Roger of Wendover:
King John (1199-1216) was forced by rebellious barons to sign
the Great Charter (Magna Carta) in June 1215. This document defined
the relationship of lord and vassal, and was purely a matter of
concern to members of the ruling elite. It later came to be thought
of a guarantee of the rights of all Englishmen, and a" landmark
on the road to limited monarchy". Although subsequently over-turned
by papal decree, in its version of 1225, the Charter stands as
Statute I of English law. Roger of Wendover describes the scene
of its signing.
King John, when he saw that he was deserted by almost all, so
that out of his regal superabundance of followers he scarcely
retained seven knights, was much alarmed lest the barons would
attack his castles and reduce them without difficulty, as they
would find no obstacle to their so doing; and he deceitfully pretended
to make peace for a time with the aforesaid barons, and sent William
Marshal earl of Pembroke, with other trustworthy messengers, to
them, and told them that, for the sake of peace, and for the exaltation
and honour of the kingdom, he would willingly grant them the laws
and liberties they required; he also sent word to the barons by
these same messengers, to appoint a fitting day and place to meet
and carry all these matters into effect. The king's messengers
then came in all baste to London, and without deceit reported
to the barons all that had been deceitfully imposed on them; they
in their great joy appointed the fifteenth of June for the king
to meet them, at a field lying between Staines and Windsor. [i.e.
Accordingly, at the time and place pre-agreed on, the king and
nobles came to the appointed conference, and when each party had
stationed themselves apart from the other, they began a long discussion
about terms of peace and the aforesaid liberties. . . . At length,
after various points on both sides had been discussed, king John,
seeing that be was inferior in strength to the barons, without
raising any difficulty, granted the underwritten laws and liberties,
and confirmed them by his charter. . . .
Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History, translated by J.A.
Giles (London: Henry G. Born, 1849), Vol. II, pp. 308-309.
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