October 6, 2011
Magna Carta And The Pillars Of Democracy In England
The Magna Carta was a document that marked one of the first instances of democratic change in England’s history. For most of history, the nation has existed under monarchical rule. Often foreign imaginings of England are incorporated with idealised images of quaint country settings, courtiers, dukes and kings. Whilst there is some gravity in these beliefs, it certainly serves to only represent a small vain of the country’s history.
These notions lend themselves to the fantastical, and indeed, the majority of modern day conceptions of fantasy have their origins deeply rooted in English cultural tradition. It is furthered by the global appeal of Shakespeare, plays that depict the lives of kings and members of the aristocracy. Behind the scenes of all this bliss, however, remained the austere face of the country’s social and political condition. The feudal system saw England’s peasantry subjugated by the land-owners. They were not able to own land, but were able to make their living by working the land of another. This was not exclusive to England; similar hegemonic rule could be seen across the rest of the world.
However, when discussing the pillars that formed democracy in England, it is essential to illustrate where the issues existed – and for what reason change was brought about. The Magna Carta represents the beginning of such change. It was a document issued in 1215 to King John. It ordained that no freeman could be punished except through the law of the land. In this sense, it attempted to impose limits on the King’s power – a tenuous, though unmistakable beginning to the principles of democracy.
This legislation did not affect the serfs (i.e. those that were bound to work the land, representing a form of slavery in the feudal system). In hindsight, the document served more as a symbol to the people that change was possible, in addition to a warning of what was yet to come. The document was presented by the some of the King’s closest subjects. It carried profound implications, and its impact can be seen within England today and the events of the following centuries.
Yet whilst the document did a lot to incite the beginnings of change, it did not serve to catalyse any significant rebellions, actions or even permanent changes. Arguably, however, it did enough to trickle the first stones of an avalanche – influencing a series of events that over the next 500 years would result in drastic political and social changes.
It is often said that democracy is built upon certain essential pillars. Whilst it would be hard to say the Magna Carta served as one of these pillars in England, it is certainly evident in the forming of their foundations.