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The Magna Carta, Latin for Great Paper

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The Magna Carta, Latin for "Great Paper", was written as a charter for England in 1215 (Magna 1). The Magna Carta has had the most significant influence on modern day common law and constitutions. The document was originally written because of disagreements between the Pope, King John, and his English barons over the rights of the king. The Magna Carta required the king to renounce certain rights, and to accept that the powers of the king could be bound by law (Asimov 12). There are a few misconceptions about the Magna Carta, however. It was not the first document to attempt to limit the power of the king. It, however, failed to limit the power of the king, especially during the Middle Ages. The Magna Carta had been strengthened during the Stuart and Tudor period, and well into the 18th century. In fact, evidence of the Magna Carta can be seen in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Almost every common law country with a constitution has been influenced by the Magna Carta. Most importantly, the Magna Carta is not one single document; it was many documents unified under one name (Asimov 15).

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, England had become the most powerful monarch Europe had ever seen. This was in part because of the combination of the centralized government system created by the Norman rulers and the Anglo-Saxon systems (Ayars 4). After King John was crowned in the early thirteenth century, a series of failures on his part led the barons of England to revolt and place checks on the king's power. By 1215, the barons had had enough of the king. They joined forces and took London forcibly. They forced King John to sign the document know as the "Articles of Barons", which was the original Magna Carta. The most important part of the document was the clause that allowed a group of twenty-five barons, at any time, to meet and overrule the king (Asimov 22). The king even had to take an oath to the committee. However, as soon as the barons left London, King John renounced the Magna Carta. The King's actions forced England into a civil war. During the war, King John died, and the direction of the war changed. King John's nine year old son, Henry III was next in line for the throne. The royalists believed that the barons would find Henry III more palatable, and the young child was crowned in 1216, after which the war ended quickly (Asimov 30). During King Henry III's reign as king, the Magna Carta was reissued three times, twice by his regents, and once when he turned eighteen. King Henry III ruled for fifty six years, and by the time he died in 1272, the Magna Carta had become part of English legal precedent, making it very difficult for future kings to annul (Ayars 17).

The Magna Carta included many clauses which guaranteed rights to the people, and guaranteed that the king did not have certain powers. Some of the powers from the 1215 edition that are still in force today include the guaranteed freedom of the Church of England, "ancient liberties" of the city of London, and the right to due process. In the judicial department, the Magna Carta allowed for a fixed court law, which became the chancellery, and defined the scope and frequency of county assizes (Ayars 14). It also required that fines be proportionate to offences, and that offenders be tried by their peers. It is thought that this clause was the reason for jury and magistrate trails. Another clause provided that a crown official may not try a crime in place of a judge (Ayars 21). The Great Council (based on the group of barons that controlled the king's actions) was also created. The council existed for the benefit of the state rather than simply in allegiance to the monarch. It allowed the council to renounce its oath to the king, and not be pressured by the king. The Great Council was an early parliament, which began the reduction of the king's powers. Following the creation of the Great Council, the Magna Carta was all but forgotten until the Tudor period (Great 2).

The Magna Carta was the first entry in the statute books, however there was no reference made to the Magna Carta after 1472 for nearly one hundred years (Ayars 27). During the Tudor period, there was limited knowledge of the document, even by those who wrote about it. In the statute books, it appeared that the Magna Carta was brought about by King Henry III, rather than the reapplication of the original charter. The Magna Carta was first used during the Tudor period as a Bill of Rights. The church often attempted to use the first clause of the Magna Carter to protect itself from attacks by King Henry, but its claims had no credibility (Asimov 55). The first person to attempt to use the Magna Carta was Francis Bacon, who asserted that it guaranteed due process in a trial. At this time in English history, the Magna Carta was used in common law. However, it was not seen as a set of liberties guaranteed for the people against the Crown and government in general, but as a normal statute which gave a certain level of liberties that could not be relied on, especially against the king. Therefore, the Magna Carta had very little effect on government in the early Tudor period because of the power the king retained, a situation which lasted until the Elizabethan age.

During the Elizabethan age, England was becoming the most powerful force in Europe. Pride was becoming a primary force in all areas of academics and attempts were made to prove that Parliament had Roman origins. The Magna Carta was interpreted as an attempt to return to a pre-Norman state. It was seen by the Tudors as proof that a state of governance had existed, before the Norman era and that the Normans had been little more then a brief break from the time of liberty and democracy (Ayars 46). This is one the reasons why the Magna Carta came to be such a highly regarded document. With the Magna Carta once again at the forefront of politics, it was possible for it to shape the way government was run.

By the Stuart Period, the Magna Carta had taken on a mythical aura that represented a "golden age" to the common man. It was a symbol of the English liberties that existed before the Norman invasion and that had attempted to be restored by the Magna Carta. During the Stuart age, the Magna Carta was not important because of the liberties it bestowed, but because it was proof of what had happened before, that many great minds had created the Magna Carta (Ayars 51). By the seventeenth century, the Magna Carta was an indispensable document that limited the powers of the crown, a very important topic during the Stuart age. During that time, kings were preaching of their divine right, and were trying, in the



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