i. Historical background
King John came to the throne in 1199 and was immediately faced with a number of pressing difficulties. The excessive amount of money needed to ransom his late brother,Richard 1,had placed a considerable tax burden on his subjects. Furthermore,what was seen as his mismanagement of expensive military compaigns in France, culminating in loss of territory there,did little to enhance the new king's image. To add to his problems,his conflict with Rome over who had the right to appoint the Archbishop of Canterbury,the church or the king,led to his excommunication by the Pope in 1209. Four years og defiance of papal wishes ended in a climb-down by John,who accepted the Church's nominee,and papal candidate to Canterbury.
During this period,John used every means available to him to raise much-needed money to bolster his administration. Recourse to new forms of taxation and customs duties,along with what was seen as abuse of the traditional system of feudal dues,especially scutage,i.e. payment of money to the king in lieu of military service,contriuted to angering the barons. The unrest that had been brewing for a number of years came to a head in 1215 when John was faced with the threat of civil war. Negotiatons were begun and a compromise was reached which sought to sastify the barons' grievances and make some sort of authoritative statement on the detail of feudal custom in England.
Needless to say,much of Magna Carta is concerned with finding remedies for these specific problems. Essentially concrete and pragmatic, the document makes little or no attempt at a general statement of "rights".Successive generations have sifted through its highly detailed clauses to highlight the principles that underlie the instances it contains.
After a brief comment on the preamble,it may be best,in the interest of clarity,re-arrange the clauses presented above under a number of headings designed to prinpoint the areas with...