Stephen Langton1 played a central role in the creation of Magna Carta.2 Langton identified in the Bible that a citizen had the right to question a ruler, and that rulers are not beyond law.
Langton 1150-1228. Archbishop of Canterbury.
2. On Runnymede, an island in the Thames, on 15 June 1215, the first document named Magna Carta, or Great Charter, was agreed to.
At the time king John was seen as being crooked. The people of that time were demanding freedom, freedoms which were echoed in the Bible. Langton used the Coronation Charter, a document written in the previous century by king Henry I. This document was rooted in Anglo Saxon heritage, itself closely associated with Biblical tradition.
In Langton's and king John's times, the then largely French barons had overthrown Anglo Saxon rule in England; dispossessed the people and stolen their land. The barons were not on the side of the people, and the Coronation Charter3 was about to come to their aid. It would play a vital role in the formation of Magna Carta.
3. Coronation Charter from coronation promises of English kings - Edward the confessor or king Canute the "Law Codifier."
King John was widely regarded as a poor king, untrustworthy and inflexible - by some accounts even cowardly. Perhaps, though, he was not all bad. Perhaps his reputation owed more to the people who would stand to lose from his signing the Magna Carta4 into English Law.
4. Nothing was signed at Runnymede, but days later County copies of Magna Carta (36) did receive the kings seal. These documents were known as engrossments.
King John's rule, and indeed England's claim to land in Northern France, was lost when French kings sized these territories. It must have served as a chilling reminder to the mainly French barons in England, who, using similar tactics decades earlier gained their ownership of English land.
These actions echoed their own supposed right over ownership to English soil, and lead them to oppose king John.
John's relationship with Rome, and the then pope Innocent III, was not good. King John, unlike Rome, was opposed to Langton becoming Bishop of Canterbury. This opinion would lead to the pope excommunicating king John, and in the process expediently hand the barons' the right to thus ascend over him. (or try at least)
The barons were to invite the French kings, and their armies, into England to occupy the land - already difficult times must have been made much worse.
Confusingly, after John gave his seal to the Magna Carta,5 he wrote to the pope claiming he had signed under duress. To this the pope absolved John of any difficulties arising from it, but king John died of dysentery soon after, and maybe hypothetically, with it went Rome's chance of reengineering the document.
5, Magna Carta copies, or engrossments, were also called Pava Carta. Distributed to each County they were kept in Abbeys or cathedrals and read twice yearly in County Court.
The Magna Carta was now enshrined in English Law, and when Henry III, John's son aged just nine took over, one of England's most respected figures entered the fray. William Marshall,6 the new kings regent, would stand for no messing from the French. Under Henry's reign, with Marshall's assistance - who incidentally managed to beat back the invading armies from France - the Magna Carta7 was reissued in law. With it the precedence was established for future revision.
Marshal: 1146 - 1219 - Statesmen, Earl of Pembroke, Keeper of the Realm.
7, Four originals still exit. Salisbury and Lincoln cathedral, two in the British library.
The Magna Carta8 was now recognized, likely with reluctance by Rome, as a firm charter in English law. Its basis was scriptural. It was and still is the foundation of our English Common Law,9 a law holding rulers accountable for their actions, and providing for the people a moral basis upon which the English nation was built.
In 2007, Southerbys New York sell a Magna Carta for $21.3m.
9, National law based on customs, not statue law of parliament. The foundation thereof being; (Injury - Harm - Loss)