Category: Surety Barons

Categories: Magna Carta | This Day In History June 17


Project: Magna Carta

On June 17, 1215, twenty-five barons signed a vow to enforce Magna Carta. They were severely punished by the church and the king for taking their stand.

From the outset, the barons were aware of the danger that, once King John had left Runnymede, he would renege on the Charter on the grounds that it constituted an illegitimate infringement of his authority. The barons came up with a novel solution to the problem in the famous clause 61, the security clause. In it, King John conceded that,

‘the barons shall choose any twenty-five barons of the realm as they wish, who with all their might are to observe, maintain and cause to be observed the peace and liberties which we have granted’.

Any infringement of the charter’s terms by the king or his officials was to be notified to any four of the committee; and, if within forty days no remedy or redress had been offered, then the king was to empower the full committee to ‘distrain and distress us in every way they can, namely by seizing castles, lands and possessions’ until he made amends. In this remarkable clause, then, the charter introduced the novelty of obliging the king to sanction and institute armed action against none other than himself. The means by which they sought to achieve this was use of the common law doctrine of distraint, the means by which debts were collected from debtors and malefactors obliged to answer for their actions in court.'

Since the clause anticipated the election of the twenty-five at some time in the future, their names are not actually listed in the charter. Consequently, the committee’s composition is known principally from the list given later in his chronicle by Matthew Paris, the celebrated chronicler of St. Albans Abbey. The twenty five were:

  • William d'Albini
  • Hugh Bigod
  • Roger Bigod
  • Henry de Bohun
  • Gilbert de Clare
  • Richard de Clare
  • John FitzRobert
  • Robert FitzWalter
  • William de Forz
  • William Hardel
  • William de Huntingfield
  • John de Lacy
  • William de Lanvalei
  • William Malet
  • Geoffrey de Mandeville
  • William Marshal (the younger)
  • Roger de Montbegon
  • William de Mowbray
  • Richard de Montfichet
  • Richard de Percy
  • Saer de Quincy
  • Robert de Ros
  • Geoffrey de Say
  • Robert de Vere
  • Eustace de Vesci

It is noteworthy that these men were all layfolk, and for the most part members of the hard-line baronial opposition to the king. No bishop or other Churchman appears.

There are four copies of Magna Carta from 1215. Originally there had been at least thirteen. It didn't seem very important at the time, and the few that survived did so by neglect rather than design. It came to be called Magna Carta to distinguish it from a another charter dealing with the Royal Forests, not because it was considered important. If anything, Magna Carta was seen as an evolving document, reissued when necessary to calm rebellion or answer specific demands. It was reissued three times while Henry III was a child and then again in 1237 when he was an adult.

Resources

  • A great article with background on Magna Carta and its implications throughout history, plus photos of some of the pages, can be seen here: Magna Carta 1215

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