The Magna Charta Libertatum is a very important document; it was signed by John Lackland at Runnymede, near Windsor, June 15, 1215. This document was very important for this period because it limited the power of the king, subjecting him to the rule of the law and protecting his people from feudal abuse.
John Lackland’s father, Henry II, belonged to the dynasty of the plantagenetis, has strengthened the administrative system of the kingdom of England, after that he had become the king of it in 1154. He created a new body, the Court of the Chessboards, that had to manage the finances of the crown. Furthermore he was helped by the Privy Council, composed by aristocratic people that helped him to make some decisions. But when he died, the govern of the kingdom passed in the hands of his first son, Richard the Lionheard, and after in the hands of the second son, John Lackland, so named because, when his father died, he had inherited no territory. Them the system of political and administrative concentration wasn’t respected. In the same period the plantagenetis had some big territories in France, and these were cause of many of the disputes with the French crown. These conflicts stopped in 1214 during the battle of Bouvines, the plantagenetis lost, and so, they had to give to the French crown the control of their territories in the Northwestern French. To finance this battle, the king had imposed some extraordinary taxes without the barons’ consent. And so, the barons, the clergy and the high middle class, after the defeat, forced the king to sign a document, where there were some limits that the king had to respect. The document was called Magna Charta Libertatum (Great Charter), it was written in latin and the adjective “great” means that there were many rules. The importance of this document is given by the possibility to ensure some rights to “all the free men”, even if, in this period, the free men were a small part of the population. But the great step was that, for the first time, the right of the individuals were recognized to damage of the abuses of the monarchic power. And this has conditioned, since then, the history of the English monarchy.
Some of the articles were:
- The prohibition for the sovereign to impose new taxes without the consent of the parliament.
- All men of free condition can’t be imprisoned without first passing a proper trial by a court of equal. It was the principle of the “Habeas Corpus” that protected the personal liberty of the subjects from the risk of an arbitrary arrest for order of the king.
Nullus liber homo capiatur, vel imprisonetur, aut disseisiatur, aut utlagetur, aut exuletur, aut aliquo modo destruatur, nec super eum ibimus, nec super eum mittemus, nisi per legale judicium parium suorum vel per legem terre (from the 39th chapter of the official document in Latin).
- The king can’t interfere in the elections of the religious positions, which were the bishops and the archbishop of Canterbury, their nominations waited only to the members of the church, and he can’t appropriate any ecclesiastical goods.
- In economic matters, the city of London, and all the others villages and ports granted to all dealers, except those from countries at war with the king, the right of free entry and exit from the country.
Omnes mercatores habeant salvum et securum exire de Anglia, et venire in Angliam, et morari, et ire per Angliam, tam per terram quam per aquam, ad emendum et vendendum, sine omnibus malis toltis, per antiquas et rectas consuetudines, preterquam in tempore gwerre, et si sint de terra contra nos gwerrina; et si tales inveniantur in terra nostra in principio gwerre, attachientur sine dampno corporum et rerum, donec sciatur a nobis vel capitali justiciario nostro quomodo mercatores terre nostre tractentur, qui tunc invenientur in terra contra nos gwerrina; et si nostri salvi sint ibi, alii salvi sint in terra nostra (from the 41th chapter of the offical document in Latin).
- To facilitate trade, in all the kingdom should be taken the same measures for wine, beer and grain and also cloths were packaged in standardized measures.
The Magna Charta Libertatum was the first document for the universal recognition of the rights of citizens and even if the Magna Charta through the ages has been amended by ordinary laws enacted by parliament, it still shows the status of a fundamental law of the British monarchy.