It’s 800 years old. It’s one of those famously revered things that really never did mean what lots of folks like to think it meant.
Many folks will admit that they’ve heard of the Magna Charta, the Great Charter “granted” by England’s King John to his barons in June 1215.
Nearly everyone doesn’t know diddly about what the document actually says, or what it actually meant in the hurly burly of English and European political power-plays in the latter stage of the Middle Ages.
There is ill-informed understanding that Magna Charta was the first written guarantee of the rights and privileges of people who were members of the royal family, like barons, churchmen and the yeomanry and peasantry of England.
For starters, the original version of Magna Charta was a non-starter. The English barons pooled their grievances and brought the king to bay at Runnymede, on the Thames River near London. King John (died October 1216) never honored it, and the barons who forced him to sign it notoriously didn’t do much to honor their commitments, either. It didn’t take very long for Pope Innocent III to annul the charter, and the First Barons’ War ensued. Subsequent English kings revived and revised Magna Charta—it was a work in progress for about 80 years, and was finally reissued in more or less final form by King Edward I in 1297.
Magna Charta doesn’t declare many of the noble precepts that have been attributed to it. It most certainly is not the foundation of modern concepts of democratic liberties for all the people.
Magna Charta was a grudging compromise among powerful men who could be called rich thugs without too much exaggeration. The barons intended that it would secure their “rights and privileges.” It may well be true that the average English peasant or working guy didn’t hear about it for generations after it was signed.
By the way, here's a link to an English translation of the original Latin text. Give it a try. You’ll see that it’s not a clarion call for democracy.,
Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.