I seem to be a bit late on realising that 2015 marks 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta by King John. The name means ‘The Great Charter’ and marks an important step in the development of English Law.
It was a peace treaty between King John and some senior Barons signed at Runnymede. I remember learning about this at school – many years ago, but although it is a date that is important, I don’t think I fully realised how important the document was and still is.
It is important because it introduced the idea of the rule of Law and that everyone had to obey the law – including the King. Everyone was given the right to a fair trial and this continues even to this day. This was a very new idea because it was generally believed that Kings (and Queens) ruled by divine power. They were God’s representative on earth and because of this everything he or she said had to be obeyed. The Magna Carta was the first document to begin to challenge this.
When the Magna Carta was first signed there were no printing presses and so copies were made and sent to important institutions like the church around the country. There are now only 4 of those original copies left and for a few days they are being shown altogether at the British Library.
It seems that although much of the Magna Carta is no longer part our Law, it has over the centuries been the basis for English Law and constitutions in countries all over the world including America. This document is of international importance.
It is easy to think history is something that is about the past and to be honest I was never really interested in the subject at school – in fact I failed my O-level in the subject! But as I have grown older and hopefully wiser, I realise that history helps us to know who we are and why things are as they are. The Magna Carta set out principles of how English law should work and set out the basics of democracy and that people should have representation. In the Magna Carta one of the sentences was about those who paid tax must be represented in parliament.
Unfortunately unless you already have a ticket to view the Magna Carta documents at the British Library for this special event, then you won’t get to see all four of them. However, there are two copies at the British Library and will be on display in a special exhibition. If you are in the Kings Cross area and want to have a look at this historic document, do pop in.