Innocent also placed England under the interdict, which forbade Church services to the entire kingdom. Even the strongest ruler was likely to give in to that pressure. To save himself and his crown, John had to accept England as a fief of the papacy and pay a yearly fee to Rome.

The Magna Carta

Finally, John angered his own nobles with oppressive taxes and other abuses of power. In 1215, a group of rebellious barons cornered John and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, or great charter. In this document, the king affirmed a long list of feudal rights. Besides protecting their own privileges, the barons included a few clauses recognizing the rights of townspeople and the Church.

The Magna Carta contained two very important ideas that in the long run would shape political and legal traditions in England. First, it asserted that the nobles had certain rights. Over time, these rights that had been granted to nobles were extended to all English citizens. Second, the Magna Carta made it clear that the monarch must obey the law.

Among other clauses in the Magna Carta that would have lasting impact were those that protected freemen from arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and other legal actions, except “by legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” This clause would much later become the basis of the right we know today as due process of law, which safeguarded the legal rights of the individual.

Over the centuries, the English would rely on the Magna Carta to develop other political and legal ideas and traditions. In the 1600s, the idea of protecting people from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment would evolve into the right of habeas corpus, the principle that no person can be held in prison without first being charged with a specific crime.

In the Magna Carta, King John also had to agree not to raise new taxes without first consulting his Great Council of lords and clergy. Many centuries later, American colonists would claim that those words meant that any taxation without representation was unjust. In 1215, though, neither the king nor his lords could have imagined such an idea.

Parliament Develops

During the 1200s, English rulers often called on the Great Council for advice. Eventually, this council evolved into Parliament, which later became England's legislature. As Parliament acquired a larger role in government, it helped unify England.

In 1295, King Edward I summoned Parliament to approve money for his wars in France. “What touches all,” he declared, “should be approved by all.” He had representatives of the “common people” join with the lords and clergy. The “commons” included two knights from each county and representatives of the towns.

Much later, this assembly became known as the Model Parliament because it set up the framework for England's legislature. In time, Parliament developed into a two-house body: the House of Lords with nobles and high clergy and the House of Commons with knights and middle-class citizens.

Over the centuries, Parliament gained the crucial “power of the purse”: the right to approve any new taxes. With that power, Parliament could insist that the monarch meet its demands before voting for taxes. In this way, it could check, or limit, the power of the monarch.

Illustration on a manuscript with concentric tables at which various groups of men are seated in discussion. A crowned man is seated at a throne.

This image from the 1200s shows Edward I attending an English parliamentary meeting.

Growth of the French Monarchy

Unlike William the Conqueror in England, monarchs in France did not rule over a unified kingdom. The successors to Charlemagne had little power over a patchwork of French territories ruled by powerful feudal lords.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments