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MAGNA CARTA





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The Magna Carta also called The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, is an charter originally issued in Latin. There are four copies believed to date back to 1215, the year that it was sealed by King John. The Magna Carta was one of the most important documents of Medieval England. It was signed (by royal seal) between the feudal barons and King John at Runnymede near Windsor Castle. The document was a series of written promises between the king and his subjects that the king would govern England and deal with its people according to the customs of feudal law.

The Magna Carta was the first document forced onto a King of England by the feudal barons in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights. It was not really intended to be a list of rights for Englishmen or even the barons themselves. It was more like a contract in which John bound himself to abide by its provisions. The barons only wanted King John to satisfy their complaints against his abusive rule, not overthrow the monarchy.

In its original form the Magna Carta consisted of 63 articles or chapters. Many concerned matters of feudal law that were important to the rebel barons, but are of little relevance to us today. Other parts of the Magna Carta corrected King John’s abuses of power against the barons, Church officials, merchants and other “free men” who together made up about 25% of England’s population.

It did not grant any new rights, but it did protect existing rights in writing. These rights included the basic right of anyone convicted of a crime to a jury trial; protection of private property; reasonable limits on taxes and a degree of guaranteed religious freedom. The interests of the common man were hardly apparent in the minds of the men who brokered the agreement.

The real significance of this document lies in the basic idea that a ruler, just like everyone else, is subject to the rule of law. When King John agreed to the Magna Carta, he admitted that the law was above the king’s will, a revolutionary idea in 1215.

The Magna Carta did not generally limit the power of kings in the medieval period, but by the time of the English Civil War it had become an important symbol for those who wished to show that the King was bound by the law.

The charter is widely known throughout the English speaking world as an important part of the protracted historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in England. It set down rights which became part of English law and which are now the foundation of the constitution of all countries which speak English. Many later documents such as the US Constitution were based upon the Magna Carta. It is one of the most celebrated documents in history.

 

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