, and his means of livelihood. That no taxes, except some that were named in various clauses, should be taken from the people, without consent of the Council :—This clause was intended to put a stop to the arbitrary exactions that had been common hitherto. There were other regulations affecting the clergy and the barons in particular, but the clauses we have mentioned, had to do with the welfare of the entire nation.
Such is a brief outline of the Magna Charta, "the bulwark of our liberties," as it has been called. We are not to suppose, however, that it at once put a stop to tyrannical proceedings on the part of the king, or that it at once gave freedom to the people. On the contrary, king John himself obtained the pope's consent to set the Charter at nought, and he did so, though he had pretended to sign it with pleasure. Thereupon his barons made war on him, and invited the son of the French king over to England to be their king. John hired an army of foreigners, and some few English
nobles joined him, but he lost his baggage in the rising tide, when marching near the Wash, and died very soon after of vexation or of fever.
After the death of John, the Charter was confirmed by our kings no less than thirty-eight times. When the people were dissatisfied with the king's conduct towards them, they would insist on the renewal of the Great Charter, and in this way it became the recognized title of the people to their liberties. King Henry the Third removed the regulation against taxation, without consent of the Council, but it was re-inserted in the reign of Edward the First. The last confirmation was in the reign of Henry the Sixth.
There is an ancient copy of the Magna Charta, in the British Museum. It is the one that was confirmed in the ninth year of Henry the Third, ten years after the original Magna Charta was signed.
LESSON 9.—THE ORIGIN OF PARLIAMENT.
1217 A.D. Battle of Lincoln, defeat of Prince Louis of France.
“Provisions of Oxford."
Battle of Evesham-death of De Montfort.
Solitary-single, alone (Lat, solus, alone). Arbitration-friendly judgment between
Partisans—those who take a side. Augmented — increased (Lat. augeo, I Subsequent-following (Lat. sequor, i increase).
follow). Illegal-unlawful (Lat. il, in, not; lex, Prerogative-peculiar privilege or right. (legis) law.)
Vetoing-forbidding (Lat. veto, I forbid). Laymen-men who are not clergy. Ecclesiastical-belonging to the church.
WE said in a former lesson that it is sometimes a good thing for a nation to have a bad king, and we shewed that this was the case with our king John. he had been a wise ruler, he would never have forced his barons to rise against him, and bind him by law to govern properly. It is to his evil practices that we owe our Magna Charta. Nor is John's case a solitary ex
ample of the truth of our statement. We have another proof of it in John's son, Henry the Third, to whose misgovernment we owe the origin of parliamentary representation
Henry was but nine years old when his father died, and the country was governed for him by the wise Earl of Pembroke. But unfortunately this good ruler died very soon, and left no one capable of filling his place. The king grew up weak, imprudent, and goodnatured, and was easily led by scheming and artful
He married a foreign princess, and great numbers of her countrymen came over into England, and were favoured by Henry. Places of trust and profit were given to them, from which the English were excluded. This of course created jealousy and ill-will, for the people naturally thought that a king of England ought to show partiality to Englishmen rather than to foreigners. And worse than this, these favoured foreigners were not particular about observing the laws of the country, and in this way they increased the general discontent, which was further augmented by the ill-success of the king in his foreign wars.
But the people were especially provoked by the king's illegal proceedings in his royal office. They forced him to confirm the Charter of his father, king John; but Henry soon forgot all about his promises, and recommenced his old practice. His good nature, and his unsuccessful wars involved him in debt, and he sought to discharge these obligations, by making illegal exactions from his subjects. These were borne for a while, and then there would be a fresh confirmation of the charters ; king Henry would make promises as usual, apparently with the full intention of keeping them, but he seemed incapable of adhering to a resolution, when he had formed one, and he soon relapsed into his former habits.
The barons at length determined to bind the king more firmly for the future, and at a council, which was
held at Oxford, they made him agree to surrender much of his power into the hands of a committee of the barons, at the head of which was Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, the brother-in-law of the king. About three years after, Henry refused to abide any longer by his agreement, and tried to recover his authority by force of arms. In this he was unsuccessful, but the matters in dispute were referred to the arbitration of the king of France. The decision of this prince was not in accordance with the wishes of the barons, and a war arose between them and the king, in which De Montfort was their leader. The two armies met at Lewes in Sussex in 1264, and in the battle that ensued, the king's forces were defeated, and the king himself taken prisoner. Next day however he was exchanged for his son prince Edward.
De Montfort was now bewildered by his success. He was in fact master of the country, but he knew the barons too well to believe that they would submit to his dictation. Besides, there was a large party that was opposed to him, and favourable to the king. In this perplexity, he bethought himself of securing the co-operation of the people, knowing that he should be secure if they took his side. Perhaps too he was really desirous of increasing their power. At all events, they thought so, and we may therefore give him credit for this good-will towards them.
So he summoned a parliament in the king's name, and called to it not only the barons and chief clergy, but also two knights from each county, and representatives from the boroughs. This was the first time that common citizens had ever been thought worthy of a place in the national councils, and the origin of parliament is generally traced to these writs of De Montfort.
Before this time the king's council occupied the place that parliament largely takes now, and this council was made up of the barons and prelates. If therefore we read of “the parliament” before the year 1265, we