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The Magna Carta

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Autor:  anton  14 March 2011
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The Magna Carta

The Magna Carta is one of the most influential documents in history and constitutional law. It was the first in a series of documents drafted by rebellious nobles in 13th century England. Their main goal was to force the king to realize that no man, not event the King, is above the law. Certain strains and ideas in the Magna Carta show up in almost every legal constitutional document in the west after 1250. The most notable contributions by far from the Magna Carta the law of Habeas Corpus. The law of habeas corpus states that “No freeman is to be taken or imprisoned or disseised of his free tenement or of his liberties or free customs, or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go against such a man or send against him save by lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land. To no-one will we sell or deny of delay right or justice.” (government archives translation). This is the base of modern law and was included in the Fifth Amendment to the bill of rights in a simpler form “No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law”. (featured document,archives.gove pg1). This was a massive limitation on what royalty was previously allowed to do. Before the Magna Carta the king was allowed to lock up anyone that did not please them. This allowed the peasants and everybody under the King to, for the first time, actually speak out against the King without the constant fear of some form irrational prosecution. Also, in order to maintain a balance of power, the Magna Carta said that a body of 25 barons be created. According to the Magna Carta, these barons would be able to block or over-ride any decision that the king made if they felt it was unjust or unwise. These 25 barons could also confiscate and distribute the goods and lands of the king in order to the country’s debt. This was the first time that power was essentially not actually directly in a king’s hand.

The entire concept of the Magna Carta was new to the time. It essentially removed all power from the king and put the power in the hands of a few privileged nobles. The Magna Carta was the result of a dispute between Pope Innocent III, King John and almost all of England’s barons and nobles. The dispute was about just how much power the king had and whether he was allowed to do what he was doing. English nobles were very unhappy about land being confiscated to pay exorbitant taxes and fine that funded king John’s various military escapades in France. However, nobles were obligated according to feudal law to give up an of their possessions to their liege if their country was in need. In response the nobles appealed to Pope Innocent III. Pope Innocent III confirmed that indeed the king had absolute power and he could confiscate anybody’s assets. The nobles of course were not pleased and they rallied together and decided to by force change the way England worked. They had the support and power to do so as the highest class next to royalty in. So in 1214 a group of earls, barons and nobles met in the Abbey of St Edmund and agreed that they would force king John to seal and accept a charter of liberties later called the Magna Carta Libertatum or “great charter of freedoms” (st. edmundsbury pg1). Finally on June 15 1215 in Runnymede, King John agreed to the charter, and the document received the royal chancellor’s seal. Shortly after authorizing the charter King John contacted the Pope for support. The Pope issued a statement that condemned the Magna Carta with the following words describing it as “as unjust and unlawful as it is base and shameful”. This response along with a formal rejection of all amendments to English law that occurred as a result of the Magna Carta plunged England into a civil war that ended with King John’s sudden death from dysentery in 1216. Johns sudden death left his son and heir Henry III as ruler of England (Hallam, Prescott 14). Henry reissued an altered version of the Magna Carta in 1216 and 1217. The 1225 the last revisions were made to create what became the most famous version of the document. This was the document that completely restated English law and provided the base for modern constitutional law and basic rights.

The Magna Carta was such an important historical influence because it was the first of its kind of documents to be so comprehensive. In its sixty-three clauses the Magna Carta covered every aspect of life. It proposed a standard system of weights and measures, created a system for determining the treatment of widows and heirs and confirmed and outlined all existing church, town and city laws. This sort of complete, total change to a government had never happened before in such a short period of time and it rocked the base of history for many years afterwards. The Magna Carta was a very early rendition of many of the issues of taxation, criminal trial and the extent of rule that every government across the world still struggles with.

Works Cited

Hallam, Elizabeth and Andrew Prescott: The British Inheritance,

University Of California Press: Berkeley and L.A., California

“The Magna Carta”. Feb 22, 2008.US government archives. 2/22/08. <http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/ >.

“Magna Carta in Modern Times”. St Edmundsbury Borough Council. 2/22/08 http://www.stedmundsbury.gov.uk/sebc/visit/mcartamodern.cfm

“Magna Carta Translation” Us National archives and record administration. 2/22/08. <http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/translation >.



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