King John granted the Charter of Liberties, subsequently known as Magna Carta, at Runnymede on 15 June 1215.
On this date in 1215, 803 years ago today, King John “Lackland” granted – admittedly under duress! – the “Charter of Liberties,” which was to become known as the “Magna Carta” or “Great Charter,” to the rebel barons and leading churchmen of the Realm of England.
This is of Anglican interest because it protected, among other things, the rights and privileges of the English Church (Ecclesia Anglicana); and is is of general interest for those concerned with the defense of the West because “Magna Carta has… acquired a special status as the cornerstone of English liberties…. [The Great Charter] retains enormous symbolic power as an ancient defence against arbitrary and tyrannical rulers, and as a guarantor of individual liberties.”
The article points out that it is not certain how many copies of the 1215 Magna Carta were originally issued, but four copies still survive: one in Lincoln Cathedral; one in Salisbury Cathedral; and two at the British Library. It is actually the edition of 1225, issued (voluntarily) by King Henry III, which became definitive, and of which three critical clauses are still part of English law:
“Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Although nearly a third of the text was deleted or substantially rewritten within ten years, and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British constitution.
“Most of the 63 clauses granted by King John dealt with specific grievances relating to his rule. However, buried within them were a number of fundamental values that both challenged the autocracy of the king and proved highly adaptable in future centuries. Most famously, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of Magna Carta’s core principles are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791) and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).”
Of the three of those clauses which remain part of English law, one defends the liberties and rights of the English Church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, but here is the third and most famous:
“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. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”
“This clause gave all free men the right to justice and a fair trial [although] ‘free men’ comprised only a small proportion of the population in medieval England…
“Magna Carta has consequently acquired a special status as the cornerstone of English liberties. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of its clauses have now been repealed, or in some cases superseded by other legislation such as the Human Rights Act (1998). Magna Carta nonetheless retains enormous symbolic power as an ancient defence against arbitrary and tyrannical rulers, and as a guarantor of individual liberties.”
Perhaps, given the political and social situation there, England is in need of a new “Great Charter”!