The Magna Carta
The Magna Carta was a major step in the evolution of democratic government. It set a precedent for many other governmental constitutions to come. Issued by King John on June 15th, 1212, the Great Charter gave written recognition to the concept that the monarch’s power should be limited instead of an absolute power (Speilvogel p285). The document also guaranteed the freedom of the church and that the king could not intervene on baronial privileges. The creation of the Magna Carta was spurred by series of numerous events.
The Conflict with the barons began long before King John was in power. Almost one century before, his great grandfather, King Henry I, received a proposal similar to the Magna Carta. Henry made no effort to reconcile with the barons. The heavy taxation and the constant encroachments of royal justice aroused a rebellious feeling among the barons (Catholic Encyclopedia). By the time John claimed the throne in 1203 the hostilities had fortified. King John didn’t do anything to settle the baron’s aggression. In fact he made situations worse.
During the early part of John’s reign the loss of the greater part of his French conquest discredited him and led to constant demands for money. John continued to discredit his reign by refusing to accept the Pope’s political appointment and rapidly becoming a money hungry tyrant. His political power as well as his popularity began to deteriorate. John’s greed led him to demand more action in France and enforce a heavier tax on the barons. Not tolerating anymore of the king’s attempts to take away their freedoms, the barons started their first rebellion in 1212 (Magna Carter). John was able to thwart them with ease this time but he wasn’t able to hold them off for long.
In June 1215 John was reluctantly forced to deal with his rebellious barons, also called the Army of God and Holy Church on the field of Runnymede (Catholic Encyclopedia). Seeing that he was backed into a corner, John gave way on nearly every point suggested by the barons. Then he approved and sealed what was really a peace treaty that would grant many liberties, the Magna Carta. Signing the Magna Carta placed himself and England’s future sovereigns and magistrates within the rule of the law (National Archives and Records Administration).
Immediately following the acceptance of the Charter, King John acted as though he were going to obey the new contract. By the end of the summer John had displayed no intention in following through (Adams p140). The barons realized that if they wanted John to comply to the Charter, they were going to need some drastic measures. Civil War soon began again. This time John didn’t surrender so easily. He was stronger now and he was able to fend of the barons once again. The baron’s loss would have caused great turmoil to the Magna Carta if it weren’t for King John’s sudden death in November of 1216. Under the rule of Henry III the Magna Carta was reissued again.
What made the Magna Carta an important historical document is its more general chapters which defined rights and liberties. Of the sixty-three clauses the largest class is that dealing directly with the unjust acts bestowed upon the baronage, protecting widows and heirs from the king and Jewish creditors, and protecting the rights of the barons over the monasteries (Catholic Encyclopedia). It not only settled hostilities taken place during the 13th century but it set standards for future constitutions. Some people may criticize the Magna Carta, saying that it was behind the times, a reactionary approach to settling a dispute. Some may also say that it is one-sided and selfish of the creators. These were just some of the attributes that, with a few revisions, would become the basis of a government. One so admired that when the representatives of the United States gathered to draft a constitution, they used the Magna Carta as an excellent example of the way they wanted their document to transpire.
2. Catholic Encyclopedia.
4. Magna Carta. National Archives and Records Administration
5. Magna Carta