December 21, 2015
ABA Magna Carta Memorial now Grade II Listed Monument
21st December 2015
The American Bar Association Magna Carta Memorial has been awarded a Grade II listing under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
The reason for its designation is for its ‘special architectural or historic interest.’
List entry Number 1430723, the Memorial overlooks Runnymede, where Magna Carta was sealed in 1215. On the 15th June 2015, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the Memorial was the site of celebration and the focus of the world.
William Hubbard, President of the American Bar Association, Loretta Lynch, current US Attorney General, HRH Princess Anne, and the Rt Hon Philip Hammond, UK Foreign Secretary spoke at the Memorial on Magna Carta Day.
Three reasons were provided for the Grade II designation:
“The Magna Carta monument of 1957, by Edward Maufe, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Historic interest: the memorial is the only specifically designed structure to commemorate the signing of the Magna Carta, which represents a seminal moment in the history of democracy for English, and later American, citizens; * Group value: a key part of the listed Runnymede group that includes Magna Carta House, Lutyens’ lodges and commemorative urns, Air Forces Memorial, and Kennedy Memorial; * Architectural interest: as an example of the work of the nationally celebrated architect Edward Maufe, displaying his signature style of modern classicism.”
The monument was constructed by Edward Maufe, and supported by the American Bar Association. It is the only official monument to Magna Carta in Britain today.
November 5, 2015
Attorney General Lynch Delivers Remarks at Magna Carta Commemoration Ceremony
15 June 2015 – Magna Carta Day.
United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the American Bar Association Memorial, Runnymede.
Click here to read this speech as it appears on the Justice Department’s website.
“Thank you, Secretary [Philip] Hammond, for that kind introduction. Your Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, honored guests – it is a pleasure to be here this morning, and a great privilege to join you all at this important commemoration.
Eight hundred years ago, on the grounds of Runnymede, King John sealed a piece of parchment – a Great Charter – that extended basic rights to individuals subject to his reign. That Magna Carta was neither expansive nor long-lived – its rules applied to only a small group of noblemen, and it was first annulled just 10 weeks after being sealed. But its adoption served as a signpost on a long and difficult march, and those who forged its compromise stood as early travelers on the road to justice. While the hands that wrote the Magna Carta have long been stilled, the principles they carved out of the struggles of their day – of the struggles of the human condition – live on.
Seven and a half centuries after that historic day, in 1957, a crowd of 5,000 people walked in storied footsteps to dedicate this memorial and to recognize its significance. Among them was Earl Warren, the Chief Justice of America’s Supreme Court and one of our nation’s greatest jurists, who noted in an opinion a year later that principles traced back to Magna Carta represented a concept that is “nothing less than the dignity of man.”
For Chief Justice Warren, and for the many American lawyers and jurists who gathered by his side, this monument had special meaning, because Magna Carta had come to symbolize more than a simple agreement between noblemen and their king. This social contract between a monarch and his people codified, however imperfectly, notions that would one day stand at the heart of our own system of justice: the idea that no power is unconditional, and no rule is absolute; that we are not subjugated by an infallible authority, but share authority with our fellow citizens. That all are protected by the law, just as all must answer to the law. These fundamental, age-old principles have given hope to those who face oppression. They have given a voice to those yearning for the redress of wrongs. And they have served as the bedrock of free societies around the globe, inspiring countless women and men seeking to weave their promise into reality.
For those who drafted the U.S. Constitution, the significance of Magna Carta was clear. Its influence helped shape a political system that enshrines separation of powers, due process and the rule of law; a legal system that recognizes and honors the dignity of all people; and a commitment to ongoing efforts to realize these ideals in every interaction between our citizens and our institutions.
Even today, America continues to pursue these goals. We are engaged in initiatives to promote trust and understanding between law enforcement officers and the communities we serve. We are working with partners in the United States and around the world to pursue those who would deny human dignity, whether through trafficking or corruption, violence or terrorism. And we are carrying out a historic reorientation of our criminal justice practices to end an overreliance on incarceration. At every turn, we are driven by that same devotion to the rule of law whose seeds took root in this field so long ago.
Of course, our journey has not been easy, and it is far from over. Just as men and women of great conscience and strong will have, over eight centuries, worked to advance the cause that animated their forebears – in nations around the world – we too must advance and extend the promise that lies at the heart of our global community. We too must deliver on the spirit of Magna Carta. And we too must carry forward our work to new fields of equality, opportunity and justice.
On the day that this monument was dedicated in 1957, one of the former presidents of the American Bar Association called his journey to Runnymede a “devout pilgrimage to the ancestral home, to the well springs of our profession, to the fountainhead of our faith.” Today, we not only pay tribute to the source of our legal doctrine – we reaffirm our devotion to its values and recommit ourselves to the service of its most treasured ideals. As we go forward, I am proud, I am honored and I am humbled to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all of you in our shared pursuit of a more just world.
Thank you all, once again, for the opportunity to take part in this commemoration. Thank you for your dedication to the ennobling ideals we are here to celebrate. I look forward to all that our nations will achieve together in the spirit of their promise in the years ahead.”
June 17, 2015
Magna Carta changed the world, David Cameron tells anniversary event
BBC News, Monday 15th June, 2015
Click here to read the original article.
