In 1214, baronial discontent reached a boiling point, according to John’s biographer W. L. Warren. The barons sought a restoration of the laws and rights established by King Edward I--except for one hitch. No one knew just what those laws and rights were. The nobles were lost in a haze of nostalgia for a less tyrannical reign.
On May 17, 1215, the rebels easily entered London. Friends opened the gates for them and they took the city with little resistance. These barons and their supporters then sent letters to every man who was still loyal to John, threatening them with violent reprisals if they did not switch their allegiance.
So on June 10 at Staines, John committed himself to an early draft of What would become the Magna Carta, affixing his seal to a document titled “The Articles of the Barons.” The treatise was then submitted to the rebels and underwent a few revisions during the ensuing days.
The Magna Carta was the result of at least four slightly different documents, a negotiated settlement that was the work of many hands and influences. Essentially it reduced the king’s role from autocrat to chief executive operating under the supervision of a baronial committee.
Many of the clauses in the Great Charter were written as a direct result of, or a response to, John’s abuses of power-including taking English subjects as hostages for perceived disloyalty or nonpayment of debts to the crown; his engagement of foreigners or “aliens” in his armies as seneschals of his castles; and his burdensome taxation.
Although the Magna Carta began as a verdict on John‘s reign, some clauses in the charter, such as “The English Church shall be free” or “To no one will We sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice” have stood the test of time. The latter was a tremendous advance for the common man. No longer could a moneyed landowner buy his way out of a lawsuit or a judgment against him.
Royal Pains: A Rogue's Gallery of Brats, Brutes, and Bad Seeds - Leslie Carroll