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Tuesday 17 June 2014

Stephen Langton and Magna Carta

19th C bronze showing Langton overseeing King John's
issue of Magna Carta
In an article for English Historical Review in 2011, David Carpenter (co-investigator of the Magna Carta Project) set out to reassess the role played by Stephen Langton (archbishop of Canterbury 1207-1226) in the drafting of Magna Carta in 1215, as well as in the Charter's subsequent survival. 

'After King John’s settlement with the pope in 1213, his archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, was at last able to enter England. That he then played a major part in national affairs is undisputed. What is disputed is his precise contribution to Magna Carta. At one extreme, historians have ascribed to Langton all that was best in the charter: the way it asserts the fundamental principle that the ruler is subject to the law, and the way too it reaches out to a wide constituency and is not just a selfish baronial document. At the other extreme, led by J.C. Holt, they have argued that Langton contributed little to the charter’s fundamentals, and was a mediator and moderator rather than an originator. These divergent views reflect contemporary testimony. In the (often challenged) account of the St Albans abbey chronicler, Roger of Wendover, Langton seems very much the fons et origo of Magna Carta. In the accounts of Ralph of Coggeshall and the Barnwell chronicle, in contrast, he is far less prominent and appears essentially as an intermediary between the sides. This article will seek to reveal a Langtonian role in the shaping and survival of the charter very different from that found in previous accounts; it will relate that role to the archbishop’s doubts about the validity of the 1215 charter, doubts only removed in the final and definitive version of 1225; and, lastly, using evidence hitherto ignored, it will expose the seeming hypocrisy of Langton’s conduct when set against the principles of the charter and the canons of his own academic thought.'

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