KING RICHARD was succeeded by his brother John. Of all
English kings he was the worst,—worse even than the Red
King, being not only wicked, but weak. Yet from this
weakness and wickedness there came, as we shall see,
great good to the English people.
 The chief nobles of England, seeing that no trust could
be put in the King, and that his wrong-doing and
oppression became worse from year to year, met together
at St. Edmundsbury in the county of Suffolk, to devise
means how they might best secure the liberties of the
people. Having agreed together
 upon what things they should ask for this end, they
also came to this resolve, that they would ask them at
the Christmas next following, when the King should hold
his court, to keep Christmas, as was the custom in
This done, they went up, one by one, to the altar, and
took an oath that if the King should refuse the things
for which they asked, they would make war upon him, nor
consent to peace till he should have granted them. At
Christmas they could not get to speak with him, for he
knew that they meant to ask what he was very loth to
give; but twelve days afterwards they saw him and made
their demands. After a while, it was agreed that the
matter should be put off till Easter.
When Easter came the King was no more willing to yield
than he had been before. He sent messengers to the
nobles to ask them to write down their demands. But
when he saw the paper, he cried out, "They might as
well ask my crown of me! Shall I give them liberties
that would make me a slave?" But when he heard that
London had gone over to the party of the nobles, with
whom, I should say, was Stephen Langton, Archbishop of
Canterbury, he thought it better to yield, though he
was resolved in his heart to go back from his promises
as soon as he should be able. Therefore, on the 19th
day of June,
 in the year 1215 (being the seventeenth year of his
reign), King John and the nobles met on an island in
the Thames, called Runnymede, that is between Egham and
Staines, and signed what is called the Great Charter.
By this it was provided, among other things—
- That the Church of England should be free.
- That the King should not oppress the nobles, nor the
nobles such as were under them.
- That London and the other cities and towns of the
kingdom should enjoy the freedom which they had before
- That causes of law should be tried in a fixed place.
- That weights and measures should be the same
- That the King should not sell, or refuse, or
postpone the doing of justice.
- That every free man should be safe both for his
person and his property from all damages, except such
as might be done by the lawful judgment of his equals,
or by the law of the land.
For all that remained of his life the King tried to
undo what had been done by the signing of the Charter.
He declared war against the nobles; he hired soldiers
from abroad to fight for him, and he
 obtained from the Pope a declaration that the Charter
was null and void. On the other hand, the nobles sent
to the oldest son of the King of France, if he would
come over and help them. So there was civil war in the
country—Englishmen fighting against Englishmen. But
about twenty months after the signing of the Charter
the King died. He was marching from Lincoln to King's
Lynn, which is on the south side of the Wash, and in
crossing the Wash he lost his baggage with all his
treasure. Not many days after—on October the 19th—he
died, but whether from trouble of mind, or from poison,
or from some natural disease, is not known for certain.
As for the Charter, the Kings of England have often
tried to set it aside, but have never succeeded in so
doing. One after another they have been forced to
confirm it, and it is the foundation of English
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics