The Eternal Legacy of Magna Carta

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Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta

Today – June 15th 2015 – is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.

On 1 April 2015 Lincoln Castle reopened its doors after an extensive refurbishment. The renovations included a new purpose-built, state-of-the-art, underground vault for its most prized possession: one of only four surviving copies of the original 1215 Great Charter – the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta’s new home cannot fail to emphasise the importance of this charter in the history of not only England, but also the rest of the world. Two films – Magna Carta: Challenging the Power of the King and Magna Carta: Meaning and Myth – reconstruct the events leading up to Magna Carta and chart its significance through the centuries, respectively.

But what is Magna Carta? And what makes it so important?

n many ways, the reign of King John had been a continuation of that of his father, Henry II, and of his brother, Richard I, with one significant difference. Early in his reign John had lost the French part of the great Angevin empire: Normandy and Aquitaine were now held by France. In 1214 King John returned to England following his defeat by the French at the Battle of Bouvines. The battle ended the king’s hopes of regaining the lost empire.

Added to this catastrophe was the character and personality of John himself. By nature John was paranoid, secretive and distrustful. John’s cruelty is widely known. He is accused of killing his nephew and rival claimant to the English throne, Arthur of Brittany; he hanged 28 Welsh hostages (sons of rebel chieftains) and he hounded William de Braose and his family all the way to Ireland and back. De Braose’s wife and son died in one of John’s prisons, probably from starvation.

The History of William Marshal, a biography of the great knight and statesman, states of John: ‘He kept his prisoners in such a horrible manner, and in such abject confinement that it seemed an indignity and a disgrace to all those with him who witnessed such cruelty’.

Although John faced the fallout of Magna Carta, many of the injustices targeted by the barons can be seen in the reigns of his predecessors. Heavy taxes, arbitrary fines and the exploitation of wardships were long-established royal revenue earners. However, where Henry and Richard had a whole empire to exploit, John’s need for money had to be met by England alone.

Even John’s disagreement with the Church can see parallels in the reign of Henry II and his clashes with Thomas Becket. John opposed the election of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury, and refused to allow his consecration. Pope Innocent III went so far as to excommunicate John and place England under interdict; in 1213 Philip II of France was even invited to depose him.

John finally came to an agreement with the Church in May 1213, swearing that the liberties established under Henry I would be strictly observed and allowing Langton to take up his post as archbishop. However, John broke his oath almost immediately and Langton became one of the leaders of the opposition to the king.

The barons’ objections to John were almost beyond number. He had failed to face the French and had lost not only his family’s Continental possessions, but also those of his barons. Few had forgotten his treachery against his brother – his attempt on the throne whilst Richard was away on Crusade. His barons even complained that he forced himself on their wives and daughters.

The barons had had enough.

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Lincoln Cathedral

The rebels were ready to fight. After occupying London they made one final attempt to prevent war, presenting the king with a list of their demands.

Following further negotiations a long detailed document was produced, dealing with particular grievances of the time and with injustices in general. It touched on the whole system of royal government. And it was granted to ‘all free men of the realm and their heirs forever’.

Magna Carta

Of its 63 clauses, some terms were asking for immediate remedies, such as the removal of corrupt administrators and the sending home of foreign mercenaries. The clause stating that fighting outside of the kingdom could not be imposed by the king was a reaction to John’s recent attempts to force his English barons to help him recover his Continental domains.

Others had long-term aims. The document sought to guarantee the privileges of the Church and the City of London. Restrictions were placed on the powers of regional officials, such as sheriffs, to prevent abuses. The royal court was fixed at Westminster, for justice to be obtainable by all, and royal judges were to visit each county regularly. Taxes could no longer be levied without the consent of the Church and the barons.

Clauses included the fixing of inheritance charges and protection from exploitation for under-age heirs; the king was to take only what was reasonable from an estate (although ‘reasonable’ remained undefined). From henceforth a widow was to be free to choose whether or not to remarry and her marriage portion (dowry) would be made available to her immediately on her husband’s death. Another clause sought to prevent the seizure of land from Jews and the king’s debtors.

Magna Carta even went so far as to regulate weights and measures. It also reduced the size of the king’s forests and limited the powers of forest justices.