Magna Carta went on to change the world, Prime Minister David Cameron has said, at an ceremony in Surrey marking the 800th anniversary of the document that heralded modern democracy.
The event at Runnymede, where King John sealed the original accord in 1215, was attended by the Queen and other royals.
The Duke of Cambridge unveiled a commemorative art work at the site.
The Charter first protected the rights and freedoms of society and established that the king was subject to the law.
The Duke of Edinburgh and the Princess Royal also attended the ceremony, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, senior judges, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and members of the American Bar Association, which erected a memorial to the charter at Runnymede in the 1950s.
Magna Carta originated as a peace treaty between King John and a group of rebellious barons.
Its influence can be seen in other documents across the world including the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Speaking at the Magna Carta Memorial, Mr Cameron said the document had inspired different generations and countries.
He said it had had altered forever “the balance of power between the governed and the government”.
“Why do people set such store by Magna Carta? Because they look to history. They see how the great charter shaped the world, for the best part of a millennium, helping to promote arguments for justice and for freedom.”
He also alluded to the government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British bill of rights, amid its concerns about rulings by the European Court of Human Rights and their application to the UK.
Mr Cameron said in his speech: “It falls to us in this generation to restore the reputation of those rights… It is our duty to safeguard the legacy, the idea, the momentous achievement of those barons.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, said the document had “set the bar high for all of us today”.
In his address, he reminded the audience how his medieval predecessor Archbishop Stephen Langton played an important role as a mediator in the writing of the Magna Carta.
He also said the Church had failed to support the fight for social justice in the past.
“From the support for enclosures to the opposition to the Great Reform Act, to the toleration of all sorts of abuse, with humility, we recognise these failings,” he said.
Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls and chairman of the Magna Carta Trust, said the Magna Carta was “a symbol of democracy, justice, human rights and perhaps above all the rule of law for the whole world”.
Lord Dyson, the second most senior judge in England and Wales, said: “A few clauses of Magna Carta are still part of our law, including famously the provision that no free man shall be taken or imprisoned except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land; and to no-one will we sell, to no-one will we deny or delay right or justice.”
The art installation unveiled by Prince William, called The Jurors, is inspired by the 39th clause of Magna Carta, which gives the right to a jury trial. Artist Hew Locke said it was a “great honour” to be chosen to produce the piece.
Princess Anne rededicated the US memorial, saying Magna Carta “provides us with one of our most basic doctrines – that no person is above the law.
“In recent history and even today we see in many parts of the world that power without the rule of law can lead to human suffering of terrible proportions. But it takes all of us to stand up for these principles.”
A replica of Magna Carta began its journey down the Thames on Saturday as part of the commemorations. The Royal Barge Gloriana led 200 boats from Hurley in Berkshire to Runnymede.
There are just four known copies of the original Magna Carta in existence today, from an estimated 13 that were made. Two are held by the British Library, with Salisbury Cathedral and Lincoln Cathedral holding the others.
This article was originally published with images and further analysis. Click here to read the article as it originally appeared in full.
In Pictures: Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary – BBC News
BBC News, Monday 15th June, 2015
Click here to view the original article.
The BBC featured a series of excellent photos of events at Magna Carta Day, which took place on 15th June, 2015 at Runnymede.
June 14, 2015
British royals return to Runnymede where Magna Carta sealed 800 years ago
Reuters UK, 12th June 2015.
By Michael Holden.
Click here to read the original article.
Queen Elizabeth will return on Monday to the setting where 800 years ago one of her predecessors accepted the Magna Carta, the English document that put limits on the power of the crown for the first time and laid the foundation for modern freedoms.
The Magna Carta, Latin for “Great Charter”, was ratified by King John of England in June 1215, at Runnymede, about 20 miles west of London, after an uprising by his barons. It established certain rights of the English people and placed the monarch under the rule of law.
Not only does it form the bedrock of Britain’s constitutional freedoms, it was the basis for the U.S. Bill of Rights, the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Three of its 63 clauses remain on Britain’s statute book.
“The relevance of the Magna Carta in the 21st century is that it is the foundation of liberty,” said Robert Worcester, chairman of the Magna Carta 800th Committee.
The queen, who is Patron of the Magna Carta Trust, will attend an official ceremony at Runnymede on Monday to commemorate the anniversary. So will other members of the royal family, including her grandson, Prince William, who is second in line for the throne.
A new art installation will be opened and the American Bar Association’s Magna Carta Memorial, which was erected in 1957, will be re-dedicated.
The Magna Carta came into being during a period of great political upheaval in England. Conflict had erupted among King John, his nobles and the English church.
In essence a peace deal, it was sealed by John on June 19, 1215, following five days of negotiation with his barons. The most famous and significant of its clauses were 39 and 40, which stated that not even the monarch was above the law.
They read: “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.”
Originally known as “the charter of Runnymede”, it was declared invalid shortly afterwards by the Pope. Civil war broke out between the barons and John, who has a reputation as one of England’s nastiest and cruellest kings, portrayed as the villain in numerous films about legendary outlaw Robin Hood.
It only became known as the Magna Carta two years later, when it was reissued by John’s son Henry III. Versions of the charter were then re-released regularly by or on behalf of succeeding English monarchs.
