Magna Charta in British Society

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MAGNA CHARTA LIBERTATUM …

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… MORE THAN SIMPLE HISTORY!

A work of Samuele Bertolin

The aim of this paper is to analyze the importance of Magna Carta Libertatum for England and Europe. We will have a look at the historical contest that led to the issue of this document, its main characteristics, its evolutions and modifications all over the years. Then, we will consider the significance it has this document for the modern society.

The historical contexts we will analyze in which Magna Carta is most relevant are:

- The XIII century (King John Lackland and the issue of Magna Carta; King Henry III and the definitive version of the Chart)

- The XVII century (The revolutions that put an end to absolute monarchy)

Then, we will talk about the influence it has had in the formation of modern society considering its revolutionary strokes.

MAGNA CHARTA LIBERTATUM IN THE XIII CENTURY

THE ISSUE

After King Richard the Lionheart’s death (6 April 1199), the crown was inherited by his brother, John “Lackland” Plantagenet. He was known as “Lackland” because, in 1214 after Bouvines’ battle, he lost his possessions in France.

Under the rule of John, the situation in England was disastrous. The heavy taxes to finance unsuccessful wars and the abuse of royal and feudal privileges were the origin of the barons’ revolt against the royal authority. They created and sent to the king a list of demands. The king’s rejection made the barons broke the oath of obedience and march to London, forcing the king to come to terms with them.

The king met the barons at Runnymede’s Moore and signed a document called Magna Carta Libertatum.

That day, 15th June 1215, was the beginning of a new process of changes for England and, some years later, for Europe too.

The Magna Carta guaranteed the observance by the king of feudal customs with regard to his vassals, barons and knights. It prevented the king from collecting subsidies from the feudal lords without their consent. It eliminated the king’s right to interfere in the jurisdiction of the feudal courts and established an assembly of 25 barons who, in case of a violation of the charter by the king, could start a war against him.

In 1216 and 1217 were added a few modifications. The first version was the most radical. The later versions progressively appeased the conflict between the monarch and his barons.

THE ORIGINAL VERSION (1215)

The original charter was written in Latin in 1215 and was a relatively brief and vague document of 63 clauses, many of which had only a marginal significance. There were provisions guaranteeing the freedom of the Church, special customs for cities, in particular for London and its markets.

The most known and significant points of the chart were:

- No freeman could be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, exiled or condemned without a fair trial;

- The rights and the liberties of the Church of England were inviolable;

- Taxation was reasonably limited;

- Protection of private property;

- The power of sheriffs was restricted;

- The liberties of the boroughs were confirmed.

A lot of people thought that these clauses (not only the ones mentioned above) could be a benefit for the population. Magna Carta was the first formal document insisting that the sovereign was as much under the rule of law as his people, and that the rights of individuals were to be upheld even against the wishes of the sovereign. It seemed to be the promise of a collective wellbeing but, in fact, it wasn't.

Magna Carta was a guarantee for the rights of the nobility. In fact the traditional claims of the aristocracy were put in writing and the king could not oppose them.

King John rebelled and appealed to the Pope Innocent III, who cancelled the charter in August 1215 declaring it “as unlawful and unjust as it is base and shameful”. Only a few weeks after its issue, Magna Carta was only a...
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