‘Magna Carta’ is Latin for ‘The Great Charter’. When King John signed it under duress in 1215, it was the stepping stone towards individual rights and freedom for all in England. To this day, it is considered by many as the foundation for the first constitutional government in England.
During the reign of King John, England was at war with France. King John lost most of his lands and possessions in France. To regain them, he decided to wage war and levied heavy taxes on his barons to raise the funds for the war.
After a long and expensive war, he was defeated and all his efforts came to nothing. This greatly angered the barons who rose up against the King in anger. The rebel barons controlled a substantial area of England at the time.
They demanded that the King grants them certain liberties and rights. These liberties were then enshrined in the Magna Carta.
The Magna Carta itself was a charter agreed upon by King John of England and the rebel barons. It was drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and sealed by King John himself. The original charter guaranteed a number of rights for the barons.
It protected them from illegal imprisonment, granted them rights to a fair trial and justice, and also guaranteed the protection of church rights. Although King John would later refuse to implement the charter, it was later confirmed by his successor, King Henry III, in 1215 and 1225.
The Magna Carta was the first written charter in which the King of England agreed to be held accountable by the law. It was also the first time that a wide range of individual rights and liberties were confirmed by the crown. The most notable among these was access to justice which protected a baron or serf from unwarranted prosecution or punishment.
The Magna Carta was reissued regularly whenever there were problems between the realm and its sovereign. By the end of the 13th century, it had become entirely totemic. In the 1270s, the Church of England demanded that a copy of the Magna Carta be displayed on the door of every major monastery and cathedral. It was now more than just a legal settlement.
It may be stated that the Magna Carta made a major difference to the political landscape of the 13th-Century. It laid the foundations of the Parliament. It asserted that the system of taxation (previously arbitrarily applied) needed the consent of the kingdom.
It also stopped many other sources of revenue, forcing the king to become dependent on tax collections. Lastly, it paved the way for making concessions for knights in the counties and burgesses in the towns,and allowed them to be represented in the English Parliament.
The Magna Carta, in essence, laid the foundations for the tax-based Parliamentary state. It put an end to arbitrary Kingship, preventing the ruling kings of England from exploiting the people. It survived long after many of the royals, becoming a point of principle rather than a point of practical politics.