Four original copies of the document, written on a single sheet of parchment about the size of A3 paper, still exist.
An original copy from 1297 sold for more than $21 million eight years ago in New York, when auction house Sotheby’s described it as “the most important document in the world”.
But historians say the long-term impact of Magna Carta was far from the intention of the barons who forced the document on John, and it was by accident that it became so significant.
Researchers who have carried out a three-year study said it appeared that the church, rather than royal officials, was responsible for its publication and preservation.
“Bizarrely enough, Magna Carta is the product of a situation far closer to that which elsewhere in today’s world we might associate with the enemies of modern liberal democracy, with Sharia law, or with those systems in which church and state are indistinguishable,” said Professor Nicholas Vincent.
“It is often said to be about democracy, about ‘freedom’ or liberal values. It says nothing whatsoever of these. But it does assert a principle, due process under law, that is absolutely crucial in distinguishing tyranny from those parts of the world where there is hope of justice and fair trial.”
(Editing by Larry King)
King John: the most evil monarch in Britain’s history
The Telegraph, Sunday 14th June
By Marc Morris.
Click here to read the original article.
Tomorrow, you can hardly have failed to notice, marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the document famously issued by King John at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. Most people are understandably a little hazy about the charter’s contents (it runs to 63 clauses and over 4,000 words). But they are aware that it was a “good thing” – a significant step in the direction of the liberties we enjoy today.
At the same time, most people think of John himself as a “bad king”, not least because he crops up as the villain in the tales of Robin Hood. One academic recently described him on Radio 4 as “an absolute rotter”; another, less constrained, has summed him up as “a s—”.
How was it, then, that the bad king left us something so remarkably good in Magna Carta? Is it the case, some historians have asked, that we have King John all wrong? That he was actually not as bad as legend makes out?
The answer to this is an emphatic “No!” John was one of the worst kings – arguably the worst king – ever to sit on England’s throne. “A very bad man,” in the words of one contemporary chronicler, “brim-full of evil qualities.” Despite occasional attempts to rehabilitate him, his reputation among academics remains extremely poor.
John’s offences are almost too numerous to list. In the first place, he was treacherous: when his older brother, Richard the Lionheart, was away on crusade, John attempted to seize the throne by plotting with the king of France, Philip Augustus, prompting contemporaries to damn him as “a mad-headed youth” and “nature’s enemy”. He was also lecherous: several nobles are reported to have taken up arms against him because he had forced himself on their wives and daughters.
Most of all, John was shockingly cruel. In a chivalrous age, when aristocrats spared their enemies, capturing them rather than killing them, John preferred to do away with people by grisly means. On one occasion, for example, he ordered 22 captive knights to be taken to Corfe Castle in Dorset and starved to death. Another time he starved to death the wife and son of his former friend, William de Briouze. In 1203 he arranged the murder of his own nephew and rival for power, Arthur of Brittany.
John might have got away with such nefarious acts had he not also been politically incompetent. At the start of his reign in 1199, he inherited the greatest dominion in Europe — not just England and large parts of Wales and Ireland, but also the whole western half of France: Normandy, Brittany, Anjou and Aquitaine. Yet within five years, he had lost almost all these continental territories to Philip Augustus. Contemporaries put this down to a lack of boldness on John’s part, calling him “Soft-sword”, and he did indeed lack the necessary martial skill that his brother Richard had possessed in spades. “No man may trust him,” sang the troubadour poet Bertran de Born, “for his heart is soft and cowardly.”
King John’s loss of his continental inheritance was deeply shameful, and he was determined to win it back. To raise the massive armies and fleets this enterprise would require, he wrung unprecedented sums of money from England. Taxes were suddenly demanded on an almost annual basis. Nobles were charged gargantuan sums to inherit their lands. Royal justices imposed exorbitant fines for trifling offences. The lands of the Church were seized, and the Jews were imprisoned and tortured until they agreed to pay up. John’s reign saw the greatest financial exploitation of England since the Norman Conquest.
But it was all for nothing. When the king finally launched his long-planned continental campaign in 1214, it was a disaster. John, true to form, shied away from battle when challenged by French forces, and his allies in the north were defeated in a decisive clash with Philip Augustus. He returned to England that autumn with his treasury empty and his dreams of re-conquest in tatters.
With their tyrannical ruler over a barrel, his subjects demanded reform. John dodged their demands for six months, until in May 1215 they came out in open rebellion and seized London. With his capital held against him, the king was forced to negotiate, and obliged to make concessions when he met his critics the following month at Runnymede.
Such is the general background that led to Magna Carta, a charge-sheet aimed squarely at King John and his many acts of misgovernment. The king did not issue it willingly, but under pressure from his opponents and in the hope of buying time. As soon as the meeting at Runnymede had broken up, John wrote to the pope complaining that the charter had been exacted under duress, and the Pope obligingly declared it invalid. Within a few weeks both sides were again at war.
King John did not survive for much longer. Worn out by the exhaustion of fighting a losing war, he contracted dysentery in October 1216 and died a few days later at Newark Castle. Magna Carta, however, was unexpectedly resurrected, reissued by John’s supporters in the name of his nine-year-old son, the newly crowned Henry III. Its most contentious clauses, that allowed the barons to make war on the king should he transgress, were removed, but the bulk of the detail remained.
