Monday, 19 January 2015

Magna Carta for Free Men

The clauses in the charter only spelled out the rights of free men

Figures, Victoria & Albert Museum
Clause 1 states that the liberties were confirmed “to all freemen of my kingdom and their heirs for ever. The majority of the population were not free, they were villeins, regarded as the property of the lord who owned the land on which they lived or worked. They were only protected as part of the lords' valuable property.

Those who were considered free men fell into four categories:

The aristocracy (lords, barons, earls etc.)
Their rights come first because it was these men who brought King John to the situation where he had no choice but to agree the charter.

The church
The main force behind Magna Carta was the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton. While it was the barons who had the greatest grievances against John, with his treatment of William de Braose and his family the prime example, the Archbishop was a learned man and helped frame the document. He also made sure that the church benefitted as well.

Tenants and minor lords
The show of force by the barons consisted of the men they could muster to fight. They secured the support of their men by ensuring there were provisions in the charter for them too. Clauses 15 and 60 stated that the rights which were granted by the king to the barons would also be granted by the barons to their own vassals.

Merchants and traders
The charter confirms existing customs and privileges, which they had already won for themselves, so although they are mentioned, they actually received very little that was new.

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