Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

About Clause 61

with 2 comments

King John of England has been known to history as vindictive, spiteful and cruel. Distrusting his tenants-in-chief, he began to demand their children as hostages to force their submission to his will. When John allowed the wife and son of a former favorite, William de Braose, to starve to death in the dungeon of Corfe Castle, it may have been the final flashpoint for the nobles who were dissatisfied with John’s arbitrary rule. They rose in revolt against the King, who was also having problems getting along with the Pope.

Through the efforts of Cardinal Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the various grievances of the barons fused into a demand for more stable and predictable government with its basis in law, limiting the scope for arbitrary action by the King. The two sides ultimately agreed upon the Magna Carta, or Great Charter, in 1215.

King John signs the Magna Carta, 1215

The charter called for the barons to rebel against the King if he did not live up to his side of the agreement. The 25 nobles bearing the responsibility to do this were called surety barons. While not formally divided into numbered clauses, this section has been remembered by history as Clause 61.

The idea that accountability could flow downward from the King to his nobles was unprecedented. Pope Innocent III was mortified and annulled Magna Carta at once. However, the nobles acted on it, and John, who revoked his agreement, faced rebellion until his dying day.

Magna Carta and Clause 61 are foundational to our Anglo-Saxon legal heritage and our understanding of the relationship between governing and governed, between leader and led, between those in power and those whom they have power over. It separates us from other European cultures who have never accepted the idea that the lord can be called to account by those who serve him. Without the concept embedded in Clause 61, the parliamentary revolt that became the English Civil War would not have been possible. Neither would 1688 or 1776.


Written by srojak

April 21, 2013 at 4:03 pm

2 Responses

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  1. most kings had similar need to negotiate with their subjects. holy Roman empire depened upon a constitution. medieval kings in general could not demand, but needed to negotiate with autonomous barons…


    July 7, 2015 at 12:07 pm

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