Today the detail is no longer relevant. What we now celebrate is the famous sentiment in the middle of the charter, which declares that a free man shall not be imprisoned, exiled, deprived of his property or otherwise destroyed simply because it is the king’s will. King John had indulged in precisely that sort of unjust behaviour, and his subjects had called him to account for it. This is how the “bad king” ended up leaving us something so good.
Marc Morris is the author of King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta
Magna Carta’s 800th Anniversary Is Celebrated
Sky News, 14th June 2015.
By Ian Woods, Sky News Correspondent
Click here to read the original article.
Two days of national celebrations are under way to commemorate Magna Carta – the failed treaty between a tyrannical king and his rebellious barons which turned into a decisive moment for English democracy and justice.
Also known as the Great Charter, it was agreed in June 1215, but within weeks it was torn up and the country was plunged into civil war.
Despite this, many of the principles in the charter survived and became law – with the language adopted in democracies around the world.
Today, a statue of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth will be unveiled on the site of the treaty negotiations at Runnymede on the banks of the River Thames. And tomorrow, the Queen, members of her family and the Prime Minister will attend an event on the site.
Her predecessor, King John, is regarded as one of Britain’s worst monarchs, and it was his dispute with the landowning aristocracy which formed the background to the creation of Magna Carta. The barons forced him to accept new laws and a limitation on his power.
There are four copies of the charter still in existence – one each in Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals, and two in the British Library.
The curator of the Library’s exhibit, Dr Claire Breay, told Sky News: “The most important thing about Magna Carta is that it established the principle of the rule of law.
“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights, or outlawed or exiled, except by the judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. And that clause is really at the heart of Magna Carta’s fame today.”
Those who negotiated the treaty would be astonished at how its reputation has survived eight centuries, because it was annulled after only 10 weeks.
The Pope ruled that King John had been forced to sign it under duress. Yet in the years afterwards, the language in the charter was revised and reintroduced and became part of the cornerstone of English law.
“If the barons looked at how we were celebrating it they’d be quite amused,” says human rights barrister John Cooper QC.
He equates Magna Carta to scoring an early goal in a football match. It wasn’t decisive, but it shaped what followed. And he argues that some of the rights envisaged by the charter, such as trial by jury, are under threat.
While David Cameron will take part in the anniversary events, he’s also advocated the abolition of the modern Human Rights Act, and withdrawing Britain from the obligations of the European Convention on Human Rights.
His former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who’s been heavily involved in Magna Carta events, disagrees with him.
“There is something that we need to learn from the charter, which is that if you want other people to respect rights, you yourself have got to respect those rights,” he said.
“I happen to believe that although it’s not perfect, both the European Convention and the Human Rights Act are working pretty well.”
Magna Carta celebrations begin on River Thames
BBC News, 13th June
Click here to read the original article.
A replica of Magna Carta is being carried down the Thames as part of events to mark its 800th anniversary.
The Royal Barge Gloriana is leading 200 boats from Hurley in Berkshire to Runnymede in Surrey over two days.
Magna Carta was granted by King John on 15 June 1215, establishing that the king was subject to the law rather than being above it.
Twenty-three local people have been chosen as “charter bearers” to relay the document.
The pageant, which started at 09:00 BST, has been organised by Thames Alive, with support from Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Runnymede borough and Spelthorne borough councils.
As the copy of Magna Carta is transported downstream, actors will recount its story.
Charter bearers, who live, work or study in one of the three boroughs, will carry the document on board the Royal Shallop Jubilant.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee barge, Gloriana, is the flagship of the flotilla.
Five-time Olympic gold medallist rower Sir Steve Redgrave, from Marlow, Buckinghamshire, watched as it passed through his home town.
“It’s the first row barge that has been built for 300 years so it’s pretty spectacular,” he said.
The event will culminate with the unveiling of a 4m (13ft) bronze statue of the Queen at Runnymede Pleasure Grounds on Sunday.
Road closures will be in place during the celebrations in Berkshire and Surrey.
The flotilla is due to arrive at Oakley Court Hotel, Windsor, at 20:00. The replica Magna Carta’s journey will pause overnight before commencing at 09:00 on Sunday.
Principles set out in Magna Carta charted the right to a fair trial and limits on taxation without representation.
It also inspired a number of other documents, including the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
May 19, 2015
Runnymede Magna Carta Pageant tickets now available
Tuesday 19th May 2015
Secure your place to see a re-enactment of the events 800 years ago as part of the anniversary celebrations.
A pageant will take place in Runnymede to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and budding visitors can now book tickets to secure their place.
The event, which will include a performance reflecting the events of 1215 when the charter was sealed, will be held at Runnymede Pleasure Ground on Sunday June 14 from 10am-6pm.
Paul Turrell, chief executive of Runnymede Borough Council, said: “The pageant promises to be a great day out for all ages.
“It will be the culmination of the public commemorations in Runnymede, ahead of the Royal visit the following day.
“While the re-enactment of events 800 years ago will take place in the afternoon, there will be a range of entertainment activities throughout the day in the activities tent for families to get involved in.
“We look forward to commemorating this special occasion with everyone.”
