About six years before King John reluctantly signed ‘Magna Carta’ in 1215, some of those who made him sign it had already begun enacting its principles of liberty and honest government up in Yorkshire.
THE wapentake of Langbaurgh, an area of modern-day Cleveland south of Middlesbrough, was granted by King John to Peter de Brus, Lord of Skelton, in 1207.* Naturally, Peter was expected to pay rent to the Crown, a burden which was passed on to his tenants.
The following year, John’s exchequer began to squeeze Peter and other barons for every penny due, and Peter, who owed a rising debt of over £1200, found he needed his tenants’ goodwill as never before.*
They gathered in the County Court, watched by Robert de Lacy, Sheriff of Yorkshire, and other noblemen, and agreed to help Peter meet the King’s extortionate demands.
In exchange, Peter promised swift, even-handed justice in the courts, proportionate sentencing, and government officials who did not abuse their expense accounts.
Many of the high-born witnesses to the Langbaurgh Charter rebelled against the King in 1215, as did Peter himself, and two were among the committee of twenty-five tasked with enforcing Magna Carta.
* The word ‘wapentake’ was a Danish term used in northern England as an equivalent for the Anglo-Saxon ‘Hundred’, that is, a subdivision of a county. Langbaurgh is pronounced ‘lang-barf’.
The Text of the Charter
Read the text at Our Lady of Guisborough.