The Magna Carta just celebrated its 800th birthday. On June 15, AD 1215, at Runnymede, a contingent of barons and lords presented King John of England a great charter (Latin: magna carta) guaranteeing certain rights to the people, outlining certain legal procedures, and detailing the ways in which the king could act towards the Church and the people according to and under the law.
Here are 12 interesting things about the Magna Carta:
- It began with God: “Know that, having regard to God and for the salvation of our soul, and those of all our ancestors and heirs, and unto the honor of God and the advancement of his holy Church and for the rectifying of our realm, we have granted as underwritten by advice of our venerable fathers, Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England and cardinal of the holy Roman Church…”
- There were originally 63 clauses contained in the document. Only three remain in force in modern British law in some form.
- It was not always called the “Magna Carta.” Before the version that is most known appeared in 1225, it was simply called the “Charter of Runnymede,” from where it was signed.
- It was meant to check the power of the king against tyrannical rule over his subjects and protect the rights of the common man. It put the king under the law.
- John left the barons no choice but to use violence because he would not accede to their requests. They made him affix the Magna Carta with his seal.
- King John did not like this and complained to Pope Innocent III about the charter. Hearing that John was loyal to the Holy See and a wise ruler, the pope nullified the document only months after it was signed. This was not because of what it guaranteed the people, but because it was obtained by violence.
- Both John and Innocent died in 1216 as a war ensued because of the nullification. As part of a peace treaty, it was again confirmed that year, once more in 1217, and finally in the form most are familiar with in 1225.
- It is widely thought that Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, contributed a majority of the original charter.
- It can be considered as a statement of the rights and privileges gained over the previous centuries prior to its existence that had recently been violated by the king.
- In clause 39, an early form of due process and trial by jury can be seen as it states, “No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseized or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”
- It did something for the women of the time, at least for widows. In clauses 7 and 8 it stated that: “A widow, after the death of her husband, shall forthwith and without difficulty have her marriage portion and inheritance…” and “No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she prefers to live without a husband; provided always that she gives security not to marry without our consent, if she holds of us, or without the consent of the lord of whom she holds, if she holds of another.”
- The original was written in Latin, not in English, and was a little over 4,000 words long.
Why the Magna Carta Still Matters
The Magna Carta remains important for the template it provided for the eventual form of modern democratic government under the law, limiting what those in authority can reasonably do to the citizenry. Authorities do not have carte blanche to act however they see fit. The Great Charter serves as an example and model to strive towards and reclaim, even 800 years after it was written. It guaranteed certain rights and privileges to the people that were inherently theirs; it served as the example for later charters and constitutions, including the US Constitution; it serves as a template moving forward from this modern obsession with the all-powerful state into a more just society, truly limiting rule and protecting true freedom and liberty; and it provided, and still provides, a template for differing parties to come together to ratify what is truly right.
This cannot be accomplished only of our own volition. Acknowledging all that we have is from God and drawing from the graces in which He provides is the only way to have a truly just society and ensure we remain on the right path. Only in and under God is true freedom found and true liberty enjoyed.
Happy Birthday Magna Carta! Check it out for yourself in honor of its 800 birthday.
https://www.constitution.org/eng/magnacar.htm (Quotes of the Magna Carta in the text above taken from this site.)