The Normans conquered England in 1066. William the Conqueror abused both the native Anglo Saxons and his own nobles. His successor, William II, continued this trend. By 1100, the nobles had enough and Henry I wished to assuage their fears and anger and legitimize his own reign. So, he issued the Charter of Liberties in 1100 A.D., which limited royal power and proved a forerunner to the Magna Carta in 1215.
William I conquered England and ruled until 1087. His son, William II, assumed power and reigned until 1100. Both men ruled ruthlessly over the realm. In fact, William II imprisoned his brother Henry Beauclerk at one point. Eventually, Henry swore an oath of loyalty to his brother, who died in 1100 in a hunting accident. Ironically, the jailed sibling assumed the throne.
The nobility refused to accept Henry I as king. The king managed to win over the native Anglo-Saxons and church with relative ease. However, the nobility wanted to grab power, limit the king, and despised Henry’s marriage to the daughter of King Malcolm II of Scotland. Henry was learned, could read and write, knew history, the law, and Latin. The highly intelligent king decided to use his strengths to mollify the nobility rather than launch a punitive expedition as William I would have done.
Henry looked to his brother, William II, and not his father, for inspiration. William II grew deathly ill a decade earlier and issued a charter of liberties. William hoped to keep the nobility at bay while he lay on his death bed. The charter gave the king time to recover and he jettisoned it when his health returned. Henry decided to follow suit and negotiated with the leading figures in the nobility.
Henry’s Charter of Liberties limited the monarch’s power and made him subject to the law. It included fourteen provisions designed to protect the upper classes against encroachments by the king. The charter also sought to prevent the king from repeating William I’s transgressions against church and private property. Additionally, it protected the right of inheritance, marriage rights, some civil and criminal rights, provided debt forgiveness, and the right to trial.
The Charter of Liberties in 1100 combined with other royal actions designed to turn back William II’s abuses mollified the nobles. They believed they achieved a great victory with the charter and Henry I’s behavior. However, the king ignored the charter and managed to increase the monarchy’s power. He created the office of Exchequer to curb royal tax abuses. Instead, it increased his ability to tax and control people.
Although Henry I ignored the Charter of Liberties and increased royal power through the proverbial backdoor, his document set precedent. It inspired the Magna Carta in 1215. The Magna Carta eventually set the stage for the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and U.S. Constitution in 1789. Medieval English kings ignored the rights of the nobles and peasants, but set the stage for the monarchy’s demise in the modern era.