Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Magna Carta 800 years later

The Great Charter of 1215 that established the Rule of Law

The Magna Carta
On June 15, 1215 40 barons pressured King John into affixing his seal on The Great Charter (Magna Carta in Latin) at a field in Runnymede, England. This document placed the sovereign under the rule of law and established this principle among English speaking peoples. The Nobles had risen up against the King and through peace negotiations sought this limitation of royal power in response to King John arbitrarily seizing properties and holding nobles hostage in order to raise funds in a failed attempt to take Normandy from the French. The document was originally written in Latin, then translated into French and finally into English.

The U.S. Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights were directly influenced by this document. A full English translation is available online and below are some key excerpts still relevant in today's British law that resonate the world over:
(1) FIRST, THAT WE HAVE GRANTED TO GOD, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired. That we wish this so to be observed, appears from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak of the present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by charter the freedom of the Church's elections - a right reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance to it - and caused this to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III. This freedom we shall observe ourselves, and desire to be observed in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity.  TO ALL FREE MEN OF OUR KINGDOM we have also granted, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs: 

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
King John had no intention of honoring the Magna Carta but thanks to the work of religious scribes, copies of the document were made and distributed. However, the King appealed to Pope Innocent III who nullified the agreement three weeks later. The Great Charter was issued in 1216 after King John's death by King Henry III. It was not called Magna Carta until 1217 when it was part of a peace treaty agreed at Lambeth. Eight hundred years later the world returns to reflect on what took place at a field in Runnymede where the King sat down with Barons and sealed a charter that would change the course of history.

It is a day also to be dreaded by anyone in a position of power who abuses his authority, of tyrants both petty and grand around the globe because it is a day to reflect on the idea that no one is above the law and that everyone has rights. These principles established among English speaking peoples on June 15, 2015 that today extends to between a fourth and third of humankind living on the planet remains relevant giving hope to the oppressed and worry to the oppressors.

Friends of freedom tomorrow is a day to give a toast in celebration of the 800th anniversary of this important charter of liberty and to our British cousins who brought it into existence while at the same time studying this document and the continuing struggle to preserve our freedoms and extend them where and when possible.

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