As part of my English revolution reading, prompted by Arden’s Left Handed Liberty, I took a look at Magna Carta itself, what did it codify/concede? How relevant is it today? Here are my notes. …
I used this at the British Library site to study the text, and also found this commentary by Geoffrey Robinson which tells the story of the evolution of its ideas from a piece of military extortion via a list of heroes that all radicals should admire to a being centre piece of the British Constitution.
I made a diigo entry on the BL document, and my highlights are as follows,
- Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent in payment of a debt, so long as the debtor has movable goods sufficient to discharge the debt.
- No ‘scutage’ or ‘aid’ may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person, to make our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest daughter. For these purposes only a reasonable ‘aid’ may be levied. ‘Aids’ from the city of London are to be treated similarly
- To obtain the general consent of the realm for the assessment of an ‘aid’ – except in the three cases specified above – or a ‘scutage’, we will cause the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons to be summoned individually by letter. To those who hold lands directly of us we will cause a general summons to be issued, through the sheriffs and other officials, to come together on a fixed day (of which at least forty days notice shall be given) and at a fixed place. In all letters of summons, the cause of the summons will be stated.
- For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood.
- Earls and barons shall be fined only by their equals, and in proportion to the gravity of their offence.
- No sheriff, constable, coroners, or other royal officials are to hold lawsuits that should be held by the royal justices.
- In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.
- 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.
- To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or other officials, only men that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well.
The play and even 1066 & all that, recognise this was a dispute about state power and as 1066 catalogues, some fine reforms were agreed, just not offered to the common people. Actually, not sure how accurate, 1066 is in terms of it summary. They say however,
Magna Charter was therefore the chief cause of Democracy in England, and thus a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People).