Although most of the 63 clauses of Magna Carta are now defunct, three still remain as major tenets of British law, including ‘to no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice’. That no person could be imprisoned, outlawed or deprived of his lands except by judgement of his peers and the law of the land has remained the cornerstone of the English legal system ever since.

Magna Carta was sealed at Runnymede, Berkshire, on 15 June 1215. John ordered that the charter be circulated around the towns and villages.

As a peace agreement between King John and his rebellious barons, however, it failed miserably. By July John was appealing to the Pope for help. Pope Innocent III’s response arrived in England in September. The treaty was declared null and void; it was ‘not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust’. By the time the letter arrived in England, the dispute had already erupted into the Barons’ War.

Deciding they could no longer deal with John’s perfidy, the rebel barons invited the King of France, Philip II, to claim the throne. Philip’s son and heir, the future Louis VIII, accepted the offer. Having landed on the south coast, he marched for London, where he was proclaimed King of England on 2 June 1216.

John’s fortuitous death at Newark in October 1216 turned the tide against Louis and the rebels. The highly respected knight and statesman, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, was appointed regent for John’s nine-year-old son, Henry III. Marshal’s staunch loyalty was renowned throughout Europe; he was the embodiment of the chivalric code. Many barons who had previously sided with Louis saw the opportunity to come back from the brink, and rally around the young king. Marshal reissued Magna Carta and faced and defeated the joint French and rebel army at Lincoln on 20 May 1217.

Afterwards, the English were able to dictate peace terms to Louis, and the French went home. Magna Carta was issued a third time, along with a new Forest Charter (also on display at Lincoln Castle). Its reissue in 1225, on Henry III attaining his majority, is the one that made it onto the statute books.

The Legacy of Magna Carta

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Lincoln Castle

It is hard to overstate the enduring significance of Magna Carta. Although it was initially a document conceived by rebel barons, the regents of Henry III exploited Magna Carta as a royalist device to recover the loyalty of the rebel barons. However, once it was issued it was used as a curb to all regal excesses. In 1265 it was invoked to create the first parliament.

By the late 1200s Magna Carta was regarded as a fundamental statement of English liberties.

Magna Carta set the precedent for future reform programmes, such as the Provisions of Oxford of 1258, the Ordinances of 1311, the Petition of Right of 1628 and the Grand Remonstrance of 1641.

The influence of Magna Carta has spread far beyond England’s shores. It can be seen in the United States’ 1791 Bill of Rights, in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

Although a failure in the short term, in the long term, Magna Carta established defined limitations to royal rights, laying down that standard to be observed by the crown and its agents.

It is the closest thing England has to a Constitution.

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Photos © Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015

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Article originally published on The Review in June 2015.

 

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Sources: Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; The Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Oxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty.

Nichola de la Haye, England’s Forgotten Heroine

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View, from the castle. of Lincoln Cathedral

Nichola de la Haye is one of those very rare women in English history. She is renowned for her abilities, rather than her family and connections. In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nichola de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers.

The eldest daughter and co-heiress of Richard de la Haye and his wife, Matilda de Verdun, she was probably  born in the early 1150s. Richard de la Haye was a minor Lincolnshire lord; in 1166 he was recorded as owing 20 knights’ fees, which had been reduced to 16 by 1172. When he died in 1169, Nichola inherited her father’s land in Lincolnshire and his position as castellan of Lincoln Castle, a position she would hold for over 30 years.

Nichola was married twice, her first husband, William Fitz Erneis, died in 1178. Before 1185 she married Gerard de Camville, son of Richard de Camville, admiral of Richard I’s crusading fleet during the 3rd Crusade. Although her first marriage was probably childless, Nichola and Gerard had at least 3 children; Richard, Thomas and Matilda.

Nichola’s husbands each claimed the position of castellan of Lincoln Castle by right of his wife; but Nichola seems to have been far from the normal subservient wife. When her husband was not in the castle, she was left in charge rather than an alternative, male deputy.

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Lincoln castle walls

Nichola first comes to the attention of the chroniclers in 1191, when Prince John made a play for his brother Richard’s throne. Gerard de Camville was a supporter of John and joined him at Nottingham Castle, leaving Nichola to hold Lincoln. Richard I’s Chancellor, William Longchamps had headed north to halt John’s coup and laid siege to Lincoln Castle.