The two-hour re-enactment of the sealing of the Magna Carta will be hosted by historical interpretation company Past Pleasures.
Children can get involved in activities such as face painting and key-ring making, and families are permitted to bring their dog along for the day.
Picnics are welcomed at the event and food and drink, including a bar tent, will also be available.
You can now register for free tickets to the event here.
Up to six tickets are available for each registration and are granted on a first come, first served basis.
There will be no public parking at the Pleasure Ground for the event, apart from a limited number of Blue Badge holders, but park-and-ride bus services will be available.
Tickets will not be required on the day to watch the River Relay from the riverbanks around Runnymede Pleasure Ground.
If you have any queries about attending the Pageant, email Runnymede Borough Council at [email protected]
Runnymede Surrey Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Garden takes Bronze at RHS Chelsea Flower Show
Tuesday 19th May.
A garden at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show commemorating Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary has been awarded Bronze.
The small artisan garden, was sponsored by Surrey County Council and Runnymede Hotel.
The layout of the garden evokes and is representative of both the medieval period, and the legacy of the Rule of Law.
Other features of the garden include ‘A wattle arbour over a turf bench provides support for climbing plants. Wattle obelisks, raised beds and a fountain – other typical garden features – add to the setting with heraldic pennants and other artefacts. The garden’s symmetry also symbolises the new law and order of the time.’
After Chelsea Flower Show closes, the garden will become a feature in the grounds of the Runnymede Hotel.
April 16, 2015
The Queen to attend Magna Carta 800th Anniversary event
16th April 2015
Surrey News – click here to read the article as it appeared on the site.
Her Majesty The Queen will mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta at the site in Runnymede where the historic document was sealed.
Accompanied by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Her Majesty will attend a commemoration event at Runnymede Meadows on 15 June.
The Duke of Cambridge, The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence will also be present.
Details of the event, which is being organised by Surrey County Council and the National Trust, are being finalised.
It is expected to include speeches, music and art together with a rededication of the American Bar Association’s Magna Carta Memorial.
Surrey County Council Cabinet Member for Community Services Helyn Clack said: “This anniversary will be an occasion of immense local, national and international importance so it is fitting that The Queen and other members of The Royal Family will help to celebrate it in the county that gave Magna Carta to the world.
“It will be a delight and honour to welcome them all to the site where history was made 800 years ago and I have no doubt that they will ensure the Runnymede event will be the jewel in the crown of the celebrations here and across the globe.”
Sealed by King John at Runnymede in 1215, Magna Carta is considered one of the first steps towards modern democracy.
The Queen is patron of the Magna Carta Trust for the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta.
October 12, 2011
The Magna Carta: Ideas for All Seasons
Rex no potest peccare (The King can do no wrong)
How many of you have read Unbroken, the bestseller by Laura Hillenbrand about Olympic runner Louis Zamperini ‘s experiences in World War II? Perhaps you will remember the part when Louie and his friends are in a particularly brutal Japanese prisoner of war camp where the Geneva Conventions are ignored and the rule of law is only a memory. In effort to distract themselves from mind numbing cold and starvation, the prisoners take to discussing the Magna Carta and its effect on medieval history. How amazing that in the midst of such deprivation, men on the edge of death focused on the Magna Carta. What a poignant example of the power and durability of the ideas in the Magna Carta. Powerful ideas – those that resonate within the human spirit — endure despite the historical accidents of their creation. The origin of this magnificent heritage was not promising. On the one side was an incompetent reckless King and on the other, a small group of landed hereditary nobility who were tired of the King’s endless demands.
We venerate the idea of the Magna Carta — that freedom is secured under the rule of law and that no person is above the law — even though the Magna Carta or The Great Charter as it later came to be called, was literally nullified within weeks of its sealing. The creation of the Magna Carta was a revolutionary response by a ruling class of barons who were not much different from the despotic monarch they despised. The Magna Carta gave life to the concept that individuals had rights against the previously unlimited power of the state. On June 15, 1215, on a beautiful meadow in Runnymede, halfway between London and the still royal palace at Windsor, 25 of England’s most powerful barons presented a document to King John essentially requiring the King to follow certain rules in dealing with English nobility and, especially, with their property. As was the custom with royal edicts, the King “sealed” the document, signifying approval.
Within days, seven copies of the document sealed by King John were issued from Runnymede and circulated throughout the kingdom; within weeks, six more were issued from Oxford. Even as these Magna Carta copies were being circulated, King John dispatched his envoys to Rome to complain to Pope Innocent III that he had been compelled by “force and fear” to seal the document. By mid-September, 1215, King John’s envoys had returned with papal edicts declaring the Magna Carta contract to be null and void. The Magna Carta had been in effect less than 90 days. Although reissued three times during the reign of John’s son, Henry III, and confirmed by the Crown more than 30 times thereafter, the provisions of the 63 specific “chapters” of the 1215 Magna Carta have largely been repealed and, in any event, never again existed in precisely the form presented to King John at Runnymede in June, 1215.
Remarkably, even though the Magna Carta’s specific provisions were abandoned or repealed, this was no 90 day flameout. Today, somewhere between a quarter and a third of all mankind is governed according to the principles it enshrined. We trace our written constitution, our right to equality and due process under law, our right to a jury trial and our habeas corpus rights to the document presented to King John on June 15, 1215.
