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KING JOHN AND THE GREAT CHARTER
 RICHARD'S younger brother John, who had caused him so much
trouble during his absence on the Crusade, succeeded
him as King of England and ruler of the English
possessions in France. Another brother, named
Geoffrey, who was older than John, had died, leaving a
son, Arthur, who was now ten years old. According to
the rules which today govern the succession to crowns,
Arthur had a better right to the throne than John had;
but the nobles of England, acting on Richard's
recommendation, chose John, who was a man of full age,
in preference to Arthur, who was but a boy.
 Long before John's reign was over, every class in the
Kingdom had cause to repent that choice. King John
proved to be one of the worst rulers that England ever
had,—cruel, faithless, lazy, and reckless of
everything save his own pleasure. Yet his very
wickedness and tyranny, by spurring all classes to
resistance, helped much to bring about political
liberty, and to make such tyranny impossible for the
First, you must know, within five years John lost the
greater part of the English possessions in France,
including Normandy, the home-land of William the
Ever since the Norman dukes had ruled England, the
kings of France had seized every opportunity of
stirring up trouble in the English royal family, in
order to weaken these powerful vassals of theirs.
Philip Augustus now aided young Arthur in attacking the
French possessions of his uncle John. Also, John had
injured one of his own vassals in Aquitaine, by seizing
and carrying off his promised bride, whom John married;
and this vassal carried his grievance to King Philip,
who was John's overlord in Aquitaine. Philip summoned
John to appear before his court, and defend himself;
and when John refused, judgment was given against him
and he was condemned to lose his possessions in France.
The judgment was strictly according to feudal law; and
with the law now on his side, King Philip set about
conquering John's fiefs.
Money of King John's Reign
In the course of this war, Arthur was captured and
imprisoned by John, and soon mysteriously disappeared.
There can be no doubt that he was put to death, and
ugly rumors whispered that John had done the wicked
deed with his own hands. On every side John's vassals
and followers deserted him, and Philip made rapid
 "Let him go on," boasted John, while doing nothing to
prevent this. "Whatever he takes, I shall retake it in
a single day."
This was easier said than done. At last the "Saucy
Castle," built by Richard with so much pains and
expense, was taken, and all Normandy passed into the
hands of the French. Most of Aquitaine, which lay
south of the river Loire, remained true to English
rule—not because of any love for John, but
because the nobles dreaded to lose their independent
position if their lands were annexed to the French
crown, and because of loyalty to John's mother,
Eleanor, their old mistress.
The loss of Normandy seemed to the English people of
that day a great disaster; but we can see now that it
was a good thing for England, as well as for France.
The descendants of the conquering Normans and of the
conquered English had for many years been growing more
and more alike, and more and more ready to act together
in all that concerned the kingdom. The people in the
reign of Henry II. and of Richard had been allowed
to carry on their local governments according to
ancient usage. London, and many other towns also, had
received charters from the king which permitted them to
manage their own affairs, and as a result the townsmen
had become self-reliant, and interested in public
matters. Now that the Norman barons were obliged to
give up their lands in France, they looked upon
themselves as Englishmen.
 Thus, when the loss of his Norman possessions compelled
the King to give his attention solely to England, he
found the nobles and the common people ready to act
together for the interests of the whole country.
Soon after John's return to England, the Archbishop of
Canterbury died, and for nearly eight years afterward
John engaged in a great quarrel with the Pope over the
filling of the vacancy.
The monks of Canterbury had the right to choose the
archbishop, but it had been the custom for the King to
name the man whom the monks should elect. On this
occasion the monks, without consulting John, elected
one of their own number and sent him to Rome to be
confirmed by the Pope. When John learned what had been
done, he compelled the monks to elect another man, a
favorite of his own, who also went to Rome and appealed
to the Pope. After considering the matter for a year,
the Pope declared that neither candidate had been
properly elected; and he then consecrated as archbishop
a clergyman at Rome named Stephen Langton, who was
learned, able, and of English birth.
No better choice could have been made, but King John
was furious at the Pope's action. He refused to allow
Langton to enter England, and he seized the lands and
revenues of the archbishopric. To punish the King, the
Pope placed an "interdict" upon the whole
kingdom,—that is, he forbade all church services
except the baptism of infants and the "last unction" or
anointing of the dying. The church doors remained
closed; the bells were silent; even the dead were
buried without ceremony, in unhallowed ground.
