Ch 03 Feudal England

Ch.3-Feudal England

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CHAPTER III: FEUDAL ENGLAND

SECTION 5:  THE GREAT CHARTER

 FROM THE CONQUEST TO 1200, STATE POWER GREW BUT WITHIN THE CONDITIONS IMPOSED ON IT BY FEUDALISM.

 

THE KING HAD CERTAIN RIGHTS AND DUTIES AND THESE WERE NOT CHALLENGED.

 

HE HAD A DUTY TO KEEP THE PEACE, LEAD THE ARMY AND COLLECT DUES FROM HIS VASSALS.

 

HE KEPT A ROYAL COURT, WHICH BECAME VERY PROFITABLE WHEN ITS ROLE WAS EXTENDED TO PRIVATE JURISDICTIONS.

 

THE BARONS RETAINED RIGHTS OF REBELLION, BUT THE POWER OF THE CROWN MADE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR IT TO BE CHALLENGED.

 

WHEN THE FEUDAL CONTRACT WAS VIOLATED, AS IT WAS BY JOHN WHO ATTEMPTED TO LEVY FINES NOT AUTHORISED BY CUSTOM AND CONFISCATE LANDS BELONGING TO BARONS AND CHURCH USING THE CROWN COURTS, THE SECTIONS OF SOCIETY THAT HAD BEEN ITS STRONGEST SUPPORTERS, PARTICULARLY THE CHURCH, REBELLED.

 

HE MIGHT HAVE SUCCEEDED BUT FOR THE FAILURE OF HIS FOREIGN POLICY, LOSING PROVINCES HIS FATHER HAD HELD, INCLUDING THE DUKEDOM OF NORMANDY.

 

THIS LOSS MEANT THAT THE BARONS LOST THEIR ANCESTRAL ESTATES, AND, IN THEIR EYES, JOHN HAD FAILED TO PROTECT WHAT WAS HIS FIRST RESPONSIBILTY - THEIR LANDS.

JOHN BECAME INVOLVED IN A DISPUTE WITH POPE INNOCENT III OVER THE APPOINTMENT OF THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY. JOHN WAS EXCOMMUNICATED, AND THE POPE PERSUADED THE KING OF FRANCE AND SCOTLAND TO MAKE WAR ON HIM.

 

THE COUNTER ALLIANCE JOHN SOUGHT WAS CRUSHED AS THE BARONS REFUSED TO FIGHT ON HIS SIDE.

 

JOHN STOOD ALONE AND LOST THE NOBILITY’S SUPPORT.

 

THE REBELLION AGAINST JOHN WAS LED BY THE BARONS BUT BECAME UNIVERSAL WHEN JOHN COULD NO LONGER DEPEND ON THE FYRD.

 

THIS POPULAR MOVEMENT WAS SUBMITTED TO, AND, AT RUNNYMEDE ON JUNE 15th 1215, HE ACCEPTED THE PROGRAMME OF DEMANDS DRAWN UP BY THE BARONS IN THE MAGNA CARTA.

 

IT WAS THE TURNING POINT IN ENGLISH HISTORY, BUT FOR THE WRONG REASONS. THE CHARTER WAS NOT A CONSTITUTIONAL DOCUMENT.

 

THERE WAS NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION AND NO GUARANTEE OF PARLIAMENTARY GOVERNMENT, SINCE GOVERNMENT DIDN’T EXIST. AND THERE WAS NO RIGHT OF TRIAL BY JURY.

 

WHAT IT DID DO, HOWEVER, WAS TO SET OUT IN DETAIL HOW JOHN HAD EXCEEDED HIS RIGHTS AS A FEUDAL OVERLORD AND DEMANDED THE END TO HIS UNLAWFUL PRACTICES.

 

IT MARKED THE ALLIANCE BETWEEN BARON AND CITIZEN BY INSISTING ON FREEDOM OF MERCHANTS FROM ARBITARY TAX.

 

IT CURTAILED THE ROYAL COURT’S POWERS, WHICH IN ITSELF WAS REACTIONARY.ITS FAMOUS CLAUSE WAS: “NO FREEMAN SHALL BE TAKEN OR IMPRISONED OR DISSEISED OR EXILED OR IN ANY WAY DESTROYED, NOR WILL WE GO UPON HIM OR SEND UPON HIM EXCEPT BY LAWFUL JUDGEMENT OF HIS PEERS AND THE LAW OF THE LAND.”

 

‘FREEMEN’ DID NOT INCLUDE THE MASS OF THE PEOPLE WHO WERE STILL IN VILLEINAGE, BUT AS THIS DECLINED THE CLAUSE TOOK ON A NEW MEANING AND IMPORTANCE.

 

THE COMMITTEE OF 24 BARONS SET UP TO SEE THAT JOHN KEPT HIS PROMISE WAS SIGNIFICANT, AS IT WAS A NEW AVENUE ALONG WHICH THE BARONS COULD CONDUCT A POLITICAL STRUGGLE AS A CLASS RATHER THAN AS INDIVIDUALS.

 

OTHER CLASSES EVOLVED TOO, LEADING TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PARLIAMENT CREATED TO DEFEND THE NOBLES’ INTERESTS.

 

BUT, AS SOON AS THE BARONS DISPERSED, JOHN DENOUNCED THE CHARTER AND RAISED AN ARMY.

 

CIVIL WAR FOLLOWED, INTERRUPTED BY JOHN’S DEATH IN 1216. HIS SON HENRY, AGED NINE, WAS CROWNED, BUT THE BARONS RULED AND THE PRINCIPLES OF THE CHARTER BECAME THE BASIS OF LAW.

 

THESE WERE REAFFIRMED BY KINGS, FROM HENRY III TO HENRY VI.HISTORY NOW FALLS INTO THREE PARTS.

 

FEUDALISM DECLINED, AND THE POWER OF THE NOBLES WAS BROKEN IN THE WAR OF THE ROSES.
(WRITING HIS PLAY, KING JOHN, SHAKESPEARE NEVER REFERS TO THE MAGNA CARTA AND QUITE POSSIBLY HAD NEVER HEARD OF IT.)

 

THE BOURGEOISIE ENTERED THEIR REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD UNDER THE STUARTS, AND THE CHARTER WAS REDISCOVERED BUT MISREPRESENTED AND USED AS THE BASIS FOR CLAIMS OF PARLIAMENT.

 

ONLY IN THE LAST CENTURY HAVE THE HISTORIANS EXAMINED THE CARTA CRITICALLY AS A FEUDAL DOCUMENT AND DISCOVERED ITS REAL MEANING AND IMPORTANCE.

 

THE BARONS WON A VICTORY, BUT ONLY BY ACTING IN A WAY THAT WAS NOT STRICTLY FEUDAL.

 

THEY FORMED NEW ALLIANCES AMONG THEMSELVES AND WITH OTHER CLASSES.

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