Little Bits of History

King “Soft-sword” John “Signs” on the Dotted Line

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 15, 2010
King John reluctantly signing the Magna Carta

King John reluctantly signing the Magna Carta

June 15, 1215: King John of England enacts the Magna Carta – Latin for Great Paper, or Great Charter. John became king of England after his brother, Richard the Lionhearted, died. This document, written in Latin, was created because Pope Innocent III, King John, and the aristocracy in England were trying to define the power of the king. The Pope and the barons wanted King John’s powers reduced. His incessant taxation and lack of military prowess combined to cause unrest among the taxed.

The document, also called the Great Charter of Freedoms, was not signed by the King because he probably could not write, but his Seal is affixed. After the meeting at Runnymede where the document was accepted by all parties, copies were produced by the royal chancery, four of the original documents survive to date. This document remains a vital influence on the idea of constitutional law used historically throughout much of the world.

There were 63 clauses to the document, limiting the King’s power and making him subject to the law. The most famous of these clauses is that which stated that a free man cannot be imprisoned, outlawed, or exiled without judicial process. The charter also discussed the treatment of heirs and widows, stated that justice could not be bought or sold, and provided a uniform means of measurements for wine, ale, corn, and cloth.

The King was forced into signing the document and as soon as possible tried to have it annulled. He continued to campaign for the repeal of the charter until his sudden death in October 1216. The documents lives on in reissued form as well as forming a basis for other charters, including the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

“None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free.” – Pearl S. Buck

“Freedom is not a gift received from a State or a leader but a possession to be won every day by the effort of each and the union of all.” – Albert Camus

“In the truest sense freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Kings and fools speak freely.” – Dutch saying

Also on this date, in 1844 Charles Goodyear patented the vulcanization of rubber.

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