came to the throne on the death of his elder brother Richard l - in
1199. He had always been overshadowed by Richard, who was admired for
his success on the battlefield. During Richard's reign, John did
everything to win the crown for himself while his brother was on the
Crusades, but now he was in the position to shape his own way in the
country. But the chroniclers of the time were critical of his
efforts, 'He plundered his own
people' wrote one, another said 'No
man may ever trust him' and on his death one went so far as to
comment 'Hell itself is fouled by the
presence of John'.
was also unfortunate to have lost his lands of Brittany and Anjou to
Philip ll of France, and it was his need to raise money for troops to
protect the remaining French possessions of Poitou and Gascony that
caused much of his trouble with the Barons. The chief complaint was
the increase in the rate of 'relief'
- a medieval form of death duty
- and the 'scutage' - the
payment made in place of military service.
William the Conqueror granted large tracts of land to his nobles and
barons, he enforced their responsibility to maintain a number of
armoured horsemen for his army, and so was placing power in their
hands. So, when King John laid heavy taxation demands on the Barons,
this, with the loss of revenue from the continental lands the king
had forfeited, made them very angry, and the Barons rebelled.
crisis came in August 1212 with a baronial plot to murder or betray
the king, but this failed. In 1214 John imposed further taxes which
were heavier than any previous assessments. So in November 1214 the
Earls and Barons of England met at the Abbey of Bury St.Edmunds to
discuss with Archbishop Langton the terms of a charter of their
was the 'Articles of the Barons'
which were finalised early in 1215
by twenty five barons which included Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk,
and Hugh Bigiod of Framlingham and Bungay. They swore on the altar of
the Abbey to make war on the King and withdraw their loyalty if he
was unwilling to agree to their requests. Stephen Langton, the
Archbishop was sympathetic to their proposals, and agreed to act as
mediator between them and the King. A plaque marks the spot in the
Abbey ruins where this vital meetings of the rebels took place.
was furious and at first refused out of hand, as no king of England
had ever been dictated to before in this way. So on the 12th May 1215
he ordered the seizure of the rebel baron's estates and then civil
war broke out. On 17th May the Barons seized London by entering the
city while the citizens were at mass. John fled to Windsor and
eventually was persuaded by Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk to
negotiate. Roger Bigod was a successor of the other Bigods who held
lands in Halesworth from the time of Domesday (1086) and whose castle
still stands at Bungay.
John reluctantly agreed to meet the Barons at Runnymede near Windsor
and after several days of bargaining, was persuaded to accept the
conditions laid out in the document we now call Magna Carta, or the
Great Charter. In 1215 Reginald de Argentein of Halesworth was among
the rebels who promoted Magna Carta and for this his lands were
confiscated, but in 1216 they were restored.
first, Magna Carta was a failure, as John had no intention of
honouring his promises. It was intended to create peace between the
king and the barons, but in fact it provoked dissension. Both sides
prepared for war, with Geofrey Earl of Essex inviting Louis, the
eldest son of the king of France to reign in John's place. Before
long French troops were on English soil, John was fighting both the
Barons, the French and later, Alexander of Scotland joined in. John
died in October 1216, at a time when the outcome was uncertain,
leaving his nine year old son to succeed him as Henry lll.
the years of his minority, Henry lll was under the control of a group
Barons who issued a compromise Magna Carta in 1225. The witnesses to
this document included both Roger and Richard Bigod and Richard de
Argentein whose personal seals were fixed to Magna Carta which was
confirmed and became law.
Of the 63 sections of the charter, nine are
still in the Statute Book and they include the one which declares the
English Church shall be free.
Probably the most important to us is
section 29 which lays down that no free man is to be imprisoned,
dispossessed, outlawed, exiled or damaged without the lawful
judgement of his peers, or by the laws of the land.
This still stands
as an essential part of our law and is in many peoples' mind the
legacy of Magna Carta. As he grew older, Henry became heavily
influenced by his French wife, and her friends and relations were so
involved in state matters that Henry was forced to hand over much of
his power to a group of Barons led by Simon de Montfort. He called a
Great Council, inviting knights and citizens from counties and from
towns to parley in 1265 - and which brought about the first Parliament.