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England-Magna Charta


The parchment, still preserved in the British Museum, which was laid before the King and which he did not dare refuse to sign, was the MAGNA CHARTA, or Great Charter of England. It was the first agreement ever entered into by an English king and all his people. It contained sixty-three articles, most of which have become obsolete with time, but three imperishable provisions remain: 1. No free man shall be imprisoned or proceeded against except by his peers or equals, or the law of the land; 2. Justice shall not be sold, denied nor delayed; 3. All dues from the people to the king, unless otherwise clearly specified, shall be laid only with the consent of the National Council. Although the last provision was dropped during the next reign, the principle was plainly proclaimed.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the adoption of the Magna Charta. It made the English people a united body, and cemented and protected the interests of all classes. The estimation in which the charter was held is shown by the fact that during the following two centuries it was confirmed thirty-seven times.

Now, do not give King John any credit for granting the Magna Charta to his subjects, for, as I have shown, he could not help himself, and no sooner had the assembly broken up, than he raged like a madman and swore that he would find means to break every one of the laws which with a hypocritical smile he had signed. He begged the aid of the Pope, who in response declared the Charter of no effect, promising that if the barons would submit they should not suffer; but they could not be cajoled, and Langton would not pronounce excommunication against them, for which refusal he was suspended by the Pope. The infuriated John summoned his mercenaries from the Continent, and began ravaging England, invading Scotland to punish the northern barons and their leader, the King of the Scots. It was his custom each morning to burn the house in which he had slept during the night. Finally the barons became so desperate that they offered the crown to Louis, eldest son of the King of France. Louis brought over a French army, but began giving away so much land to his own countrymen that the barons became alarmed, and a number joined John. In the midst of the fighting, John died, October 28, 1216, from vexation, and some said from stuffing himself with peaches and ale, while others whispered that he was poisoned by a monk. According to the old but truthful record, he died, "a knight without truth, a king without justice, a Christian without faith."

His eldest son Henry was crowned at the age of nine and became King Henry III. During the lad's boyhood, his guardians ruled in his name, and all went fairly well. The greatest English leader of the day was Hubert De Burgh. He drove the French Prince Louis from the country, and defeated the

noted French sailor, Eustace the Monk, thus making England for a time supreme upon the northern seas. When, however, King Henry came of age, he showed himself a degenerate son of his degenerate father. He was extravagant, fond of display, and without any ability whatever. Turning against his able minister, he ordered his arrest. Warned just in time, De Burgh sought sanctuary in a church, whither his enemies followed him. He was dragged from the altar, but such was the opposition raised by this violation of the house of God, that the king returned his prisoner to another church. Then a guard was set around the building, until starvation forced De Burgh to come out and surrender himself.

Once more, however, he escaped, and so great was his reputation among the people that the King was compelled to abandon the contemptible vengeance that had been planned against the minister. De Burgh was allowed to live in retirement, but in safety.

During Henry's minority, his guardians had twice renewed the Great Charter. By the first renewal, the article reserving the power of taxation to the National Council was omitted, and one added that no man should forfeit life or limb for hunting in the royal forests. In return, the council granted the King a fifteenth of their personal property. The idiotic extravagance of the ruler and his causeless and unsuccessful wars crushed the country under a colossal debt which in these times would be equivalent to $65,000,000. To meet the clamors of his numberless creditors, Henry mortgaged the right of extorting money from the Jews to his brother Richard, and violated the Charter over and over again.

When twenty-nine, Henry married Eleanor, daughter of Count Raymond of Provence, a French land bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. Eleanor was brilliant and beautiful, but quickly made herself detested by the subjects of her husband. When she came to England, she brought her four uncles and a large number of relatives and friends, upon whom Henry showered favors, giving them money and lands, and castles to live in, and appointing a number to bishoprics and offices of high honor.

You remember that King John promised to pay a yearly rental to the Pope, who naturally looked upon Henry III. as his vassal. The Pope sent a legate to England who returned to Rome so laden with treasure, that the Great Council of England met to discuss what could be done to avert the impending ruin of the country. The barons were present, and the lesser knights were summoned, but though they conferred earnestly, they were not able to do anything. Finally, the man for the hour appeared in the person of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. He was a Frenchman, who gained his title from his mother, and had married the sister of the King's wife. Because Simon was a foreigner,

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