Page 1427

1427 THE CRUSADESENGLAND AND FRANCE IN THE 13TH CENTURY. 1427

basis of a new Bill of Rights, which he

drew up and which the barons determined to

maintain with their swords. Such was the

famous document known as Magna Carta, the Great Charter of English Liberty.

When the king returned from France

the demand was made of him by the barons

that he should sign their instrument. This

he refused to do, and endeavored to oppose force with force; but finding his banner

almost deserted, he came to his senses and

consented to hold a conference which had

been proposed by the Earl of Pembroke.

On the 15th of June, 1215, a meeting was

accordingly held at a place called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, and there

the king was obliged to sign the Charter.

In general terms Magna Carta was intended by its authors to prevent the exercise of arbitrary authority over his subjects by an English king. The royal prerogatives were limited in several important

particulars, so that the despotism which

had been so freely practiced during the

feudal ascendancy became impossible in

England, save in violation of the chartered

rights 'of the people. The great document

thus wrenched from the pusillanimous John

consisted of sixty-three articles, most of

them being negative, defining what the kings

of England might not do as it respected their

subjects. Of positive rights conceded and

guaranteed in the Charter, the two greatest

were the Habeas Corpus and the Right of

Trial by Jury. The first was that salutary

provision of the English Common Law by

which every free subject of the kingdom was

exempted from arbitrary arrest and detention;

and the second, that every person accused of

crime or misdemeanor should be entitled to a

trial by his peers in accordance with the law

of the land. The right of disposing of property by will was also conceded, and in case no

will should be made, it was provided that the

goods and estate of the father should descend

to his children by the law of inheritance. On

the negative side there were interdicts against

outlawry and banishment, and against the

seizure of the property of freemen.

It should not be supposed, however, that

popular liberty, in the modern sense, was secured or even contemplated in Magna Carta.

True it is that many invaluable principles

and maxims were assumed by the barons, and

that the restrictions of the royal prerogative

were of the most salutary character. But

the feudal classes of society were still recognized, and the people, as a factor in the state,

were ignored. Although it was provided that

no freeman should be seized or distressed in

his person or property, but little was said

respecting the rights and immunities of the

laboring classes of Englishmen. Only a

single clause of Magna Carta was intended

to secure to the peasant those immunities

and privileges which in every civilized country

are now regarded as his birthright. It was

enacted that even a rustic should not be

deprived of his carts, plows, and implements

of husbandry. So great was the difference

between the spirit of the thirteenth and that

of the nineteenth century!

Notwithstanding the humiliation of King

John at Runnymede, he immediately sought

opportunity of. avenging himself .on his

barons. Great was his wrath on account

of the Charter, and at those who had compelled him to sign it. The barons were little

alarmed at his preparations and oaths of

vengeance; but with an army of foreign

mercenaries he reduced them to such extremity that they in their folly invited Prince

Louis, the heir of France, to come to their

aid, and promised to reward him with the

crown of England. The fortune of war was

turned against the king and he was obliged

to shut himself up in the castle of Dover.

In the mean time the barons grew tired of

their French protector, and many of them

rejoined the standard of John. The latter

again entered the field and marched into

Lincolnshire, where he was attacked of a

fever, and died on the 19th of October, 1216.

It was during the reign of King John, who

has the bad reputation of being the worst sovereign that ever reigned over England, that

the great outlaw Robin Hood began his career

as a bandit. It appears that the true name

of this generous brigand who, until the year

1247, set the laws at defiance and measured

swords with England, was Robert, earl of

Huntingdon. The legend recites that in his

youth he attended a great tournament in

archery, where by his skill he excited the

envy of some rival noblemen, who had the

rashness to upbraid him on account of his

Saxon blood and uncourtly manners. Falling

into a passion under their insults, he turned