Magna Carta, 1215
15 June 1215
Cotton MS Augustus ii.106
The British Library, London
See more at: British Library microsite
This year marks the Eight Hundredth Anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta
The British Library from March will have a large ad significant exhibition and events to celebrate the event: Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy
Since 1215, Magna Carta has evolved from a political agreement to an international symbol of freedom
The 1225 version of Magna Carta, freely issued by Henry III in return for a tax granted to him by the whole kingdom, took this idea further and became the definitive version of the text.
But only three clauses (out of 37) of the 1225 Magna Carta remain on the statute book today
The 1215 Charter had contained 63 clauses
Only four copies of the 1215 Charter still survive: one in Lincoln Cathedral; one in Salisbury Cathedral; and two at the British Library.
On the website there is a full-text translation of the 1215 edition of Magna Carta
What is interesting is the importance of the medieval Church in the drawing up of the Charter
The document is addressed to among others the members of the Church:
"JOHN, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his officials and loyal subjects, Greeting."
It was drawn up with the advice of the English Church:
"... at the advice of our reverend fathers Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, and cardinal of the holy Roman Church, Henry archbishop of Dublin, William bishop of London, Peter bishop of Winchester, Jocelin bishop of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh bishop of Lincoln, Walter bishop of Worcester, William bishop of Coventry, Benedict bishop of Rochester, Master Pandulf subdeacon and member of the papal household, Brother Aymeric master of the knighthood of the Temple in England, "
The First Clause of the Charter dealt with the freedom and independence of the English Church:
" FIRST, THAT WE HAVE GRANTED TO GOD, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired. That we wish this so to be observed, appears from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak of the present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by charter the freedom of the Church's elections - a right reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance to it - and caused this to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III. This freedom we shall observe ourselves, and desire to be observed in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity."
The Bishops and clergy were essential witnesses to the King`s act of granting the Charter:
"In addition we have caused letters patent to be made for the barons, bearing witness to this security and to the concessions set out above, over the seals of Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, Henry archbishop of Dublin, the other bishops named above, and Master Pandulf.
IT IS ACCORDINGLY OUR WISH AND COMMAND that the English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fullness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever.
Both we and the barons have sworn that all this shall be observed in good faith and without deceit. Witness the abovementioned people and many others.
Given by our hand in the meadow that is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign"
Who were the people involved in Magna Carta ? See Magna Carta: people and society
The Tomb of King John at Worcester Cathedral
John died in October 1216, in the middle of a civil war after he tried to revoke the Charter. He is buried in Worcester Cathedral
Bulla Innocentii Papae III. pro rege Johanne, contra barones. (In membr.) 1216. 151.
24 August 1215
Cotton MS Cleopatra E I, ff. 155–156
The British Library, London
See more at British Library
Giotto di Bondone 1267 - 1337
Legend of St Francis: 6. Dream of Innocent III (detail)
Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi
Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) played a major role in the events surrounding Magna Carta, including its annulment in August 1215.
He had previously made many attempts to enforce papal authority over secular rulers, and his determination to impose his judicial authority over the whole Latin Church culminated in the reforms of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, the greatest Church Council of the Middle Ages
In return for King John's submission to his authority, Pope Innocent III declared the Magna Carta annulled, though the English Barons did not accept this action
Pope Innocent had received messengers from King John in the summer of 1215, asking him to annul Magna Carta. The Pope issued a papal bull, which survives in the British Library, declaring Magna Carta to be ‘null and void of all validity for ever’, on the grounds that it was ‘illegal, unjust, harmful to royal rights and shameful to the English people"
Depiction of Archbishop Stephen Langton
The Chapter House, Canterbury Cathedral
Stephen Langton (archbishop of Canterbury 1207-1228) was a famous scholar and leading figure in the Church, and is also one of the most important figures in the history of Magna Carta.
In 1225, he pronounced a broad sentence of excommunication in support of Magna Carta. This meant that anyone – king, royal officer, or baron – would automatically be outlawed from the Church if they violated the Charter.
When Magna Carta was confirmed in later years, the bishops renewed Langton’s sentence. Langton and his successors were instrumental in promoting and upholding the Charter and, thus, in ensuring its survival.
Richard Poer, Bishop of Chichester was one of several bishops from a scholarly background who played an important role in politics at the end of King John’s reign and during the minority of Henry III.
Richard and his brother, Herbert (bishop of Salisbury 1194-1217), were the illegitimate sons of Richard of Ilchester (bishop of Winchester 1173-1188). Richard trained at the schools of Paris under Stephen Langton, and was probably influenced by Langton’s writing on political ethics.
He is buried near St Mary's Church, Tarrant Crawford, Dorset
Giles de Briouze (bishop of Hereford 1200-1215) was the only bishop to join the rebellion against King John. Although many of Giles’ colleagues might have been sympathetic to the grievances of the rebel barons, most worked hard between 1213 and 1216 to broker a peace settlement.
Johann Heinrich Füssli R.A., called Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)
Pandulph granting King John absolution
Black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, the outlines incised, the verso rubbed with black chalk
5 5/8 x 3 1/8 in. (145 x 80 mm.)
This was a rough drawing for an engraving by Fuseli`s friend William Blake for the second edition of Charles Allen, New and Improved History of England, London, 1798
Pandulf Masca (died 16 September 1226) was a Roman ecclesiastical politician, papal legate to England and Bishop of Norwich.
He first came to England in 1211, when he was commissioned by Innocent III to negotiate with King John.
Obtaining no satisfactory concessions, Pandulf is said to have produced the papal sentence of excommunication in the presence of the king.
In May 1213 he again visited England to receive the king's submission. The ceremony took place at the Templar church at Dover, and on the following day John, of his own motion, formally surrendered England to the representative of Rome to receive it again as a papal fief
For nearly a year he was superseded by the cardinal-legate Nicholas of Tusculum. He returned to England in 1215 and was present at the conference of Runnymede, when the Magna Carta was signed.
He was again eclipsed by a new Papal legate Guala Bicchieri
Casket of Guala Bicchieri
Muse Civico d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Madama, Turin
In 1823, this casket which contained the mortal remains of the founder of the abbey complex of Sant`Andrea in Vercelli, Cardinal Guala Bicchieri (Vercelli c.1150-Rome 1227), was discovered in the wall of the presbytery of the church of Sant` Andrea
Made by Limoges goldsmiths it is a particularly notable example of Gothic Art
Guala Bicchieri (ca. 1150-1227) crowned King Henry III in the church of the abbey of Gloucester on October 16, 1216.
Guala’s position as legate in England was especially influential since the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, was absent from the kingdom from September 1215 to May 1218, during which absence Guala Bicchieri, as papal legate, was practically in charge of the English church.
There were six areas in which Bicchieri made an impact upon England:establishing peace between the monarchy and rebels; overseeing Episcopal elections; supervising monastic houses; punishing and replacing rebel clergy; judicial activity, including the appointment of legatine judges delegate; and implementing the legislation of the Fourth Lateran Council.
He founded with his own money the church and abbey of S. Andrea in Vercelli for the canons regulars of S. Pietro. He helped reform the clergy of his diocese of Vercelli.