John took no heed, save to drive from the land the
 bishops who proclaimed the interdict and to seize their
lands. Then the Pope "excommunicated" the
King—that is, declared him to be cut off from all
connection with the Church, and all hope of heaven.
Still John refused to submit. At last the Pope
declared John deposed from his throne, released his
English subjects from all duty to him, and gave Philip
of France authority to take possession of the English
Philip prepared to invade England, and John also
collected troops. But John distrusted his barons, and
when the war was about to begin he suddenly yielded to
the Pope's demands. Stephen Langton was permitted to
take up his duties as archbishop, and John promised to
restore the lands and moneys which he had taken from
the Church. In addition, he surrendered his kingdom to
the Pope and received it again as a fief, agreeing to
pay a yearly tribute. Thus, the second great struggle
was ended by the King of England becoming the Pope's
vassal. The interdict and the excommunication were
removed, and Philip was forbidden to proceed with his
When the quarrel with the Pope was settled, John was in
the midst of a third great struggle,—this time
with his own barons, who wished a remedy for the evils
of his rule.
The King was constantly making new demands upon both
the nobles and the people. He had called upon them for
services which they did not think they ought to render,
and he had levied taxes unknown in earlier times. In
some cases he cast men into prison without law, and in
others he unjustly seized their lands and goods. In
many ways, King John outraged the rights of his people,
so that all classes were ready to rebel.
 The barons found a shrewd adviser in Stephen Langton,
the new archbishop. He reminded them of the charter in
which Henry I. had promised reforms of government
to the nation, and told the barons to demand a similar
charter from King John.
While John was waging war on the Continent, seeking
vainly to recover his lost dominions, the leading
barons secretly met together, under pretext of a
pilgrimage, and swore to compel the King to restore the
liberties of the realm, and to confirm them by a
charter. Their demands were presented
 to John, upon his return; but the King cried out in
"Why do they not ask for my kingdom? I will never
grant such liberties as will make me a slave."
Portion of the Great Charter
In various ways, John sought to break up the forces
that confronted him; but all in vain. "The army of God
and of Holy Church," as the rebels called themselves,
marched upon London, and the citizens joyously opened
the city gates to them.
On June 15, in the year 1215, John met the
representatives of the barons "in the meadow which is
called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines," on the
river Thames. Here he was forced to sign the Great
Charter,—called Magna Charta in
Latin, the language in which it was written. It set
forth the rights of all the people, including
churchmen, nobles and townsmen. Since that day, the
Charter has been repeatedly confirmed, and now stands
as part of the foundation of English law. Its
principles are part
 of the constitution of every English-speaking nation.
Among many important provisions these two are chief:
"No free man shall be taken, or imprisoned, or
dispossessed, or outlawed, or banished, or in any way
destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor will we send
upon him, except by lawful judgment of his peers, and
by the law of the land."
"To no one will we sell—to no one will we
deny—right or justice."
John Granting the Charter
In these provisions the King admitted that he had no
right to imprison or punish any man except according to
law; he agreed that he would no longer take a man's
liberty or goods merely by his own will.
It is said that when King John signed the Charter he
wore a smiling countenance, and spoke pleasantly to the
lords about him; but that when he reached his own
chamber he threw himself down in a mad rage upon the
ground, gnashing his teeth and biting the rushes with
which it was strewn.
John had no intention of keeping his promises, and war
soon began again. The King had the support of hired
troops, chiefly from France; and the Pope, who was now
his overlord, gave him such help as he could. The
barons, for their part, called upon Louis, son of King
Phillip of France, to come to their aid, and offered
him the English crown. Louis came with a large army,
and for a time the barons were successful.
Then John's fortunes began to brighten, and it seemed
as if he might overcome his enemies after all, and
again set up his will as law. But, in crossing an arm
of the sea, his army was surprised by the tide, and his
baggage, with the royal treasure, was washed away.
A fever then seized John, and he died in a few days.
 Men said his illness would not have been fatal had he
not made it worse by eating heartily of unripe peaches.
His death occurred in the fall of the year 1216.
John's son, Henry III., a nine year old boy,
succeeded him on the throne, and Prince Louis soon
withdrew his forces to France. The barons had fought
only against the tyranny of King John, and they would
not support the French Prince against their own young