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Friday, June 11, 2021

The Consequence of Richard Lionheart’s Death: Magna Carta

The unexpected consequence of the sudden death of Richard Lionheart, the hero of the Third Crusade, in April 1199, due to an arrow injury that he received while trying to suppress a revolt at the castle of Châlus-Chabrol, in southwestern France, was the Magna Carta in England. Richard was a courageous, jealous, and ruthless monarch. He had a traditionalist view of the institution of monarchy. He was convinced that he possessed the divine right to rule. He would have never allowed the nobles of England to coerce him into accepting the Magna Carta. He would have viewed the nobles who dared to present the Magna Carta before him as traitors and rebels whose just punishment was execution.

John Lackland (he was nicknamed Lackland because, being the youngest son of King Henry II, he lacked significant lands to inherit) became the King of England after Richard’s death. But he was unpopular with his subjects who viewed him as a coward because he had not participated in the Third Crusade, and as a traitor because when Richard was fighting the forces of Sultan Saladin in the Third  Crusade, John tried to usurp the throne of England. Richard’s contemptuous reflection on John’s treachery is preserved in the account of Roger of Howden, the twelfth century English diplomat and chronicler: “My brother John is not a man to conquer a land if there is someone to resist him with even a meagre degree of force.” There was so much hatred and suspicion between the two brothers that if Richard had not died in 1199, he would have ordered the execution of John for betraying him.

Most historical accounts of that period are critical of John. One source, identified as the Anonymous of Bethune, writes: “[John] was a bad man, more cruel than all others; he lusted after beautiful women and because of this he shamed the high men of the land, for which reason he was greatly hated. Whenever he could, he told lies rather than the truth.” In the chronicles of two thirteenth century monks at St Albans Abbey, Roger of Wendover and his successor Matthew Paris, John is presented as a cruel and godless tyrant. They claim, without any evidence, that John had sent a message to the Emir of Morocco offering to convert his Kingdom to Islam. Paris concludes his assessment of King John with this verse:  “England is still fouled by the stink of John; the foulness of Hell is defiled by John’s foulness.”

John accepted the Magna Carta on 15 June 1215. The monarchs of Europe were horrified by the Magna Carta, and so was the papacy at Rome. Pope Innocent III annulled the Magna Carta but that led to a civil war in England, the First Barons' War ((1215–1217). John was defeated in the civil war (he died in 1216), and that was the end of the Angevin Empire which was founded by his father King Henry II in 1154.

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