The UK is celebrating the 800th birthday of Magna Carta this weekend - with even an amusing Google doodle popping up to show how the barons and bishops foiled King John - but why is the document so important?
Magna Carta, or to give it its English name, the Great Charter, is a weighty written agreement sealed by King John, the younger brother of Richard the Lionheart, in 1215. It is still held up as the foundation of the legal and constitutional framework for the UK despite being completed 800 years ago.
Four copies of the original document exist today but it’d be hard to decipher for the average reader, as its 63 clauses are written in Latin. It is thought that there were more than 13 copies at the time of its creation, which were sent out across the country to lay down taxation laws, among others.
The Magna Carta was, historians say, written up after King John faced a rebellion from a group, led by Essex landowner Robert Fitzwalter, who were unhappy about high taxes levied to pay for continuous and disastrous wars in France, and John's misuse of the justice system to collect them. They arrived in London and forced the king to bargain with them at Runnymede on the Thames. No surprise then that the King wanted to quash the distribution of the charter.
War broke out as the book landed in different hands across the country, and the King even managed to get the Pope to rule the Great Charter invalid. The monarch died the year after and unfortunately for him, his son saw that a version was re-issued.
To this day, three of the 60 clauses remain valid. One of those is a clause right at the heart of the Charter. It states that no free man should be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights or outlawed or exiled except by the judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. This laid down the foundations for the British legal and political system in place today.
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