Richard Coeur de Lion - John - Magna Charta

Henry II was much troubled in his latter years by the disobedience of his children. At his death, in 1189, he was succeeded by his son RICHARD, styled Coeur de Lion, or the Lion-hearted, from his head strong courage, and who was much liked by his subjects on that account, though it does not appear that he possessed any other good qualities. At the coronation of Richard, the people were permitted to massacre many thousands of unoffending Jews throughout the kingdom. Almost immediately after his accession, he joined the king of France in a second Crusade; landed in Palestine (1191) and fought with prodigious valor, but with no good result. On one occasion, being offended at a breach of truce by his opponent Saladin, he beheaded 5000 prisoners; whose deaths were immediately revenged by a similar massacre of Christian prisoners. In 1192, he returned with a small remnant of his gallant army, and being shipwrecked at Aquileia, wandered in disguise into the dominions of his mortal enemy the Duke of Austria, who, with the Emperor of Germany, detained him till he was redeemed by a ransom, which impoverished nearly the whole of his subjects. This prince spent the rest of his life in unavailing wars with Philip of France, and was killed at the seige of a castle in Limousin, in 1199, after a reign of ten years, of which he had spent only about three months in England.

JOHN, the younger brother of Richard, succeeded, although Arthur, Duke of Bretagne, the son of an intermediate brother, was the proper heir. John, who was at once vain, cruel, and weak, alienated the affections of his subjects almost at the very first by the assassination of his nephew, which he is said to have performed with his own hands. The weakness of kings is often the means of giving increased liberties and privileges to the people. The paltry tyranny and wickedness of John caused his barons to rise against him, and the result was that, on the 19th June, 1215, he was compelled by them to sign what is called the Magna Charta, or great Charter, granting them many privileges and exemptions, and generally securing the personal liberty of his subjects. The principal point concerning the nation at large was, that no tax or supply should be levied from them without their own consent in a great Council - the first idea of a Parliament. Some excellent provisions were also made regarding courts of law and justice, so as to secure all but the guilty.

The Pope, it appears, regarded the Magna Charta as a shameful violation of the royal prerogative, and excommunicated its authors, as being worse, in his estimation, than infidels. The opinion of a leading modern historian is very different. He, says, 'To have produced the Great Charter, to have preserved it, to have matured it, constitute the immortal claim of England on the esteem of mankind.'