I have read that medieval England was an outlier in terms of personal freedoms in the middle ages.

Can this be reliably traced to the cultural influence of the Saxons, or the Normans, or anyone else?

For example, is there any historical evidence that the Saxons or the Normans were unusually respectful of their personal freedoms, compared to all other European peoples?

To clarify, I'm wondering where the English got the idea that they could have such freedoms in medieval Europe in the first place. Far from all nobles vs monarch conflicts resulted in the codification of individual freedoms. Most, methinks, just replaced one monarch with another.

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    Source and... what period? – John Dee Sep 18 '17 at 0:26
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    Where did you read that? I've seen people argue the English were unusually blessed with personal freedoms relative to the Continent by the 18th century, which would be the result of first the English Civil War and later the Glorious Revolution. I don't think you can make the same claim during the Middle Ages. The phrase "city air makes one free" originated in High Medieval Germany, for example. – Semaphore Sep 18 '17 at 6:59
  • @JohnDee citation added; and to be clear, I was referring to the medieval period. Thanks for asking. – user26470 Sep 18 '17 at 8:46
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    @MaxB - A suggestion. Question is unclear (and presumes too much) as written. You are better off researching John Stuart Mill (or Maitland) and his/their contribution to British Liberalism. Otherwise it could easily devolve into a debate on liberty and equality (which is not suitable for history SE). – J Asia Sep 18 '17 at 12:14
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    Lol @ that joke citation. So you read Tom Au's answer then went back in time to write this question? Not that Tom Au has claimed or demonstrated that Medieval England was in fact "an outlier in terms of personal freedoms", though. – Semaphore Sep 19 '17 at 8:12

A lot had to do with King John of England. He was, of course, the King who signed the Magna Carta with his nobles in 1215, a year before his death. This occurred because of King John's misadventures trying to rule both England and part of modern France, and the resulting difficulties he had with his (English) nobles (including clergymen).

The Magna Carta went far beyond e.g. the 14th century Golden Bull of the Holy Roman Empire (which guaranteed noble and church representation in government). The Magna Carta protected nobles personally, not just governmentally, against arbitrary taxation and feudal levies, and illegal imprisonment and sentencing without trial by jury.

On the other hand, the Golden Bull of Hungary in the 13th century perhaps gave too much freedom and power to the nobles. This protected the nobles against the king or queen, but allowed them to oppress the common people. By accident or otherwise, King John, whatever his other faults, managed to strike just the right balance, as discussed in the next paragraph.

Ironically, King John championed the cause of (free) "common" men against the nobles. Some of his policies against the nobles were a milder version of the "Reductions" (of noble land and power) undertaken successfully by Swedish kings in the 17th and 18th centuries. John also made it possible for "freemen" to sue the nobles and win, setting important precedents in "case" law from cases that he personally decided. ("The enemy of my enemy is my friend.") Thus, he offered common people a measure of protection from nobles (unlike the case in e.g. France) even as his signature on the Magna Carta put limits on his own royal power vis-a-vis the nobles.

The Magna Carta was reaffirmed, if modified, during the reign of his infant son Henry III, and it is this "modified" form that has remained in force. King John started his family late in life, which may have offered another important advantage to the nobles.

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    Germany and Hungary had golden Bulls. – John Dee Sep 18 '17 at 1:12
  • My initial reaction was to downvote this, as being far too simple an explanation. However after reading up on the Golden Bulls of Germany and Hungary (noted by @John Dee), I realized that the influence of King John extended beyond the simple fact of Magna Carta. An answer worthy of an upvote, though, would have to contrast the different precedents, and thus consequences, of King John's full legacy, against the corresponding and approximately contemporaneous happenings in elsewhere in Europe. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 18 '17 at 1:49
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    @PieterGeerkens: Added 2 1/2 new paragraphs to address your comments. Thanks for your help. – Tom Au Sep 18 '17 at 5:25
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    @TomAu - Magna Carta in this answer sounds perfect. It wasn't. It did establish rule of law but in other ways highly discriminatory of the unfree peasants & women. It was good for the nobility (because they drafted it). By the way, there were 3 charters, 1215 was the first. So, from this perspective, I'd say this answer is not correct. – J Asia Sep 18 '17 at 6:42
  • @JAsia: I believe that the answer is correct for the question. The question was not why was England "free" but rather "freER" than other countries (at about the same time.) And I said that the 1215 charter was subsequently modified. But King John started the process. And giving rights to "free " men and not "unfree" men was big step forward for its time. In the United States, we didn't abolish the distinction between "free" and "unfree" people until 1865, de jure, and about 1965, de facto. Nor did we even give women the right to vote until the 1920s. – Tom Au Sep 18 '17 at 7:18

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