The late Professor Sidney Painter, in his history of the reign of king John, gives us some interesting figures on feudal tenure in England at the time of Magna Charta.
There were 197 lay baronies, plus 39 ecclesiastical, or 236 in all. The lay baronies were held by 45 barons who maintained 140 castles; thus a number of the barons held several baronies. The total of 236 was divided into 7,200 Knights fees or lordship – a Knight’s fee being a manor or a tenure (could be town property) with sufficient income to support a Knight. The figure given by some other historians of the time is about 6,500. Of the 45 barons, only 24 were in revolt; they were practically all related, and acted as a clan. The other 21 either remained neutral or were on the side of the King, and only interested in preserving their fiefs. The point is the baronage was not united against King John, and of the knightage only a small percentage was in revolt. As for the great mass of Englishmen, there was no national feeling in that age. Each man was bound by fealty to his lord and followed his banner, no matter how vacillating that might be.
We can see a parallel here with the American Revolution; the leaders in both instances represented a minority of the people, but with this difference – in the latter case the leaders were men of great character, high-minded, with a vision, concerned with creating a new order in society, in the former case they were, with one or two exceptions concerned chiefly in preserving their feudal privileges.
The historian William Stubbs in his “Constitutional History of England” writes in connection with the framing of Magna Charta ” So much of the fortunes of the Constitutions turns upon personal history, on the local, official, and family connection of the great men, that we cannot dismiss the subject without asking “Who were the men and what was their training? Who were the barons that now impose limits upon tyranny and place themselves in the vanguard of liberty? How have they come to sit in the seats and wield the swords of those whom so lately we saw arranged in feudal might against King and people?’.
When one reads the many accounts of the twenty four barons, one is disappointed to discover little of that loftiness of mind, broad vision, which one would expect of the authors of the great document. There are but meager records about many of them; the above statement may be a misjudgment of some. But in any case one is forced to seek elsewhere for those virtues. The men who, one must believe were the framers of the document, or active in it’s authorship, were-. 1, Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, later famous as an ecclesiastical jurist, author of “The Constitutions of Langton”; 2, William Marshall, the wisest and most capable man in England who remained the councilor of King John; 3, perhaps Roger Bogod, justiciar in King Richard’s reign, but alive in 1215- 4, Saher de Quincy, justiciar in the years 1211-1214, so he must have been consulted; 5, perhaps also William de Huntingfield who was a justice itinerant, although it does not follow he was learned in the law, or Richard de Montfichet, who, as the Royal Forester, may have been of influence in inserting the clauses dealing with forest laws.
Robert fitzWalter and his companions, the Magna Charta Sureties, we must realize, were military leaders and landed magnates. If the records of their lives give us no clue to their greatness of mind, they sensed the importance of what Stephen Lanfton and the framers of Magna Charta were proposing, and we are grateful to them for recognizing its significance and enforcing it.
The following is the order in which the baron’s names are appended to Magna Charta.
- Comes de Clare
- Comes Albemarlae (William de Fortibus, Earl of Aumale)
- Comes Gloverniae (Geoffrey de Manville, Earl of Gloucester)
- Comes Wintoniensis (Saher de Quincy, Earl of Winchester)
- Comes Herefordensis (Henry de Bohun, Earl of Hereford)
- Comes Rogerus (Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk)
- Comes Robertus (Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford)
- Willemus Marescallus (William Marshall, Jr.)
- Robertus filius Walter (Robert fitz Walter)
- Gilbertus de Clare
- Eustachius de Vesci
- Hugh Bigod
- Willelmus de Munbrai (William de Mowbray)
- Major de Londensis (William Hardell)
- Willemus de Lanvallay
- Robertus de Ros
- Constabularius Cestriae (John de Lacy, Constable of Chester)
- Richardus de Perci
- Joannes filius Roberti (John fitz Robert)
- Willelmus Malet
- Gaufridus de Say (Geoffrey de Say)
- Rogerus de Munbezon (Roger de Montbegon)
- Willelmus de Huntingfield
- Richardus de Montfichet
- Willelmus de Albineio (William d’Aubigny)
Those barons assembled at Runnemede as guarantors or counselors of King John were:
- William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke
- William Longuespee, Earl of Warenne (John’s half brother)
- William, Earl of Warenne (son of Hamelin, half uncle of King John)
- William d’Aubigny, Earl of Arundel
- Ranulph Blundeville, Earl of Chester
- Alan de Galway, Constable of Scotland
- Warin fitz Gerold
- Hubert de Burgh, Seneschal of Poitou
- Piers fitz Herbert
- Hugh de Neville
- Matthew fitz Herbert
- Thomas Basset
- Alan Basset
- Philip Daubing (d.’Aubigny or Albini)
- Robert de Roppelay),
- John Marshall, nephew of William, son of Anselm the Elder
- John fitz Hugh
- Henry, Earl of Cornwall
Sureties and Magna Charta barons who were on the Crusades.
- William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke
- William de Fortibus, Earl of Aumale, d. 1241/42 on the way to the Holy Land
- Geoffrey de Say, 1219
- aher de Quincy. Earl of Winchester, 1219, d. in Egypt 1219/20
- Robert fitz Walter, 1219
- Henry de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, 1219, d. In Egypt in 1220
- Richard de Clare. Earl of Clare and Hertford, helped King Richard before the third Crusade and accompanied him as far as France, but then returned home. John de Lacy (later Earl of Lincoln) 1219
- Eustace de Vesci 1191
- William d’Aubigny, Earl of Arundel, d. 1221 on way home from 5th Crusade (not a Surety)
- William de Huntingfield 1219
- William Longuespee, Earl of Salisbury, a crusader 1219 according to Matthew Paris, but considered doubtful by the Complete Peerage. (not a Surety)
In the following chapters, William Marshall will be given precedence, for reasons which will be explained, then Stephen Langton, then the Earls, followed by the other sureties in the order given above, and lastly, also certain other earls and barons who were on the side of King John. because of their particular significance.