The formidable Nichola refused to yield, holding out for 40 days before Longchamps raised the siege following the fall of the castles at Tickhill and Nottingham. Amusingly, Richard of Devizes said of this defence of Lincoln Castle, that she did it ‘without thinking of anything womanly’.

In 1194, on the king’s return, Camville was stripped of his positions as Sheriff of Lincolnshire and Castellan of the castle; only having it returned to him on the accession of King John in 1199.

Gerard de Camville died around 1215 and, although now a widow, it seems the castle remained in Nichola’s hands. On one of King John’s visits to inspect the castle’s defences in either 1215 or 1216 there was a rather dramatic display of fealty from Nichola :

And once it happened that after the war King John came to Lincoln and the said Lady Nichola went out of the eastern gate of the castle carrying the keys of the castle in her hand and met the king and offered the keys to him as her lord and said she was a woman of great age and was unable to bear such fatigue any longer and he besought her saying, “My beloved Nicholaa, I will that you keep the castle as hitherto until I shall order otherwise”.¹

As we all know, King John’s reign wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. He lost his French lands and was held to account by the barons of England for  numerous examples of maladministration, corruption and  outright murder. In 1215 he had been forced to seal the Magna Carta in order to avoid war. Although it eventually came to be considered a fundamental statement of English liberties, as a peace treaty Magna Carta failed miserably. Within months John had written to Pope Innocent III and the charter had been declared null and void; the barons were up in arms.

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The postern gate, through which William Marshal, and his relieving force, entered Lincoln Castle

The rebels invited the king of France to take the throne of England; instead Philip II’s son, Louis (the future Louis VIII), accepted the offer and was hailed as King of England in London in June of 1216.

As Louis consolidated his position in the south, John made an inspection of Lincoln castle in September 1216. During the visit Nichola de la Haye, who held the castle for John, even though the city supported the rebels, was appointed Sheriff of Lincolnshire in her own right.

Moving south, just 2 weeks later, the king’s baggage train was lost as he crossed the Wash estuary and within a few more days John was desperately ill.

King John died at Newark on 19th October 1216, with half his country occupied by a foreign invader and his throne now occupied by his 9-year-old son, Henry III. The elder statesman and notable soldier William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke was appointed Regent and set out to save the kingdom.

Meanwhile, Louis’ forces, under the Comte du Perche, headed north and, in early 1217, took the City of lincoln and laid siege to the castle with a small force. Now in her 60s Nichola de la Haye took charge of the defences. Prince Louis  personally travelled up to Lincoln to ask for her surrender, assuring her no one would be hurt, but Nichola refused.

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The Battle of Lincoln, 1217

When the small force proved insufficient to force a surrender, the French had to send for reinforcements. For almost 3 months – from March to mid-May – siege machinery bombarded the south and east walls of the castle. On the 20th May William Marshal arrived, from the north-west, with a relieving force. Having taken the North Gate of the city walls, his army proceeded to attack the besieging forces and routed the enemy; the enemy’s commander, the Comte du Perche, was killed in the fighting.

The city, which had supported the rebels and welcomed the French, was sacked and looted by the victorious army; the battle becoming known as the Lincoln Fair, as a result.

The Battle of Lincoln turned the tide of the war. The French were forced to seek peace and returned home. Magna Carta was reissued and Henry III’s regents could set about healing the country.

In a magnificent demonstration of ingratitude, within 4 days of the relief of the Castle, Nichola’s position of Sheriff of Lincolnshire was given to the king’s uncle William Longspee, Earl of Salisbury, who took control of the city and seized the castle.

Not one to give up easily Nichola travelled to court to remind the king’s regents of her services, and request her rights be restored to her. A compromise was reached whereby Salisbury remained as Sheriff of the County, while Nichola held the city and the castle.

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Magna Carta

Nichola’s granddaughter and heiress, Idonea – daughter of Nichola’s eldest son Richard – was married to Salisbury’s son, William II Longspee; the couple inherited the de la Haye and Camville lands on Nichola’s death. The settlement was not ideal, however, and some wrangling seems to have continued until Salisbury’s death in 1226.

A staunchly independent woman, she issued some 25 surviving charters in her name. She made grants to various religious houses, including Lincoln Cathedral, and even secured a royal grant for a weekly market on one of her properties.

