Magna Carta: One of the Most Significant Law Documents


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Magna Carta Libertatum, also known as ‘The Great Charter of the Liberties’, is one of the most significant law documents ever created because of its influence over the course of history and time. Also, it is not one of the documents that was once passed and deleted a few decades afterwards, but it is a document that still exists today in a slightly different formation. Three clauses remained on United Kingdom statute today and this is a clear sign of importance this document has in today’s world. It was first written in 1215 by England barons who wanted to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. It was sealed near Windsor (England), but the original version was changed so many times throughout history that represents only an outline of the final version. Magna Carta was written by hand using quill pens on material made of sheep skin. Today, only four copies of the original document from 1215 exists, but there are many copies that follow the exemplifications from 1916, 1917, 1923, and 1297.

It is important to explain the long living combat that existed between the King and barons in medieval England, when talking about the origin of the document and the conditions of the period of time which produced the necessity of having this manuscript. Barons were unhappy about the economic and political situation in England, and they tried to pressure King John to create a document that would guarantee more rights for them. King John did not have any choice and he signed the peace agreement in 1215, which became the famous Magna Carta a few years later. It was a big document which included the protection from illegal imprisonment, protection of church rights, limitations on taxation, and other feudal payments to the King. According to ‘The Magna Carta’, “The charter meant less to contemporaries than it has to subsequent generations. The solemn circumstances of its first granting have given to Magna Carta of 1215 a unique place in popular imagination; quite early in its history it became a symbol and a battle cry against oppression, each successive generation reading into it a protection of its own threatened liberties” (par. 2). Feudal barons accepted this agreement and the rebels renewed their oaths of loyalty to the King, but this did not last for a long time. King John died the same year and barons tried to use the unstable situation and gain more control and power in the region. This effort gave them the modified version of Magna Carta in 1216 and more freedom rights. This charter was again revised in 1217 for the third time and it seemed that the changes would stopped there. However, barons had the feeling that King Henry was not committed to the charters which was the main reason for another rebellion against the King. On the other side, King had the problem with the region in France which was occupied, but the French King wanted it back. Barons’ army was ready to help, but they wanted an improved Magna Carta in turn. The King accepted the offer, and confirmed it with the royal seal on top of it in the year of 1225.

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The final version of the Magna Carta was probably the one created in the 1297 and it is definitely considered the main one. All of the previous ones were more of the agreements and promises to the barons and regular people, while this one was more practical. King Edward was putting in effort to enhance and enforce this legislature, and he was the main trigger of this process. He gained the trust of middle class and provided the reading of the whole document twice a year in public places. Statute of modern England was based on the Magna Carta and some of the chapters stayed unchanged to this day. All the basic civil and political laws of today were created almost 800 years ago. For them, matter of freedom, slavery, taxes, and classes were sketchy themes, but the important laws were passed which enabled following generations to have the foundation of civil laws. Nowadays, the same can be said about the rights of gay people, if we pass crucial laws for them today, in a few decades those laws would be considered as common sense.

Although Magna Carta was originally created to protect rights of England barons, during the period of time it became a symbol of civil and common law of all people. Everything started in England, but English people used this document as an outline for creating the civil and political laws in their colonies – United States, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. As it is stated in the text ‘Magna Carta’, “During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta” (par. 7). These rights were transformed into the laws of states and later formed the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Knowing the fact that Magna Carta Libertatum formed and shaped the common civil law of today, its influence on modern world becomes obvious and not disputable. The citizens of the United States should be grateful for having this document as a foundation of the Constitution, while English people should be ashamed for not even knowing what the Magna Carta is. The latest research showed that almost 50% of English people do not know what this document represents. In a few months England will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the creation of the Magna Carta, but its citizens have a lack of historical knowledge.

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