The Magna Carta is known today as one of the most important documents of European history, as it served as inspiration for many bodies of law that would come after it. Was the Magna Carta a government document?
The Magna Carta was an English government document created by the elite noble class to diminish the absolute power of the king. The document demanded that the monarchy be held to English law and proclaimed the rights of the elite nobles of England.
Read on to learn about the Magna Carta and its impact on the English monarchy.
The Magna Carta was designed to hinder the supreme power of the monarchy. It was specifically written to diminish the power of King John, who was known for being a particularly brutal and tyrannical monarch.
Pope Innocent III declared the sovereignty of the papacy over secular European rulers during the early 13th century. This created a feud between the pope and King John.
When King John openly opposed an appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1207, Pope Innocent III excommunicated him from the Catholic Church. King John responded by confiscating Church land across England and imposing heavy taxes on Catholic institutions.
Not only was he unpopular in the Church, but the elite nobles of England had a strong contempt for the king due to heavy taxes he imposed on the elite English population.
The Nobles Fight Back
After a costly invasion into France in 1214, the taxation of the nobles would cause increasing unrest throughout England, culminating in a civil war. During the unrest, the nobles would take London and demanded that King John sign an early form of what would later be the Magna Carta.
King John was frightened that a prolonged civil war would remove him from the throne, so he reluctantly signed the document. Despite his signing of the document, he would soon after convince the pope to condemn the document, deeming it illegitimate in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
However, John soon died the following year and the document was fully restored by King Henry III. After another reissue of the document, the official Magna Carta would become English law in 1225.
The Magna Carta not only diminished the supreme power of the English monarchy, but the document also had many provisions that promised equal rights to English citizens. However, it should be pointed out that these provisions would only ensure the rights of the English elite, as the peasant class of England was left out of the document entirely.
The Legacy of the Magna Carta
The Magna Carta would provide much of the foundation for the U.S. constitution centuries later. Much of the American Bill of Rights was especially inspired by the document, as seen in this Magna Carta provision:
“No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.”
Though the Magna Carta has many provisions on the rights of citizens, its main legacy is holding leaders accountable to the laws of their country.
The copies of the original Magna Carta are now kept on display at the Salisbury Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral, and the British Museum.