Magna Carta, the facts, myths and legends briefly

by Veronica

While the celebrations of the 800th anniversary had many cheering from the rooftops, I had a rather different view of the myths surrounding this supposedly iconic charter.

Apart from seeing a Prime Minister spout on about democracy, this a Prime Minister who wants to repeal the Human Rights Act, it was the sight of a child saying he can go to school today because of Magna Carta, that turned my stomach. The child had obviously been told to say this. Magna Carta has nothing whatsoever to do with children going to school today . It has nothing to do with democracy . The Barons would have been absolutely appalled at the idea that 800 years later Magna Carta was being used to help "the lowest in society " take their place and have rights. The clauses of Magna Carta have nothing to do with equality and democracy. The ideas that it was an ancient right of protection is the stuff of myth and legend. It is quite incorrectly seen as a symbol of liberty. It wasn't.

Magna Carta
Magna Carta
American freedom alliance
King John's seal
King John's seal
Wikipedia

Magna Carta

the facts, myths and legends briefly

Apart from seeing a Prime Minister spout on about democracy,  this a Prime Minister who wants to repeal the Human Rights Act,  it was the sight of a child saying he can go to school today because of Magna Carta, so infuriated me. The child had obviously been told to say this.  Magna Carta has nothing whatsoever  to do with children going to school today . It has nothing to do with democracy . The Barons would have been absolutely appalled at the idea that 800 years later Magna Carta was being used to help  "the lowest  in society " take their place and have rights. The clauses of Magna Carta have nothing to do with equality and democracy. The ideas that it was an ancient right of protection is the stuff of myth and legend.  It is quite incorrectly seen as a symbol of liberty. It wasn't. 

Magna Carta was an agreement between the King, Church and Barons that secured the rights of first and foremost the Church and then the Barons. Indeed the first and last clauses concern the rights of the Church. What is little known is that indeed,  King John had scrapped Magna Carta within a few weeks of it being sealed. He had not in fact signed it.  It was sealed.

Background to the Magna Carta

John's father King Henry 11 had tried to set up legal and administrative systems in England that would make for smooth government but a feuding family, his son King Richard's expensive Crusade campaigns had left the country in a poor shape financially. John was a good administrator and built up the finances of the land very well, largely through impositions placed on the Church and Barons. This made him very unpopular and he became even more so when he lost his inherited French lands to France.  He spent several years trying to regain them, lost the money and taxed the Barons further so upon his return to England was facing a rebellion. The Church and the Barons were ready for confrontation. The rights of the poor had nothing to do with the confrontation. The Barons were in this for themselves as was the Church.

Events and consequences

John met the Barons and Church leaders at Runneymede near Windsor in June 1215 and after a few days had thrashed out details which protected the Barons and Church from excessive taxation, imprisonment and set out the rights of Church, Barons and Freemen. Serfs and peasants who accounted for much of the population, were totally excluded.  It promised to protect church rights, protect for the Barons from illegal imprisonment, give Barons access to swift justice, and limit payments to the Crown.

Within weeks John had appealed to the Pope  saying that Magna Carta compromised the Pope's rights and had Magna Carta overturned. It was issued and reissued many times over the next decades.

Most of the clauses in Magna Carta are obsolete today. The clauses have no bearing on 21st Century life and it is good that some certainly no longer apply, such as Clause 11 which states that if anyone dies in debt to a Jew, the Jew doesn't have to be repaid. Laws of liberty and democracy have superseded Magna Carta.

Nowhere in Magna Carta is democracy mentioned. But its clauses have been adapted into many national constitutions  and it is held in reverence as the role model for a constitution, The American Bill of Rights for one.  Magna Carta was a temporary peace agreement between King, Church and Barons.

It was never intended to be a symbol of democracy and equality.

 

Do you see Magna Carta as a symbol of democracy ?

Updated: 08/21/2015, Veronica
 
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sheilamarie on 07/09/2015

The Magna Carta is usually thought of in a symbolic way, as others have said. It's helpful to examine what was actually written without losing its symbolic significance. Thanks for clarifying.

frankbeswick on 07/04/2015

Whether we as,citizens wish to celebrate iMagna Carta is one thing; whether it is worth celebrating is another.

I think that people took it up and declared their support for it because it promoted the values that would eventually give rise to democracy.

Veronica on 07/04/2015

But the " celebrations" were an 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta not what it came to mean. And Magna Carta was certainly nothing to celebrate.

frankbeswick on 07/04/2015

We have t o differentiate between what Magna Carta meant and what it came to mean as it was used. Veronica is right about the historic meaning, which was quite limited. But the document became a potent symbol, invested with the hopes of many that life could be lived under just laws that bound the authorities. But remember, there are people today who see it as a burden. A quote from a left wing socialist whom I had the misfortune to know, "Why do you need to have committed a crime to be arrested?" He had the vision of a future in which disagreement with his views merited arrest; and he was and is not alone. The price of liberty is constant vigilance against such people.

blackspanielgallery on 07/04/2015

Excellent work. You are indeed up n English history.

Veronica on 07/04/2015

David thank you.

You are right ; it has been invoked by many fighting against government oppression. Maybe this is a good thing if it helps a cause for liberty. It's just unfortunate that "imprisonment of an individual without due process" actually referred to the Church and Barons only.

DavidPaulWagner on 07/04/2015

Thanks for this article showing the historical truth about the Magna Carta. Yet it has been argued that "this medieval peace settlement was reinvented as a potent symbol of liberty and justice" (Alexander Lock). The myth arose about an imaginary English liberty, under which in Anglo-Saxon common law since the Magna Carta the government, as represented by a monarch, could not imprison an individual without due process. This myth was repeatedly invoked in the 18th and 19th centuries by many fighting for parliamentary reform and by radicals fighting oppressive government.

Veronica on 07/01/2015

Ty so much. It is unfortunate that Magna Carta is seen as being important in the fight for democracy. It certainly wasn't instrumental in providing education for the masses. Time seems to sweep over these aspects of Magna Carta.

Mira on 07/01/2015

Interesting points. Welcome to Wizzley, Veronica! :) Note that you don't have to repeat the introductory paragraph. I don't think Google likes it :)

Veronica on 06/16/2015

Thank you Lybrah for your kind words of encouragement. Time has a way of covering over facts in a romanticised way and I just felt the need to set the record straight and make Magna Carta more factually correct.


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