Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

JUNE 15th  

On this day in history in 1215, The Magna Carta was sealed by King John.

The Magna Carta was the first British constitution, setting down the relationship between citizens and state.  It was forced upon the king by his uncontrollable barons who had had enough of his high taxation and arbitrary decisions. 

The origin of the baronsí rebellion came about from the moment when John came to the throne in 1199. John had inherited the crown from his brother Richard I, or to be correct, seized it from the legitimate heir, his nephew, Prince Arthur. The French King Philip II supported Arthurís claim, not only to the throne of England, but to French lands in Normandy and Anjou, which had been held by Richard. King Philip summoned John to appear before him and when John refused, confiscated his French lands and allocated some of them to Arthur and some to himself. John responded by sending an army to defend his lands in Normandy, thus bringing about a minor but costly war.  

In order to defray the cost, John instituted a series of taxes, including Forest Law, a set of regulations regarding woodlands, which were difficult to obey in their entirety, easily broken and raised a great deal of money in fines. John also started an Income Tax, which raised him enough to pay for his wars and more besides. Naturally, thee barons were unhappy at this state of affairs and a group of them joined together in rebellion. They captured London, forcing John to leave the city, and then rounded on him at Runnymede. [grid reference SU999729. National Trust] Here, at the point of a sword, they forced his to sign the great charter.  

John had no intention of honouring his promise. As soon as the barons had left London, he raised a force against them and tried to hunt them down, one at a time, thus plunging England into civil war. On 18th October 1216, John died of a surfeit of peaches and cider and was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, Henry III. [For other unusual royal deaths see 24th March.] The barons found it simple to manipulate the young king into issuing a new and enforceable charter.  

Magna Carta contained no new rights or privileges, but only put in writing old laws. The barons needed John to make explicit what was already implicit. Contrary to popular belief, The Magna Carta was not signed by King John. He was illiterate. 

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