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800 years of the Magna Carta

Updated on August 21, 2014
TessSchlesinger profile image

Globetrotter, author, and thinker with interests in environment, minimalism, health, dancing, architecture, décor, politics, and science.

One of the clauses from the Magna Carta
One of the clauses from the Magna Carta | Source

Eight hundred years of the Magna Carta

I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of the Magna Carta, but on June, 15th, 2015, it will be 800 years since, arguably, the most important document for mankind was written. The British Parliament was established as a result of Magna Carta. The ideas of the Magna Carta inspired the French Revolution. And Thomas Jefferson used it as a reason to create a new country in 1776.

What the Magna Carta said

The Magna Carta comprised two parts – The Charter of Liberties and the Charter of Forests. The Charter of Liberties made it law that people were innocent until proven guilty. It also limited the power of kings and other people who were in a position to have influence over others. The Charter of Forests made it illegal for all land to be owned by nobles. That was because the common people used the forest to hunt, to pick berries, and to use it for materials like wood to make furniture, ploughs, carriages, etc

How the Magna Carta has protected the common man (up until recently).

There are sixty three clauses to the Magna Carta, each one of them dealing with a different issue. The main ones are:

The first women’s rights were established in Clauses seven and eight. This meant that if a husband died, the women had forty days to leave the house, and she could also take her dowry with her so that she had something with which to survive.

Clauses thirty and thirty one forbid the king (the state) from taking any land or property from the individual for any reason.

Clauses thirty five through forty make it a requirement that those who administer law have the knowledge to do so. They also established that one was innocent until proven guilty and introduced a jury system. For the first time, there had to be evidence provided in order to prove someone guilty.

Clause sixty one appointed the barons of England to watch to see that the king was doing the right thing. If he wasn’t, then the barons were empowered to size ‘castles, lands, and possessions’ (4) until he ‘amended his ways.’

If you look under soures, you will find a link that leads to the full sixty three links to the full sixty three clauses.

For an excellent modern interpretation of what these various clauses mean, click here.

Clause 8 of the Magna Carta
Clause 8 of the Magna Carta | Source

The Charter of the Forests November 6, 1217.

The Charter of Forests was an addition to the Magna Carta and became part of it in 1297. It recognized that if nobles and kings (insert rich men) owned all the land, then poor men had nowhere to hunt for food, nowhere to find material for their furniture and tools, and nowhere to sleep if they didn’t have a home. Thus the concept of common land and common ownership was established. If you read through the sixty three clauses, you will see clauses where it speaks of the king ‘disafforesting’ the land. This means that he no longer had personal ownership of the forests but became the property of the common man.

The Charter of Liberties

The Charter of Liberties (Coronation Charter) was the precursor to the Magna Carta, It detailed how the king would treat nobles and clergy. It was also responsible for exempting the church from taxes, inheritance tax, and for widows to keep land and their dowries.

This replica of the Magna Carta is in the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington.
This replica of the Magna Carta is in the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington. | Source

History of the Magna Carta

I’m going to quote from an introduction I once read because it says it beautifully, “Magna Carta is basically a peace treaty. The barons who forced it on the king were not trying to create a new constitution – it was just that there were some things the king was doing that they needed to stop; it was a charter of liberties, not a charter of liberty; i.e. a charter that enumerated the rights of the aristocracy - and incidentally free men.”

Essentially, English barons were outraged at the way the king taxed them and took their property. So they went to war against him and captured London in 1215. On the 15th June of that year, the king and the barons met to draw up a set of rules that the king would obey. It was created as a charter on June, 19, but it is June 15th that is officially recognized as its anniversary. Later the Royal Forests, in the Charter of Forests, became the people’s forests.

Quote from Noam Chomsky about the Magna Carta
Quote from Noam Chomsky about the Magna Carta | Source

Influence of the Magna Carta

The Magna Carta set about to limit the power of the king in taking for himself anything that he desired. It also set about limiting the power of the king (and others) to kill or imprison anyone that they disagreed with. It was, essentially, the first document that contained the seeds of all modern democracy, be it the British Parliament or the American Constitution.

Sir Robert Worcester, Chairman of the Magna Carta 800th anniversary committee, explains the lasting relevance of the 'Great Charter' in the 21st century

Anniversary of the Magna Carta 2015.

Many events and functions have been arranged internationally to celebrate the writing of the Magna Carta in 2015 - the 800th year of its existence. Without it, we would not have our freedom, the law of Habeus Corpus - innocent until proven guilty - and many other rights. We would also still have Ancien Regime, the right of kings and presidents to do what they will. The precepts of the Magna Carta influenced every single country that eventually went on to embrace the concept of we-the-people.

© 2014 Tessa Schlesinger

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