A most able adversary for some of the greatest military minds of the time, and a loyal supporter of King John, she was unique among her peers. Although praised by the chroniclers, they seemd to find difficulty in describing a woman who acted in such a fashion;  the Dunstable annals refer to her as a ‘noble woman’, saying she acted ‘manfully’. One cannot fail to feel admiration for a woman who managed to hold her own in a man’s world, who fought for her castle and her home in a time when women had so little say over their own lives – and at such an advanced age. Her bravery and tenacity saved Henry III’s throne.

Not surprisingly, Henry III referred to her as ‘our beloved and faithful Nichola de la Haye’.

Nichola de la Haye, the woman who saved England, lived well into her 70s. By late 1226 she had retired to her manor at Swaton, dying there in 1230. She was buried in St Michael’s Church, Swaton in Lincolnshire.

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Footnote: ¹Irene Gladwin: The Sheriff; The Man and His Office

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Photos of Lincoln Castle, copyright Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015.

Picture of the Battle of Lincoln and Magna Carta are courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Brassey’s Battles by John Laffin; 1215 The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger & John Gillingham; The Life and times of King John by Maurice Ashley; The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; lincolnshirelife.co.uk; catherinehanley.co.uk; magnacarta800th.com; lothene.org; lincolncastle.com; The Sheriff: The Man and His Office by Irene Gladwin; Elizabeth Chadwick; Nick Buckingham; swaton.org.uk.

Lincoln Castle, a Journey Through History

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The Observatory Tower

I love the school holidays. My son and I always find something historical to explore. Today, it was Lincoln Castle.

The Castle only reopened on the 1st April, 2015, after an extensive revamp. And it was teeming with visitors (apparently it was the quietest day since they reopened, so the last week must have been incredibly hectic for the staff).

Lincoln Castle was started by William the Conqueror in 1068 and has been in constant use ever since. You can follow its history, just by looking at the buildings that occupy the Inner Bailey. In its time, it has been a military fortification, a Victorian prison and is now home to Lincoln’s Crown Court – and the Magna Carta!

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Magna Carta

Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta is one of only four surviving originals. It is now on display in an impressive purpose-built, underground vault. The Magna Carta is accompanied by an original copy of the 1217 Charter of the Forest.

There is a 20-minute video, with a very believable King John and the great William Marshal, discussing the Magna Carta and explaining its inception and significance through the centuries.

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Prison Chapel

The Magna Carta Vault is a modern addition, adjoining the imposing Victorian prison. In its day, the prison was an innovation in the harshness punishment; the prisoners were held in solitary confinement for 24 hours a day.

There was no relief from the solitude, even when attending church services; the prison chapel was constructed in a way that each prisoner could see the priest, but could have no contact with his fellow prisoners. The chapel gives me the creeps everytime I visit it. I have a thing about dummies, but it’s also the thought of all those prisoners only able to see the one person, in the pulpit; cut off from society and each other.

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Inside the male prison

The prison included some wonderful interactive displays, with the opportunity to read the diaries of the priest, the wardens and prisoners. Kids can dress-up as prisoners or wardens, explore the separate male and female prisons, and watch videos of the inmates, explaining their crimes – and pleading their innocence!

The Castle grounds give you the sense of the thousand years of history its walls have witnessed.

It was at Lincoln that King Stephen was captured by forces loyal to the Empress Matilda, during the civil war – the Anarchy – that followed the death of Henry I (when Matilda and Stephen both claimed the throne).

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From the battlements: Lincoln Cathedral

Henry VIII and Catherine Howard had visited Lincoln Castle during their northern progress of 1541, shortly before Catherine’s infidelities were uncovered.

You can now walk the whole length of the walls – a third of a mile, though it can feel longer, with all the steps. You can climb the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the Observatory Tower – and take in the whole view of Lincoln, its Cathedral and the Fens.

The Lucy Tower contains within its walls a small cemetery, where executed prisoners, and those who died of disease, were buried.

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The postern gate

The postern gate is a little piece of history in itself; opened to William Marshal, by the castle’s castellan, Nicolaa de la Haye, whilst the castle was under siege from the army of Louis of France, who had been invited to take England by King John’s disaffected barons. The Dauphin was defeated shortly after, outside the Castle’s walls, and returned to France.

