I am a student of history, and I love English history. I recently spent time reading about Thomas a Beckett and Henry II. It was fascinating and possibly a new blog at some point. But today’s blog is about the Magna Carta (Latin for Magnificient Charter). It was called that because it was such a long document. What you may not know is that there existed major parts of the document which we will discuss as four parts. Historians broke it down into the four sections. I am going to list those four sections here. They were very succinct.
As some of you may remember from your History books, the meeting at Runnymede Field was not just attended by the nobles, but also by the wealthy merchants who were paying for King John’s incompetence through high taxes. They were as taxed as the nobles. Runnymede was fifteen miles from the main castle of the King. Just as a way of showing how incompetent he was, I have to mention that he was running from his brother, and he took the original Crown Jewels. This included the crown itself, which had been in the family since William the Conquerer, and the jewels fell into the Thames River at its deepest part. They were never recovered and have been covered by silt for centuries. The current crown of Queen Elizabeth is not the original.
Runnymede is preserved as it was at the time, to allow the field to be as it is currently and show how desperate the King had become. It is important to history and to the average person for four major reasons.
- The way in which the document was gathered and signed was significant. The major points were not given willingly or freely. They were coerced from the incompetent king, King John. He was probably the least effective king in English history. King Richard the Third was, albeit not for Shakespeare, incredibly good comparitively. These proposals were forced by the most active people, acting in a united fashion. They were not going to dismiss their weighted concerns. The document was signed and it showed, incredibly, that if the King did not rule as the people wished, he could be made to do so. That term in the contract made John decide to ignore this part of the Magna Carta in the future. He was not allowed to ignore it by the people who forced him to accept the giveaway.
- It kept feudal “principles of government” from being superseded by the principles of an absolute monarch. John had been an absolute monarch in his early reign. He could give them good government if he in turn gave them good service. It was believed, rightly, that the King had no right to break this contract. It showed that the tenants had the right and power to limit the King and his account.
- The Magna Carta was bound to be a disappointment. It did not form a new government, but, instead, was nothing as much as it was a return to old customs. Many of the provisions were insignificant and temporary. It protected the right of the prisoner, in much the same way as the least important of us are now protected from tyranny. It literally said, “To no one will we sell, and to no one will we deny or delay right of justice.” (Magna Carta) In the future, in our time, these obstructions would form the rights in our own Constitution. Prisoners of the time, and currently, are still protected by the law.
- It was a definitive statement of the “rights to refer.” (Edward Cheyney; the History of England). King John scoffed at the rules and declared that he did not intend to keep these rights. However, the people and the Pope convinced him that the days of Henry I, II, and King Richard had passed. It sufficed as a clear promise of good government. King John would have to live with it, as would each successive monarch, including those sitting on the throne of Britain today. Students of English history, and those of us who are relatively uneducated in the ways of the Magna Carta live with it tenets everyday. Pope Innocent III had excommunicated the King and left England outside of the protections of the Catholic Church. That was a major reason why the King had burned through his power. An interesting and logical surmise. And it is today’s blog.