The Provisions of Oxford are significant to the formation of the modern British state for a number of reasons. Among these are the facts that they refined the principles contained in the Magna Carta, limited royal authority and began the Anglicisation of English government. What follows is a brief explanation of the main political factors that brought about the Provisions.
The Magna Carta
As an earlier attempt to provide structure for law and order in England, the Magna Carta (Latin for ‘the Great Charter’) formed an opportunity to broker peace between King John of England and a group of rebellious barons. It was drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and agreed to by the King in Runnymede near Windsor on 15 June 1215.
Protection of Rights
The charter attempted to provide protection of Church rights, defence for the barons from illegal imprisonment, faster access to justice and it placed a limit on feudal payments demanded by the crown. The charter was to be implemented by 25 barons who formed a council for its administration. None of the parties delivered on their commitments, which led to Pope Innocent III to annul the charter, resulting in the First Baron’s War.
Simon de Montford Leads the Barons
The leader of a powerful group of barons was Simon de Montford — the 6th Earl of Leicester — who wanted to force Henry III to embrace a new form of governance. The number of writs being issued for legal action had grown to such a point during Henry II’s rampaging reign (1154 – 1189) that a system to redress this was greatly needed and helped to establish the conditions that spawned the Provisions of Oxford in 1258. The Provisions of Oxford are often regarded as England’s first written constitution.
Structure of Governance
The form of the government was chosen by a council consisting of 12 members installed by the barons and 12 members by the crown. This group of 24 men selected 4 people who in turn were tasked with creating a Privy Council with 15 members who would administer everything. They oversaw ministerial appointments, took care of local issues and held custody over the Royal Castles. Parliament met three times a year and had the role of assessing the performance of the Privy Council.
Latin, French and Middle English
Confirmation of the Provisions of Oxford was sent to all English sheriffs in Latin, French and Middle English. The fact that English was used at all reflected the Anglicisation of the government and formed an antidote to the dominance of the French over the previous two centuries. The Provisions formed the first government documents in English since the Norman Conquest.
The Provisions of Oxford were a major influence on the development of a future common law system across England. The 1258 Provisions were replaced in 1259 by the Provisions of Westminster, but these were overthrown by Henry III to seed the foundations for the Second Barons’ War of 1263-67.