Line engraving of King John and the signing of the Magna Carta by R. Sheppard, by M.A.Rooker, 19th century On loan from the Oliver Trust

John was born into the Royal House of Angevin on Christmas Eve 1167.  His parents Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitane had seven other children, including Richard the Lionheart.  As the fourth son, John did not benefit from inherited land, giving rise to his nickname, ‘Lackland’.

Following his brother Richard I’s death, John was crowned King at Westminster Abbey in 1199.  His reign was full of troubles and he proved an extremely unpopular monarch.  He quarrelled with the Church over the papal candidate for Archbishop, Stephen Langdon, resulting in his excommunication.  He taxed his barons heavily to fund his campaigns to regain lost lands in France, resulting in their rebellion.  They captured London and forced John to succumb to their demands.

The Magna Carta was sealed on 15 June 1215 on a meadow by the Thames known as Runnymede.  The document was a declaration of feudal rights.  It secured the Church’s rights to make its own appointments and the King could no longer levy extra taxes on the barons without their consent.  Most famously it stated that “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed, or exiled or deprived of his standing in any other way”

King John most likely planned to go back on the Charter once he had regained his power.  However he died soon afterwards, and his son, only a boy at the time, remained under the Barons’ influence for many years.  In this way the Magna Carta became enshrined in statute law.