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Remnant of the Eleanor Cross

Another memento from history, within the Inner Bailey, is the remnant of Lincoln’s Eleanor Cross. Eleanor of Castile was just 7 miles from Lincoln when she died in 1290 and Lincoln’s Eleanor Cross is the first marker of her funeral procession, which ended at Westminster Abbey. Eleanor’s viscera (her intestines) were buried in Lincoln Cathedral, while her embalmed body was transported to London, an elaborate cross being erected at each stopping place along the way.

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Inside the Victorian Kitchen

The Castle has not forgotten its younger visitors, with a little treasure trail and quiz, based on King John’s loss of the Crown Jewels in the Wash.

The prize was well worth winning – chocolate coins from the Victorian Kitchen. And ‘thank you’ to the Victorian lady, who insisted all children pay a 1 coin tax to their parents out of their winnings – very tasty!

Whether you choose to explore by yourself, take the guided tour or simply bask in the sun of the Bailey, Lincoln Castle is a wonderful day out – for the young and old alike – I can highly recommend it.

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The exercise yard and facade of the Victorian prison

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All pictures are copyright to Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015, except the Magna Carta, which is courtesy of Wikipedia.

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For further information, visit http://www.lincolncastle.com

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The Crown Court building

Isabel of Gloucester, the Lost Queen of England

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William 2nd Earl Of Gloucester

Isabel of Gloucester is a shadow in the pages of history. I could find no pictures of her. No one even seems certain of her name; she has been called Isabel, Isabella, Hawise, Avice….. Isabel, however, seems to be the most popular, so we’ll stick with that, for now.

Isabel was the youngest daughter, and co-heiress, of William, 2nd Earl of Gloucester and his wife, Hawise, daughter of Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester. Although her date of birth has been lost to history – most sources say between 1173 and 1176 – she was betrothed in 1176, possibly whilst still in her cradle, to Prince John.

The youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, John was 9 years old at the time of the betrothal. However the wedding did not take place until 1189, when John was 21. Baldwin, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, opposed the marriage as the couple were related within the prohibited degrees, both being a great-grandchild of Henry I. John promised to seek a papal dispensation, in order to overcome Baldwin’s objections – although it appears this was never obtained.

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King John

John and Isabel were married on 29th August, 1189, at Marlborough Castle, Wiltshire. Although they were married for 10 years, it is possible they never, or rarely lived together. They never had any children and it is during this time in his life that John’s illegitimate children were born.

John succeeded to the throne on the death of his older brother Richard I – the Lionheart – on 6th April 1199. John was crowned on 27th May 1199; the fact that Isabel was not crowned alongside him, suggests that John was already looking for a way out of the marriage. Isabel would never be styled Queen.

Possibly as early as 30th August 1199, but certainly by 1200, John had obtained a divorce on the grounds of consanguinity; the bishops of Lisieu, Bayeux and Avranches, sitting in Normandy, provided the required judgement.

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Coat of arms of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex and Gloucester

Keeping his hold on the substantial Gloucester lands, John detained Isabel in ‘honourable confinement’ for the next 14 years. He eventually arranged a new marriage for her, to a man who was over 16 years her junior.

In 1214 she was married to Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who had paid the considerable sum of 20,000 marks to become her second husband and Earl of Gloucester ‘jure uxoris’ (by right of his wife). Just 2 years later, in 1216, de Mandeville died from wounds he’d received in a tournament.

One of the Magna Cart sureties, de Mandeville was in a state of rebellion, against the crown, when he died; as a result, all his lands and titles – including the earldom of Gloucester – were forfeit to the crown.

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Hubert de burgh

It was not until 17th September 1217, that Isabel’s lands were returned to her. At about the same time – or shortly after – Isabel was married for a third and final time, to Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent. De Burgh had become Chief Justiciar of England in 1215 and would rise to be Regent during the minority of Henry III.

This final marriage was, sadly, very short-lived and Isabel was dead within months – possibly only a few weeks – of her wedding day and almost exactly a year after the death of her first husband, King John.

In spite of 3 marriages, Isabel never had children and was succeeded to the Earldom of Gloucester by her nephew, Gilbert de Clare.

She was laid to rest in Canterbury Cathedral, Kent.

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Further Reading: Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; The Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Oxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.