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Year 3 History and Geography

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Restraints on Royal Power: Magna Carta

king john signing the magna carta

When Richard the Lionheart died in 1199, the English Crown was seized by his brother John. Many of the important barons were not happy about this, because John wanted to gain more control over the barons. Instead of asking the barons for help and advice about ruling the country, he brought in his own friends from France and gave them important positions. As you can imagine, this made many of the barons angry. The barons were very powerful men, but John was their King. What could they do about it? Early in 1215, the barons decided to try and restrict what John could and couldn't do as King. They drew up a list of things they wanted to change.

The barons demanded lots of big changes. Among lots of other things, they tried to stop the King taking money from the barons whenever he wanted and to make sure that he could not punish anyone without a fair trial. They said that if the King broke the new laws then the barons had the right to overrule the King and take his property. They also said that these new laws had to last forever and not just for King John. Altogether, it meant that the King did not have the power to do whatever he wanted, and that there were certain rules that even a king had to obey.

King John didn't like these new ideas at all, but he realised that he couldn't fight all of the barons and win, so he met them at a place called Runnymede on 15 June 1215. He gave in to the barons by putting his seal to the list that became known as the Magna Carta, which is Latin for the Great Charter.

But it didn't end there. Even though the King had agreed to have limits on what he could do, he quickly went back on his word. He didn't believe that a king had to answer to anyone. This caused a big fight with the barons, and it looked as though all the things agreed in the Magna Carta had been lost. But then something changed: King John became ill and died.

His son, Henry III, was only nine years old when he became the next king. When he was young, Henry had people to rule the country for him, and they did so by the rules laid down in the Magna Carta. In time, many of the ideas in it came to be accepted. It was the first step towards controlling the power of the king and giving the people more of a say in how the country was run.



This activity is adapted from pages 167 - 168 of What Your Year 3 Child Needs to Know, which can be purchased here.

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