History for the Rest of Us

Magna Carta

Magna Carta

Nov 6, 2012

The Magna Carta was originally issued in 1215. It was the first document forced on a King of England by his subjects. The original charter contained a section now known as clause 61. This section gave a committee of 25 barons the right to overrule the King’s will, if he defied the provisions of the Charter. It also gave the barons the ability to seize the king’s castles and possessions if they deemed it necessary. This idea had roots in a medieval legal practice known as distraint. This was, however, the first time it had been applied to a monarch. The charter also assured that a “freeman” would be punished only through the law of the land and not arbitrarily. John’s authority as a ruling monarch was directly challenged by clause 61, and he renounced it as soon as the barons left London; Pope Innocent III declared that it impaired John’s dignity, and annulled the document as a “shameful and demeaning agreement, forced upon the King by violence and fear.” He also viewed it as an affront to the Church’s authority over not only the King, but also over the ‘papal territories’ of England and Ireland. Realizing that King John would not be restrained by the Magna Carta, the rebels sought a new King and England plunged into a civil war (the First Barons’ War). Viewing the original Magna Carta as a failure in its objective to achieve peace or restrain John, the barons even offered the throne to Prince Louis of France. The original Magna Carta was legally valid for no more than three months. It was only the death of King John in 1216 that secured the future of the document, which was passed into law in 1225. Lord Denning, famed British lawyer and judge, described the Magna Carta as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”. The Magna Carta was inspiration for United States Constitution as well as other constitutional documents. THE MAGNA CARTA 1215 JOHN, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of...