Visit The Magna Carta Project website for more on Magna Carta and King John.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

799 Years On

Pine's engraving of Magna Carta 1215
‘King John was trying to suffocate Magna Carta at birth and he had good reasons for doing so. One, perhaps, only impinged slightly on the fringes of his thought. Hitherto, if civil wars had been fought for any positive end, they had been fought on behalf of an individual, a Robert Curthose or a young King Henry, or in the interests of the participants in seeking land, office, and power. Now a civil war was being fought for a cause, a programme, not for one individual or even several, but for a document, a simple piece of parchment. The rebellion which King John faced was thus quite novel. It was the first of a long line which led through the Provisions of 1258-9 and the Ordinance of 1311 down to the Grand Remonstrance of 1641. Of all these Magna Carta was the ancestor and was so recognized by its progeny...

The men who were responsible for the Great Charter of 1215 asserted one great principle. In their view the realm was more than a geographic or administrative unit. It was a community. As such, it was capable of possessing rights and liberties. Magna Carta was indeed a statement of these rights and liberties, which could be asserted against any member of the community, even and especially against the King. The durability of Magna Carta is to be explained by the general utility of this central concept. Once it was established, the rights it subsumed could be expanded, amended, and further defined. Judgement by peers could become trial by jury. Per legem terrae could become due process of law. That the constitutional history of England has been in Stubb’s words ‘a commentary on this charter’, was a result of the Promethean quality of the Act of 1215.’ (J. C. Holt, The Northerners (1961))

No comments:

Post a Comment