The Magna Carta really represents two separate meanings, one literal and one symbolic. The literal meaning arises from the circumstances of 13th Century England and the dispute between and among a tyrannical and foolish monarch, a powerful Church based in Rome and a largely independent group of hereditary noblemen who were increasingly impatient with the personal cost to them of the King’s bad decisions. The symbolic meaning developed over time and is reflective of an ever changing political landscape. The literal meaning came to reference the rights enforced against a monarch by the English nobility; it was the resolution of a power struggle. The symbolic meaning became, and is, increasingly associated with a concept we call the “rule of law”, defined as an impartial justice system which is predictable and fair and which treats all people equally. It might be useful to take a few minutes to review the historical context in which the Magna Carta arose since it does help us to understand the symbol which the Magna Carta became.
There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of
Historians now think that there was probably very little pomp and ceremony attendant to the proceedings at Runnymede. King John clearly did not want to be a participant but had little choice. The 25 Barons were angry mostly about a seeming never ending increase in royal taxes and required payments but also had little choice. Unlike other times of feudal rebellions in English history, there was no readily identifiable royal replacement for the reigning king. King John believed, probably correctly, that he would be killed if he did not agree to the Barons’ terms.
Much of the language of the 1215 Magna Carta had been smoothed by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury whose appointment by Pope Innocent III King John had initially opposed. The document which emerged from this turmoil was the product of three competing judicial traditions: royal, ecclesiastical and baronial.
The royal justice system involved all matters that affected the King’s “peace,” whether directly or indirectly. Needless to say, these courts broadly interpreted matters affecting the King’s peace and were often seen as arbitrary and unfair. The Catholic Church, headquartered in Rome, ran the ecclesiastic courts which maintained jurisdiction not only over matters involving the Church’s clergy and religious offenses but most moral, marital and testamentary matters. Barons were given their titles and their large tracts of real property by the Crown; in turn, a Baron, as Lord of the Manor, was given authority to hear disputes involving his tenants who had agreed to work the land in exchange for shelter and security.
King John, whose reputation as wretched monarch has not changed much in the last 800 years, managed to alienate both the ecclesiastical and baronial jurisdictions early in his reign as King. During the first ten years of his monarchy, King John was constantly at odds with the Church since he regarded the Pope to be subordinate to the Crown, a view not shared by the Pope. The Holy Roman Empire, as the Church was frequently known, regarded itself to be a separate and independent sovereign that had shared power with the Crown since its agreement with English King Henry I about one hundred years earlier. The agreement essentially provided that while the nomination of the archbishops serving in England would remain with the Crown, the power to confirm the bishops through the granting of their religious symbols and authority remained with the Church.
This compromise worked well until King John’s choice for Archbishop of Canterbury was rejected by Pope Innocent III who substituted his own choice, Stephen Langton, a man of “superior moral and intellectual greatness. ” King John’s response to Archbishop Langton’s appointment was to confiscate all of the Church’s property in England. This, of course, did not sit well with the Pope who excommunicated King John, suspended religious sacraments in England and declared the English empire a “forfeit from God.” King John was neither smart enough nor strong enough to withstand this kind of pressure from Rome and ultimately capitulated, giving England to the papacy and receiving it back as a “fief” which meant that the Crown was now subordinate to Rome and required to pay homage to the pope. These concessions seemed to have assuaged Pope Innocent III who became a “cautious” ally of the King.
Law and justice are not the same. Gloria Steinem
The Barons’ dissatisfaction with King John was based on systemic and increasingly abusive requirements of the royal justice system. King Henry II had created a centralized royal justice system which the King’s officials administered in a uniform manner to all English people in common and thus the phrase “common law.” Although all litigants appearing in the king’s courts theoretically would be treated the same, almost unlimited discretion was vested in the power of the Crown. It was this potential for arbitrary power that was exploited by King John and lead eventually to the Magna Carta.
King John evidenced great skills as an abuser of judicial prerogatives. He regularly sold legal rights and privileges to the highest bidder and used the judicial system to reward favorites and punish enemies. Before a matter could be heard in a royal court, the parties were required to pay “monarch fees” which were neither uniform nor fair. If the Crown was in need of revenue — which was frequently the case during King John’s reign – litigation fees were increased to cover the royal need without reference to the dispute involved. There were fees for postponements and fees for nearly every aspect of the proceedings and these fees were separate and distinct from fines imposed on losing parties or to purchase freedom in case of incarceration.
Litigants who could not afford to pay the legal fees set by the Crown were forced to borrow from the King in order to pursue a case. Not surprisingly, the terms of these loan agreements were harsh, usually requiring the debtor/litigant to pledge his estate, personal property and, on occasion, family members. Some of the provisions of the 1215 Magna Carta seem peculiar until one understands that on more than one occasion, friends and family members of a debtor were literally held hostage by King John until the loan was repaid in full.
Of course, the King could also simply “forgive” a loan because the debtor was a friend, was a necessary political ally or had provided an “invaluable” service. During King John’s reign, the “invaluable” service usually involved military duty. In the 13th century, all barons were required to serve in the King’s army as well as providing a specific number of knights for military service. As was true with most things, a money fine could be paid to the King in lieu of service and a tax, called “scutage”, could be paid in lieu of knights’ service. Since these were obligations owed to the King, the King could, and did, increase these fines and taxes at whim. King John did so frequently to finance his many military campaigns and to pay the mercenaries he hired to fight on his behalf.
