Wednesday, June 15, 2011

magna carta



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Today is the anniversary of the day King John of England placed his seal on the Magna Carta, granting basic liberties to his subjects. He wasn't the first English king to grant a charter, but he was the first to have it forced on him by his barons. He had taxed the Church and the barons heavily to fund the Third Crusade, defend his holdings in Normandy, and pay for unsuccessful wars, and England was on the brink of civil war. The charter limited the monarchy's absolute power and paved the way for the formation of Parliament, and it is the nearest thing to a "Bill of Rights" that Britain has ever had. It guaranteed, among other things, that 

"No free man shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or deprived of his property, or outlawed, or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor shall we go against him or send against him, unless by legal judgement of his peers, or by the law of the land."

Of course, John had no intention of upholding the document, and it was repealed almost immediately on the grounds that he gave his seal under duress. But the idea had taken root, and through a succession of subsequent charters, it became the basis for the British legal system and, in turn, the legal systems of most of the world's democracies. Parts of the United States Constitution were lifted directly from the Magna Carta, and it is so central to our own idea of law that the American Bar Association erected a monument at the meadow of Runnymede. The yew tree, under which the signing is believed to have taken place, still stands.



Alive today, the yew tree at Runnymede has lived over 2,000 years.

with thanks to writers almanac





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