Significance of the Magna Carta

The Magna Carta was a document of great importance which was signed by the English king in the 13th century. It was a charter that granted legal rights to the Church, to the nobles, and even to the English people. It introduced many principles which we today would associate with a more free society.

The story of the Magna Carta began with king John I of England (r.1199-1216). King John of England came into conflict with Pope Innocent III over who was to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. After John Threatened the Pope’s choice, the Pope laid down an interdict (a restriction on the reception of the sacraments, except for baptism and extreme unction, over a geographical area) over England. John responded by taking church and monastery properties. The Pope then excommunicated John, who ignored this sanction. After that, the Pope declared John deposed, and called upon the subjects to withdraw their allegiance. Eventually, after political pressure,  John conceded and offered England to the Pope, who accepted.

King John of England was also involved in many wars, which required heavy taxation. The barons were upset with John’s wars, his conflict with the Pope and his treatment of Church property. They were also upset with his heavy taxation, which effected the barons and other nobility quite hard. So in 1215, the barons confronted John at the field of Runnymede and forced him to consent to a charter, called the Magna Carta, which limited the power of the crown, and granted rights to the Church. The Magna Carta also prevented the Crown from imposing taxation beyond the customary levies without the consent of the great men of the realm. The Magna Carta did not give benefits solely to the Church and nobility, but also the English people. According to clause 39:

“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 other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”

The Magna Carta held great influence over law in the middle ages and well into the modern world, having some influence in the writing of the constitution of the United States. It promoted the restriction of the king’s power, and granted benefits to the Church, the nobility, and the common people alike.


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