HOW WAS MAGNA CARTA PROMOTED?
On 19 June 1215 (4 days after the sealing) the rebels paid homage to the King and he declared an end to hostilities. Two uneasy months followed while all sides waited for the contract to be honoured on all sides. Copies of the Charter were made through July and sent out to be read aloud in over 30 county courts, probably in Latin and French, possibly in English as well. Sealed copies were still being copied and dispatched by 22 July. There are four surviving “originals” of the document of 15 June 1215, but not the one with the King’s seal, and they were brought together in the British Library and House of Lords in February this year.
The barons refused to surrender London. The King refused to dismiss his constables (cf. clauses 50, 51). Langton was suspended and went into exile. The King sent envoys to Rome with a copy of the Charter (cf clause 61) but the Pope had learned of the charter and was already taking action. He annulled the Charter on 24 August 1215, the letter arriving in England near the end of September by which time the Charter of Liberties was already dead (at the latest probably from 5 September when other documents were proclaimed at Dover on behalf of King John). It survived in its first life less than three months.
From 17 September 1215 the King issued many instructions for the seizure of rebel lands. Civil war began and the rebels sought help from the Scots, the Welsh and the French (whom they invited to invade, which they did). While campaigning in Lincolnshire in October 1216 King John fell ill and died (it is said, from dysentery after eating a surfeit of peaches), the Crown passing to his eldest son Henry (then nine years old) and the coronation occurring at Gloucester Abbey (not at still rebel-held Westminster) on 28 October 1216.
Two weeks later, on 12 November 1216 at Bristol, the Charter of Liberties was reissued as affirmation of the new King’s future good government. It was sponsored by a Papal legate, so it acquired explicit Papal approval on this occasion. But the text had been significantly modified from that of 15 June 1215 (by, inter alia, the omission of many specifically local and temporal provisions and restrictions on the King’s powers, including restraints on modification or annulment of the charter).
The war continued, the French were forced out and the rebels sued for peace. In November 1217 the Charter of Liberties was again reissued, with still further modifications to the text. In 1216 and 1217 the clauses that most directly challenged royal sovereignty were removed, including the sanctions clause 61.
Also in 1217 Henry III issued a distinct charter, the Forest Charter, regulating the royal administration of those parts of the country under forest law. The Charter of Liberties became known as the Magna Carta (great charter) to distinguish it from the Forest Charter (which was shorter and smaller).
In 1225 Henry III confirmed both Magna Carta and the Forest Charter. This version of the Magna Carta differed again and this version became the standard, as reproduced (more or less) in subsequent reissues. It was now down from 63 clauses to 37.
There were further reissues of Magna Carta through the next 70 years (including 1234, 1237 and 1253). In 1253 the document is known to have been read aloud throughout the land in English as well as Latin and French. In 1265 the 1225 Charter was reissued.
Known surviving charters are from 1215 (4), 1216 (1), 1217 (4), 1225 (4), 1297 (4 – and not all identical) and 1300 (6 – the most recent rediscovery occurring in Maidstone, Kent in 2014-15).
The last two issues in 1297 and 1300 were intended to achieve support for King Edward I in high spending on warfare that was unpopular with barons and the population generally. The 1297 document was the first to be copied onto the official “Statute Roll” and its 37 clauses (emanating from the 1225 document) thereby became the text that is definitive under English law (and is the version quoted hereafter). Notwithstanding that, reference has often been made to clauses of the Charter of Liberties that was in force for three months in 1215 (with 63 clauses) and which were not reproduced in later versions. The 1297 version purports to copy the 1225 version, but it did so from a defective copy that resurrected an error in clause 2. The 1300 version is identical to the 1297 version and was reissued only because of a formal deficiency related to the King’s seal during his absence abroad at the time of the issue of the 1297 version.
The document had moved from a failed peace treaty to a law and was to become legend, with all the anomalies and peculiarities that usually attend upon legends.