The legend of Robin Hood rose out of the chaos of the reign of King John of England, during the early thirteenth century.  Upon the death of Henry II in 1189, his third son, Richard who would be known as the Lionheart, awarded lands to his brother John, including those of Sherwood Forest.

Richard and John feuded during Richard’s reign and the feud continued with Richard’s regent while he was on crusade.  Due to the extravagant lifestyle of John and the court, the cost of Richard’s participation in the Third Crusade, the ransom paid for his release from Duke Leopold of Austria, and Richard’s continual struggle to regain lands lost in France, the royal coffers were bare.  John, the fourth son of King Henry II, became king upon the death of Richard the Lionheart in 1199.  Richard had spent less than six months on English soil as its king.

John’s continuous demands for money and his failed invasion in Normandy in 1209 contributed to the English nobles uniting against him.  As part of the negotiations to avert civil war, John agreed to the provisions contained in the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede on June 15, 1215.  The document was the first instance where the king of England agreed to be subject to the laws of the land.  Although not originally proposed as a bill of rights for the common man, two of its provisions became so with time and were reflected in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution–

  • No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions … except by the lawful judgement of his peers.
  • To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

A copy of the Magna Carta (c. 1297)  is on display at the National Archives;  click here for a translated copy.  The British National Archives has a copy dated 1225, signed by Henry III.

For more about the Magna Carta, see:

The Magna Carta Manifesto:  Liberty and Commons for All, by Peter Linebaugh

A March of Liberty:  A Constitutional History of the United States, by Marvin Urofsky and Paul Finkelman