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which threw his Majesty into a rage, and provoked the exclamation, “And why do they not demand my crown also? By God's teeth, I will not grant them liberties that will make me a slave." The Barons declared war at once: but the King, startled at this decisive measure, proposed a Conference, which finally took place, in the "meadow called Runimede," on the 15th of June.
The Church united with the Barons and Freemen on this occasion, and Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was one of the chief instigators of the movement. In consequence the Church obtained its share of the concessions that were made.
After the Church and the Barons came the turn of the Middle Class, or Freemen. Among the various clauses that were meant to protect them, there is one worth citing, as showing the iniquities then prevalent. Clause 38 says: "There shall be one measure of wine and one of ale through our whole realm, and one measure of corn, that is to say, the London quarter, and the weights shall be as the measures." This proves that it was common at that day to use false weights and measures, and that no law prevented it. There was another clause, however, worth all the rest, and that contained a pledge that had never before been uttered. This was the first time, as just stated, that a Government entered into a compact with the People, and bound itself to renounce tyranny and oppression. Clause 44 runs thus: "We will sell to no man; we will not deny or delay to any man right or justice.”
Strange that thousands of years had elapsed before such a bulwark against despotism was raised; strange that a combination of French Lords and Saxon Yeomen should have extorted from arbitrary power a confession of its
wrongs; strange that but for these memorable words such a Government as that of the United States might never have existed.
English lawyers and historians are agreed in forming the highest estimate of this Charter. Sir Edward Coke spoke of it, in 1600, as "the foundation of all the fundamental laws of the realm." Hallam says, "It is the keystone of English liberty." Sir James Mackintosh remarks, "It contains maxims of just government applicable to all places and times, of which it is hardly possible to overrate the importance.'
The liberties they obtained, however, were soon threatened. In spite of his solemn covenant, the King never intended to carry out the Charter; and no sooner had the Barons withdrawn, than he applied to the Pope for assistance. His Holiness issued a Bull forbidding the Barons to exact the observance of the Charter, and dispensing the King from paying any regard to it. John hired foreign troops and renewed the civil war. The Barons called on the son of the French Kingafterwards Louis VIII.-to come and assume the English Crown; but in the midst of these commotions John died, 1216.
His son, Henry III., was no better disposed than his father to respect the Charter, and he violated it so often that the Barons had recourse to various expedients to enforce him to observe it. On one occasion they prepared an imposing ceremonial in the great Hall of Westminster, 1254, at which the King was present with his Barons and Prelates the latter in full pontificals, and carrying burning tapers in their hands. The Magna Charta was then read before the Assembly, and the Ecclesiastics. pronounced the sentence of excommunication against
every one who should hereafter violate this fundamental Law. Then, throwing their torches on the ground, they exclaimed, “May the soul of every one who incurs this sentence so stink and corrupt in hell!" The King added
"So help me God, I will keep all these Articles inviolate, as I am a man, as I am a Christian, as I am a Knight, as I am a King, crowned and anointed!" The Pope, however, as in King John's time, stepped in with a dispensation, and relieved Henry of his oath.
Finally, the Barons resolved on a more decided course; and, under the lead of Simon de Montfort,* Earl of Leicester, induced the King to call a Great Council at Oxford, 1258, which consisted of Prelates and Nobles. These came to the Assembly attended by their vassals, and, taking the King prisoner, forced him to sign some new Laws known as the "Provisions of Oxford."
These Laws, which the King again swore to observe, put the Government under the direct control of 24 Barons, selected for the purpose. Henry once more applied to the Pope, who in a new Bull denounced the "Provisions of Oxford," and relieved the King of all obligation. A war then ensued between the Barons and the King, who was routed at the battle of Lewes, 1264, and taken prisoner. His son Edward was also detained in Dover Castle as a hostage.
This led to another great event, only second in im
* Simon de Montfort was son of Count de Montfort, the Crusader, and was a Frenchman. He inherited, by his father's marriage with an Englishwoman, large possessions in England, and came to settle there in 1236. He was welcomed by Henry III., who gave him his sister's hand, and made him Governor of Gascony. He was afterwards, however, recalled in disgrace, and readily joined the conspiracy of the Barons against the King.
portance to Magna Charta, namely, the Representation of the People, by the creation of a House of Commons. Up to this period, both before and after the Christian era, there had been numerous Assemblies regulating and controlling the destiny of nations, but they had always consisted of the Upper Classes only. This was the first time the phenomenon occurred that any class below the Nobility and the Clergy was called on to send its Delegates to take part in the creation of laws for the common government of all.
At this epoch in England the King engrossed the whole power. The Executive control was entirely in his hands, and he was the author of all the laws, asking when he chose the mere formal assent of his Prelates and Barons. Furthermore, the King held possession of the Kingdom as he might of a private estate. Not only did he derive a large revenue from the Royal domains, but, by the feudal laws, the Barons held their lands as if from his bounty, and paid him a large income. The King also levied tolls on the Royal towns, or received in place of tolls a fee-farm rent. The merchandise imported and exported also paid tribute to him; and he had a right to the prisage of wine-two casks out of every ship. The money so derived he spent as he pleased in the expenses of his Government; in his own household; in peace or in war. When this revenue was sufficient, the people were spared, and were content; but when the King required larger subsidies from his subjects, he assembled his great Council of Priests and Nobles, and called for their co-operation.
The vast importance of the great change I am speaking of may be estimated when it is seen that it swept away this irresponsible despotism, and wrested
the right of taxation from the hands of the King and the Aristocracy, to deposit it in those of the Commonalty, where it has since remained.
The capture of Henry III. at Lewes, as related, vested the Sovereign power in the Barons, and they decided promptly to call on the freemen of the Middle Class to co-operate with them in curbing the tyranny of the Monarchy. Evidently this was the surest means to strengthen themselves and weaken the King. Accordingly they authorized their leader, Simon de Montfort, to summon, in the name of the captive King, a Great Council or Parliament to meet in London, January 20th, 1265.
The Prelates and Barons were summoned by writs in the King's name, as were also two Knights from each county. The records show that 23 lay Lords and 122 Ecclesiastics, including Abbots, Priors, and Deans, attended the Assembly.
It also appears by the record that writs were sent to all the cities and boroughs of England, commanding them to send "two of the more discrete, lawful, and honest of their citizens and burgesses" to the Parliament.
This beyond all question is the first appearance of the People on the political stage. Hallam remarks, "After long controversy, almost all judicious enquirers seem to have acquiesced in admitting that this is the origin of popular representation." In the writs addressed to the "citizens and burgesses" the purpose of their attendance was stated to be "to treat on the King's affairs, with the King, Prelates, and Magnates."
Not long after Prince Edward escaped from Dover Castle, and took up arms against the Barons, who were beaten at the battle of Evesham, August, 1265, and