The Magna Carta (or “Great Charter”) is classified by the United Nations as a document of global significance and has been placed on the UNESCO "Memory of the World" register. It records an agreement reached between John, King of England, and a group of English barons at the town of Runnymede on the banks of the Thames near Wallingford on 15th June 1215. A copy made at the time is available at the British Library in London, and may be viewed on line, together with an English translation. The British Library translation is reproduced in the addendum to this article.
The charter was reissued in 1216, 1217, and 1225. At the time it was mainly concerned to redress current grievances against the King as a means of resolving a political crisis, was of negligible constitutional importance. However two of its clauses had a significant influence upon the subsequent development of the British constitution.
Clauses 39 and 40 state that:
- "No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled . nor will we proceed with force against him . 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."
- and are held to be the first recorded statement of the civil rights that were to become fundamental to the British constitution - and others.
Clause 61 states that
- "Since we have granted all these things for God, for the better ordering of our kingdom, and to allay the discord that has arisen between us and our barons, and since we desire that they shall be enjoyed in their entirely, with lasting strength, for ever, we give and grant to the barons the following security: The barons shall elect 25 of their number to keep, and cause to be observed with all their number to keep, and cause to be observed with all their might, the peace and liberties granted and confirmed to them by this charter. . . ."
- and by establishing the concept of an independent body set up to represent the interests of the country, with power over the conduct of the government, is taken to be a precursor of the establishment of parliament as an instrument of representative government.
The body of 25 barons was first known as the "Great Council" but later became known as the English Parliament, and the breadth of its representation was extended by the Provision of Oxford and in the makeup under Edward I of the "Model Parliament".
- ‘’Treasures in Full: Magna Carta’’. British Library, London
- Holt, J. C. (1992). Magna Carta, 2nd edition. p. 1. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-27778-7.
- A L Poole: Domesday to Magna Carta, page 476, Oxford University Press, 1955
- Gwilym Dodd: The Birth of Parliament BBC July 2007