Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Magna Carta

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Magna Carta

Article excerpt

Magna Carta, introduction by David Carpenter. (New York: Penguin Classics, 2015, Pp. 624. $25.00, paper.)

On 15 June 1215 the course of English history changed. His barons had read the riot act to vastly unpopular King John (reign 1199-1216), curbing his royal power to collect revenues freely and dispense justice without what later was called due process. These provisions were contained in a document of approximately 3,350 Latin words signed at Runnymeade, a brook not far from Windsor. The document, translated into French, then the lingua franca of the land, laid down the fundamentals of the rule of law that would eventually replace law by royal decree. The Magna Carta (Great Charter) was enforceable by a group of twenty-five barons, and by a succession of parliaments. Its basic provision was that "No free man is to be arrested or imprisoned ... or outlawed or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go against him, save by the lawful judgment of his peers or the law of the land" (Article 39). It is easy to over-claim what the document provided, which was essentially a limitation on royal ability to imprison people and confiscate their assets of land, buildings, and money. It did nothing for free speech, women's rights, or freedom of religion. While it curbed the power of various royal agents to privately claim they were acting on the king's behalf, it did nothing to establish a competent independent judiciary.

John was not a cooperative participant in the legal reform process. He was never a popular monarch, and remained a contradictory personality, given to making promises that he never acted on. Neither trusted nor trusting, he had blood on his hands, and often ignored or refused to enforce the charter and related agreements. …

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