MAGNA CARTA 1215-2015

The Temple, London: Headquarters of the King, 1214-15

The Temple Church was built by the Knights Templar, an order of military monks founded in 1118 to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land. Here in the Temple the Templars had their Church, two halls, cloisters and domestic buildings, leading in the 12th century straight down to the River Thames. The Round Church was built soon after 1160; it is the earliest Gothic building in England.

In the crisis of 1214-5 King John had two London headquarters: the Tower in the East; and the Temple in the West, where he was safe under the protection of the Templars.

1162. The Round Church was in use. It is the earliest Gothic building in England. It was modelled on the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the site of Christ’s death, burial and rising; to be in the Round Church was, to the medieval imagination, to be in Jerusalem, at the holiest place in the world.

10 February 1185. The Round Church was consecrated by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, in London to ask King Henry to take on the kingship of Jerusalem.  

1204. King John lost Normandy, Anjou and Poitou to King Philip of France.  John’s campaigns to recover them led to ever higher taxes.

March 1213. The King finalised a treaty with his Continental allies at the Temple, and then deposited 20,000 marks here for his ambassadors.

May-July 1213. The King submitted to the Pope. Archbishop Stephen Langton returned to England. For the negotiations, the King was staying at the Templars’ house near Dover. William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke was witness and guarantor to the King’s submission. The King’s excommunication was lifted, and in return he offered a golden mark which he borrowed from the Master of the Temple.

3 October 1213. The King was at the Temple, to confirm at St Paul’s Cathedral that the Pope was now the feudal lord of the King and his kingdom.

27 July 1214. The Battle of Bouvines. With this defeat John lost all prospect of the recovery of his French possessions.

16-23 November 1214. The King was in the Temple. On 21 November he issued from the Temple the charter granting ‘with the common consent of our barons’  free elections to cathedral and conventual churches, and on  22 November a grant to St Paul’s Cathedral. 

7-15 January 1215. The King was in the Temple. A group of barons, armed and ready for war, confronted him. According to the barons’ account of this seminal week, they asked the King to confirm their ancient and accustomed liberties but he refused, and in turn he asked them to give a written undertaking on behalf of themselves and their successors that they would never in future demand such liberties. The barons, lacking a prince to claim or put upon the throne, were demanding the King’s own allegiance to a charter. John sought refuge in delay; such innovation, he said, would take time. The barons gave him warning: they were pledging themselves, one and all, as a wall of defence for the house of the Lord and would stand firm for the liberty of the Church and the realm. The barons rightly distrusted the King: during the negotiations themselves John sent emissaries (surely secretly) to the Pope. John gave the barons a safe conduct until after Easter; William Marshal and the Archbishop were among the King’s guarantors, assuring the barons that the King would then give them satisfaction.

On 15 January the cathedral and convent charter of 21 November 1214 was reissued from the Temple.

16-22 April 1215 (Eastertide). The King was in the Temple.

7-9 May 1215. The King was in the Temple. On 9 May the charter was issued from the Temple that guaranteed to the City of London the right freely to elect its own Lord Mayor. ‘Know that we have granted, and by this our present writing confirmed, to our barons of our city of London, that they may choose to themselves every year a mayor, who to us may be faithful, discreet, and fit for government of the city, so as, when he shall be chosen, to be presented unto us, or our justice if we shall not be present.’ The Lord Mayor still processes on the day of his or her installation to the Royal Courts of Justice to appear before the Lord Chief Justice. 

17 May 1215. The barons captured London. The balance of power now lay against the King; he must negotiate.

28 May 1215. The King received the imperial regalia of his grandmother the Empress Matilda from the custody of the Master of the Temple. He was going to assert his full majesty at the coming conference.

10 June 1215. The King arrived at Runnymede.

15 June 1215. The King sealed the Charter. William Marshal Earl of Pembroke and Brother Aymeric, Master of the Temple, were listed among those who had advised the King. The Earl’s eldest son was one of the Twenty-Five surety barons, appointed to ensure the King’s conformity to the Charter’s terms.

19 October 1216. King John died. The King’s Council named William Marshal the guardian (rector) of the young King Henry III and of the realm.

12 November 1216. The Earl of Pembroke reissued the Charter under his own seal.

6 November 1217. The Earl of Pembroke again reissued the Charter under his own seal. Particular clauses were removed and issued separately as the Charter of the Forest; the remaining reissued clauses from 1215 were from now on known as the Great Charter.

14 May 1219. The Earl of Pembroke died, and was buried on 20 May in the Temple’s Round Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury presided. Brother Aymeric, who had visited the Earl on his deathbed at Caversham, had wished to be buried next to the Earl; ‘I have enjoyed his fellowship on earth and hope to enjoy it also in heaven.’ On his return to London Aymeric fell ill and pre-deceased the Earl. He and the Earl were buried next to each other in front of the rood-screen between Round and chancel.

1224. William Marshal the Younger, 2nd Earl of Pembroke married Eleanor, sister of King Henry III.

1225. King Henry III reissued the Great Charter, in order to secure a grant of taxation.

1235-6. Henry III and Queen Eleanor bequeathed their bodies to the Templars. The Templars replaced the small chancel of the Temple Church with the present hall church to be the burial place of the King and Queen. The new chancel was dedicated on Ascension Day 1240 in the presence of the King. Light, airy and simple, it is among the most beautiful of all Early English Gothic churches.  (Henry III was in fact buried in Westminster Abbey, the Queen in Amesbury.)

1237, 1244, 1251. A grant of taxation was made to the King upon the confirmation of the Charter. The meeting of the Great Council in 1237 was described as a Parliament, the word’s first use in the vocabulary of our constitution.

Summer 1258. The Council established by the Provisions of Oxford met daily, in the Temple and elsewhere, ‘spending wakeful nights,’ the Pope was told, ‘to prepare peace for others.’

March 1259. The Council proclaimed in the Temple its first set of proposals, the foundational Provisions of the English Barons, ‘on account of the common good of the whole realm and of the King himself’. The King summoned Parliament to the Tower, demanding that the barons come unarmed. The barons refused, and insisted on Westminster. Parliament in fact met at the Temple, a compromise safe for both sides.

12 October 1297. Edward I re-issued the Great Charter. An official copy was for the first time enrolled by the Chancery and copied into the earliest of the Chancery’s Statute Rolls as an official enactment of the text.

Click here to read the address given by the Rt Hon Lord Judge (Master Judge of Middle Temple), Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, on 12 June 2013 at our service of Choral Evensong in Honour of Magna Carta and to celebrate the Inns’ Amity.

Click here for further information on the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary (15 June 2015).