King John was no better a soldier than he was statesman or monarch. With each military defeat, the economic demands on the barons caused by King John’s failures seemed more ludicrous and less justified. By 1215, many barons had renounced loyalty to King John and were actively plotting his overthrow. Of course, this was not unique to1215; almost every English King after William the Conqueror had faced rebellious nobility. This time was different, however, in that there was no “obvious replacement” for King John who had, according to some historians, murdered several potential substitutes. Consequently, the barons decided to focus on King John’s “oppressive government”, particularly the abuses of the legal system which were so costly to them. King John offered to submit the barons’ complaints to a committee of arbitration, chaired by his new best friend, Pope Innocent III. But the Barons were having none of that and, on June 10, 1215, they entered London in force through the open gates of the city. This normally would have been the signal for violent rebellion and King John, then safely ensconced at Windsor Castle, knew it.
It was out of these circumstances that the “Articles of the Barons,” later called the Magna Carta, was sealed by King John in the Runnymede meadow on June 15, 1215. In exchange for the King agreeing to their demands, the barons renewed their oaths of fealty to King John on June 19, 1215. Seen in this context, the Magna Carta is less a statement of lofty legal principles than a pragmatic attempt by the English barons to limit the monarch’s otherwise unlimited powers while protecting their privileges. Almost every one of the Magna Carta “chapters” addresses an issue arising directly from the complaints described above.
The grievances that King John promised to redress in the Magna Carta reflect both the complaints motivating the barons and, almost coincidentally, provide its subsequent symbolic importance. The 1215 Magna Carta promised that justice would not be “sold denied or delayed,” and ensured that certain rights and procedures would be “granted freely.” You now understand the importance of its guarantee of the safe return of hostages, lands, castles and family members who had been, or were being, held as “security” for military service or loan agreements. Its other provisions similarly addressed the various abuses employed during King John’s reign.
As I said earlier, however, the Magna Carta was swiftly annulled by Pope Innocent III, finding it a “shameful and demeaning agreement, forced upon the King by violence and fear” and releasing King John from his oath to obey it. That action plunged England into a civil war known at the First Barons’ War as the barons reverted to a more traditional type of rebellion, replacing a disliked monarch with one whom they liked better. In that instance, and as perhaps the best evidence of the barons’ desperation, the crown of England was offered to Prince Louis of France. As a means of preventing war or as a method of dispute resolution, the 1215 Magna Carta was a failure and was only legally valid for, at most, three months.
However, as a symbol of a written contract between the governed and the government, the Magna Carta endured to become the basis of our own written constitution. What began as essentially a peace treaty between the barons and the king evolved into the basis for constitutional government in the United States and elsewhere. Ironically, it was the death of King John in 1216 which assured that the Magna Carta would survive. At the conclusion of the civil war in 1217, the Magna Carta was reissued on behalf of Henry III, John’s young son. It is that version of the Magna Carta which is with us here today and which became part of English constitutional law, confirmed by later kings and interpreted by Parliament. The differences between and among the many versions of the Magna Carta have occupied scholars for centuries but that is a discussion for another time. What is clear, however, is that the ideas which found their first expression in 1215 in the document forced upon King John have come to us in an almost unbroken path to form the basis of much of our constitutional tradition.
No shall any person be. . .deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. United States Constitution
Everything from the phrase “due process of law” to the right of trial by jury, to the concept of habeas corpus, to the American Revolutionary slogan of “no taxation without representation” to the Equal Protection Clause which forms the basis for both the civil rights and equal rights campaigns can be found either explicitly or by inference in the Magna Carta as even a brief examination of the Magna Carta will show.
The phrase “law of the land” appears throughout the Magna Carta without ever being defined. Nevertheless, it is this phrase which forms the basis for much of the document’s symbolic meaning and modern day courts have found relevant constitutional meaning in the context in which it was used.
In the American colonies, the Magna Carta’s “law of the land” phrase became equated with “due process of law,” a legal principle that has been the cornerstone of procedural fairness in American civil and criminal trials since the late 1700’s. The “due process clause” of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution by itself and through its incorporation into the 14th Amendment is the foundation of both procedural fairness in American law and courts and as the basis for fundamental substantive rights, like the right to privacy. Similarly, the Magna Carta linked this “law of the land” notion with the right to a trial by jury, providing that “no free man” would be “seized, imprisoned,. . .outlawed or exiled or injured in any way. . . except by lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land, [emphasis added]. In 1215, “lawful judgment of his peers” was accomplished through a proceeding in which 12 knights or landowners familiar with the subject at issue took an oath and swore to testify truthfully about what they knew based on their own observations and other first hand sources. This process, which gave rise to many of our otherwise inexplicable evidentiary rules, was a form of peaceful fact finding far preferable to the trial by battle which characterized dispute resolution before that time. This process of adjudicating disputes by a jury of one’s “peers” became embodied in the 7th Amendment to the United States Constitution as the modern day right to trial by jury by a “truly representative” cross section of the community.
