59 Magna Carta and the Death of a Tyrant

Bouvines wasn't the cause of the Baronial revolt, but it probably was John's last chance to avoid it. In 1215 at Runymede Magna Carta was signed. It's extremely unlikely that John ever intended to allow the treaty to survive – and his untimely death at Newark was the biggest single factor in Magna Carta's survival.

59 Magna Carta and the Death of a Tyrant



The Road to Runymede

RunnymedeWhen John arrived back from France in October 1214 he found England close to open revolt. The combination of John's capricious rule, his Justiciar's attempt to levy a tax and the defeat at Bouvines together made a volatile and inflammable mix. John was this time simply overwhelmed. It seems very unlikely that John had any intention of sticking by the Carter – for him it was probably just a way of slowing the barons down until he could get an army together. 

Magna Carta

The 60 clauses of Magna Carta don't have many grand or stirring words. But somehow it manages to be massively significant, and keystone in the development of the democratic state. 

A lot has been written about Magna Carta, so I'm not going to repeat them here. But excitingly enough here you will find a complete text of the 1215 version of the charter. The Charter is replaced by a revised version  in 1217, and then a final version in 1225 – but this is the original, the attempt at a peace treaty. 

Download The Great Charter of Liberties of King John 1215

The Coronation Charter of Liberties of Henry I also had an enormous influence on Magna Carta. So for you real keenies, here is that charter for you to pour over. 

Download Charter of liberties of Henry I

Royal Forests 13CAnd finally, to take the keeness to the ultimate level, Magna Carta is so called not becuase it's particularly long, but becuase in 1217 the smaller Forest Charter was created to deal specifically with the bits of the original charter that dealt with the much hated royal forest. and so here is an annotated version of that as well. Your cup runneth over. 

Download The Forest Charter

The Civil War

John did not negotiate in good faith, because frankly he had no good faith available. By September the two sides were again at war. John soon had the upper hand; he assembled his mercenaries from abroad in Kent, and took Dover castle. His loyal castellans held over 150 royal castles against the rebels. The rebels had no siege train and essentially got stuck in London. 

Then in 1216, the Barons invited Louis, son of the king of France to help them. He landed with 1200 knights and for a moment it looked all over. The Earls of Surrey, Arundel and Salisbury abandoned John. But in fact John retained his freedom of action, and his castles held – hius problem was that he failed to deliver a knock out blow. 

King JohnThe Death of a Tyrant

In October 1216, John arrived at Lynn on the north coast of Norfolk. There he caught dysentery. As he crossed the Wash to on his way to Lincoln, he famously lost some of his baggage in his hurry, though it was nothing like as much of a disaster as Roger of Wendover would have us believe. 

He reached Newark where he died in the night of 18/19th October, after dictating his will. His body was taken to Worcester Cathedral by his mercenaries, where you can still see his effigy. 


15 thoughts on “59 Magna Carta and the Death of a Tyrant

  1. “As mad as a box of cheese” nearly killed me as I was mid-drink. The Magna Carta document is brilliant – thanks a lot for taking the time to do it. Really interesting to see it in detail, rather than the vague idea I had before about it being a sort of constitution. Interesting to hear the historiography as well. Keep up the good work. Now THOR’s finally over you can slip seamlessly into Mike’s shoes as the best history podcaster out there!

  2. I have to confess to not having listened (yet) to the podcast as I am saving it for a bout of mundane activities, i.e. ironing, hoovering etc. However, I couldn’t resist a quick peek at the Great Charter of Liberties. I hope I’m not treading on toes and if I’m totally wrong I shall crawl back under my stone (or just get on with my ironing and hoovering!). Looking at the ‘dramitis personae’ my eye was drawn to the Marshal and I noticed you have said that John Marshal was his son. Was he not his nephew? I thought his son, William, was with ‘team’ barons. If i’m barking up the wrong tree please tell me so in no uncertain terms (I bow to your much more superior knowledge on all of this history stuff!) Anyway,have to go and I’m really looking forward to listening to the podcast when I eventually get round to my ironing……

  3. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Yes, you are absolutely right. John is indeed a nephew, not a son, and yes it’s William Junior who is the schismatic (or for a while at least). Consider this a full, public apology and retraction… and I will revise the dramatis personae…

  4. And I was wondering if I just missed it or did you fail to mention that Bury St Edmunds Abbey is where Cardinal Langton and the barons met in 1214 to swear an oath to make King John accept the conditions of the Magna Carta.
    You might know how I feel about Bury and the Abby. Just one of my very favorite places in all Suffolk – or England, for that matter. Love grabbing a kabob from the shop next door, and wondering around the grounds.
    If you did mention it, well then, just tell me and I’ll get back to my ironing, like Tracey.

  5. O Lord, what a bad week it’s been! No Priscilla, I completely failed to mention that it was Bury where Stephen met with the barons. Mea culpa, again. But very glad that you have now mentioned it!

  6. I’ll add my thanks for the annotated Magna Carta. What an extraordinary effort. Have enjoyed the era of King John and looking forward to the Plantagenets. It will be enjoyable, no doubt.

  7. Wonderful job with the charter! I downloaded it for later study. This was one of your best espisodes. I especially liked the “batmobile in Angevin wriggle mode” comment.
    I agree with Harry about filling Mike’s shoes with this podcast. Keep up the good work.

  8. Thanks for this. I wish I had have had your annotated Magna Carta with me a few years ago when studying a decidedly fascinating uni subject called “Law, Society and Justice”. I look forward to your annotated Bill of Rights 1688 ;-p
    Seriously, though. Good stuff.
    As an aside, have you listened to the “In Our Time” episode on the Magna Carta? I remember enjoying it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00k4fg7

  9. Hi Dan
    Yes, I did listen to that – though as it happens after I had done the episode, which wasn’t the cleverest bit of planning but never mind. It was good – as most of them are I think.
    I came to the Provisions of Westminster determined to do the same thing…took one look at the length of it and…Nope, not for me. So any volunteers? I’ve got the text….

  10. What an episode! Absolutely fascinating. Magna Carta gets a lot of respect in America. We talk about it as the basis for our Declaration of Independence. We have a copy of it alongside our cherished documents in Washington DC. And I think that’s well done. But thank you for pointing out exactly what this document was, and what it wasn’t. Since you seemed so determined for us to do so, I followed the link and read several clauses (is that the right word?) and your prodigious notes on the subjects. It was a fascinating hour for sure. Thank you for your passion and for sharing it with us. Your podcast is most enjoyable.

    1. Hurrah! Debbie, what can I say? I pour my heart into writing those pages with all those explanations…did my desperation sneak through!? I’m delighted you came to look!

  11. Apologies for this question, as I suspect you answered it in the podcast, but it’s been a while since I listened it.

    Regarding the statement: Quod Anglicana ecclesia libera sit (‘that the English church shall be free’). Is in regards to the King or the Pope? I suspect the former, but I’ve just read two books with contradictory interpretations.

  12. I must ask for an opinion on the movie Ironclad on this page, since it concentrates so much on the siege of Rochester and the aftermath of the signing of Magna Carta. I have read the comments on IMDb and so am aware of the gross fact inaccuracies (why say that bit about England being ruled by the French at the end!), but the look and feel of the battle I thought was very authentic. Plus Paul Giamatti does one of the best on screen rants you will ever hear, which I think outlines the real debate of Magna Carta and divine rule.

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