Daniel Hooker – Hendon Prep School

Tell the whole story revolving round ONE of these famous quotations:

(His choice:)

‘To no man will we sell, deny, or delay justice.’

The above quotation is from the Magna Carta, the major legacy of the reign of King John.  This document was to resonate down the ages, even to the present day.

John came to the throne in 1199.  England was in desperate need of a strong leader, especially as it was bankrupt after the expensive wars of Richard I and faced a strong enemy in Philip Augustus of France.

At first John seemed perfect for the task.  He was a good administrator and cared about the country, unlike his brother who spent less than a tenth of his reign in England.  However, John’s barons quickly became angry at his interference in local justice.

John had to fight a war against Philip Augustus in France.  It started well when John captured the castle of Mirebeau after marching 60 miles in 2 days.  His problems started here when his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, who some felt had a better claim to the throne than John, disappeared.  Stories circulated blaming John for Arthur’s murder and he may have been responsible.  Whatever, this turned wavering French barons against him and the whole war turned in favour of Philip. By 1204 John had lost Normandy following the fall of the famous Chateau Gaillard. A king’s first task in medieval time was as warlord and John had clearly failed.

Many barons owned land in France or had financed the war, and they were furious. They were even more angry when John raised taxes to ridiculous levels. Inheritance tax was normally £100 for barons, and John made it many thousands. He also made barons pay to get a fair hearing at one of his courts.  The sentence from Magna Carta, at the top of this essay, relates directly to these practices.  Many barons were muttering darkly about John abusing the feudal system, and ‘going against the customs of the realm.’

John also managed to get England placed under an interdict by the Pope for denying the Papal candidate for Archbishop of Canterbury.  Churches were locked and general mass was not allowed.  John himself was excommunicated, expelled from the church.  This caused much bitterness and distress, and gave the barons a further reason to oppose John.

John eventually gave in to the Pope in 1213, but in a manner which further infuriated many barons.  He did homage to a Cardinal and promised to rule England for the Pope and in his name.  One chronicler summed up the mood of the barons: ‘The King hath degenerated himself to the level of a serf.’

This king then raised further taxes to launch a war against France.  It was a make-or-break strategy for John.  He was defeated at Bouvines in 1214 and lost all chance to re-take his French lands.

The barons were furious that John had lost their money by this humiliating defeat in France.  They raised an army and captured London, and then, led by Archbishop Stephen Langton, forced John to accept their demands.  These were put down in a Great Charter (Magna Carta) and John put his seal to this at Runnymede on 15th June, 1215.  For the first time it made the King clearly accountable to the law.  It also contained a phrase saying that every freeman had a right to a fair trial and that judges could not take bribes and must remain impartial.

John was still fighting the barons at his death in 1216, but Magna Carta, and the freedoms that it gave, became so deep-rooted and crucial to the constitution of this land that its power could never be undone.

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