The same section of the Magna Carta also contains the seeds of modern habeas corpus, a legal phrase frequently used and perhaps less often understood. Habeas corpus, which literally means “to bring the body,” is a proceeding to determine whether a person who is jailed, imprisoned or otherwise detained by the government is being lawfully held. If it is decided that the person was detained through “due process of law,” then continued detention is permissible either through trial (if it hasn’t occurred) or post conviction. The Magna Carta similarly permitted continued incarceration if the person’s initial detention was by “the law of the land.”
The United States Supreme Court has also identified the Magna Carta as an early source of the “proportionality” analysis associated with the 8th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Magna Carta prohibited the king from imposing a fine “unless according the measure of the offense.” It further provided that “for a great offense [the defendant] shall be [punished] according to the greatness of the offense.” We now understand that this language was intended to prevent King John from raising and lowering the various fines in the royal courts at whim. The United States Supreme Court, however, found in this concept the prohibition against both state and federal governments from imposing fines and other forms of criminal punishment that are disproportionate to the seriousness of the crime for which the defendant was convicted. Some of you may remember particularly onerous fines or prison terms for a wide variety of motor vehicle offenses and misdemeanors. Challenges to these statutes have invariably raised the 8th Amendment’s proportionality argument and have often prevailed on this point.
Nor is the contemporary significance of the Magna Carta limited to criminal and civil procedure. Early versions of the Magna Carta prohibited the Crown from assessing any military tax (such as “scutage” which I described earlier), “except by the common counsel of [the] realm.” The “common counsel of the realm,” comprised as it was of representatives of English society including clergymen and nobility, was a forerunner of both the English Parliament and, later, of the US Congress.
As it evolved, the common counsel limited the monarch’s and then the government’s power to pass legislation, particularly tax legislation, without popular consent. The existence of this tradition involving tax legislation can be seen in one of our most familiar American sayings: “no taxation without representation.” The representation the Colonists knew and were describing arose from the common counsel which, by the 1770’s, had firmly established its right to be heard on tax legislation, a clear inheritance from the Magna Carta. The hated Stamp Act, passed by Parliament without any participation by the people who would be required to pay it, was opposed at the time as an illegal attempt to raise revenue in violation of the Magna Carta. Indeed, the Magna Carta was much in the mind of the colonists, some of whom contended that “the assembly of barons at Runnymede, when Magna Carta was signed [sic],” was the precedent for the convening of the Continental Congress.
What began as a peace treaty between a despotic King and his angry Barons became a lasting symbol of a written contract between the governed and their government, a contract that even included the right of rebellion when that government ruled without popular consent. The ideas in it endured and were expanded, restated and written into law governing generations of Englishmen, their colonists and, ultimately, countries around the world.
No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor.
Over time, the Magna Carta also came to represent the “rule of law” which, at its core, is an idea that all governments are bound by law. This distinction between a government which governs according to law and one which governs according to the will of a sovereign did not begin with the Magna Carta but certainly found its roots in the notion that no government official, not even one who claimed to rule by divine right and asserting absolute power, is above the law. This was truly revolutionary in 1215 and, as we have seen in the events around the world of the past few months, revolutionary even today.
Finally the Magna Carta has come to symbolize equality under the law. Certainly the Barons who met King John at Runnymede were a privileged class of male, often hereditary, landowners. But the Magna Carta also contained some protections for women, like the right to refuse to marry and the protection of a widow’s dower interest in one third of her husband’s property. It also, given the times and privileged class who authorized and authored the document, contained some provisions that seemingly applied to every person in the realm, whether “free” or not. For example, “no one” could be compelled to perform service for a knight’s fee. Even more importantly was the clause which provided that “justice” will be sold to “no one.” On the literal level, we can understand that this prohibition arose in response to the abuses of the royal justice system. But as the words have come down to us some 800 years later, we understand the fundamental legal principle that everyone, rich and poor, man or woman, regardless of color or ethnicity must be treated the same under law. It is this principle which found its expression in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and which, as interpreted by the highest court in our land, invalidates laws that discriminate or have discriminated on the basis of race, gender, national origin or religion. It is the most American of guarantees and one which still illuminates our imperfect path to the promise of America.
A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
We can trace the profound and important Magna Carta tradition back to the Runnymede meadow nearly 800 years ago when a group of courageous Barons engaged in a revolutionary act that would resonate through the ages. It is worth remembering how much we owe to this now ancient manuscript and the ideas it represents. But we must also remember that this gift is not irrevocable and must protected and nutured in each generation. The rule of law is what separates us from every other form of government since the beginning of time and our inability or failure to recognize that is, in my view, is perhaps the biggest threat to our way of life.
On June 15, 2015, we will return again to the Runnymede meadows to recall this remarkable story. We will recognize our debt to the Barons who decided that they had had enough. Most of all, however, we will celebrate the power of the ideas that endure here and on the streets of Cairo, Tunis, Benghazi and elsewhere as students, lawyers, workers, families, soldiers and shopkeepers call for the rule of law. What a powerful and wonderful idea!
Thank you for the opportunity this has given me, a lawyer, to reflect on all we have inherited from this timeless document.
Magna Carta 800th Anniversary 2015 Committee