Magna Carta (Latin for Great Charter, literally "Great Paper"), also called Magna Carta Libertatum (Great Charter of Freedoms), is an English legal charter, originally issued in the year 1215. It was written in Latin.
The Magna Carta required King John of England to proclaim certain rights (mainly of his barons), respect certain legal procedures, and accept that his will could be bound by the law. It explicitly protected certain rights of the King's subjects, whether free or fettered — most notably the writ of habeas corpus, allowing appeal against unlawful imprisonment.
Magna Carta was arguably the most significant early influence on the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law today in the English speaking world. Magna Carta influenced the development of the common law and many constitutional documents, including the United States Constitution. Many clauses were renewed throughout the Middle Ages, and continued to be renewed as late as the 18th century. By the second half of the 19th century, however, most clauses in their original form had been repealed from English law.
Magna Carta was the first document forced onto an English King by a group of his subjects (the barons) in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their privileges. It was preceded by the 1100 Charter of Liberties in which King Henry I voluntarily stated what his own powers were under the law.
In practice, Magna Carta mostly did not limit the power of the King in the Middle Ages;Fact|date=September 2008 by the time of the English Civil War, however, it had become an important symbol for those who wished to show that the King was bound by the law.
Magna Carta is normally understood to refer to a single document, that of 1215. Various amended versions of the Magna Carta appeared in subsequent years however, and it is the 1297 version which remains on the statute books of England and Wales.
After the Norman conquest of England in 1066 and advances in the 12th century, the English king had by 1199 become a powerful and influential monarch in Europe. Factors contributing to this include the sophisticated centralised government created by the procedures of the new Norman systems of governance and extensive Anglo-Norman land holdings in Normandy. But after King John of England was crowned in the early 13th century, a series of failures at home and abroad, combined with perceived abuses of the king's power, led the English barons to revolt and attempt to restrain what the king could legally do.
King John's actions in France were a major cause of discontent in the realm. At the time of his accession to the throne after Richard's death, there were no set rules to define the line of succession. King John, as Richard's younger brother, was crowned over Richard's nephew, Arthur of Brittany. Since Arthur still had a claim over the Anjou empire, however, John needed the approval of the French king, Philip Augustus. To get it, John gave to Philip large tracts of the French-speaking Anjou territories.
When John later married Isabella of Angoulême, her previous fiancé (Hugh IX of Lusignan, one of John's vassals) appealed to Philip, who then declared forfeit all of John's French lands, including the rich Normandy. Philip declared Arthur as the true ruler of the Anjou throne and invaded John's French holdings in mid-1202 to give it to him. John had to act to save face, but his eventual actions did not achieve this—Arthur disappeared in suspicious circumstances, and John was widely believed to have murdered him, thus losing the little support he had from his French barons.
After the defeat of John's allies at the Battle of Bouvines, Philip retained all of John's northern French territories, including Normandy (although Aquitaine remained in English hands for a time). These serious military defeats, which lost to the English a major source of income, made John unpopular at home. Worse, to recoup his expenses, he had to further tax the already unhappy barons.
At the time of John’s reign there was still a great deal of controversy as to how the Archbishop of Canterbury was to be elected, although it had become traditional that the monarch would appoint a candidate with the approval of the monks of Canterbury.
But in the early 13th century, the bishops began to want a say. To retain control, the monks elected one of their numbers to the role. But John, incensed at his lack of involvement in the proceedings, sent John de Gray, the Bishop of Norwich, to Rome as his choice. Pope Innocent III declared both choices invalid and persuaded the monks to elect Stephen Langton. Nevertheless, John refused to accept this choice and exiled the monks from the realm. Infuriated, Innocent ordered an interdict (prevention of public worship — mass, marriages, the ringing of church bells, etc.) in England in 1208, excommunicated John in 1209, and encouraged Philip to invade England in 1212.
John finally backed down and agreed to endorse Langton and allow the exiles to return. To completely placate the pope, he gave England and Ireland as papal territories and rented them back as a fiefdom for 1,000 marks per annum. This surrender of autonomy to a foreign power further enraged the barons.
King John needed money for armies, but the loss of the French territories, especially Normandy, greatly reduced the state income, and a huge tax would have to be raised in order to attempt to reclaim these territories. Yet, it was difficult to raise taxes because of the tradition of keeping them at the same level.
John relied on clever manipulation of pre-existing rights, including those of forest law, a set of regulations about the king’s hunting preserves, which were easily broken and severely punished. John also increased the pre-existing scutage (feudal payment to an overlord replacing direct military service) eleven times in his seventeen years as king, as compared to eleven times in twice that period covering three monarchs before him. The last two of these increases were double the increase of their predecessors. He also imposed the first income tax, which raised what was, at the time, the extortionate sum of £70,000.
Rebellion and signing of the document
By 1215, some of the most important barons in England had had enough, and they entered London in force on 10 June 1215, [Within this article dates before 14 September 1752 are in the Julian calendar, later dates are in the Gregorian calendar.] with the city showing its sympathy with their cause by opening its gates to them. They, and many of the moderates not in overt rebellion, forced King John to agree to the "Articles of the Barons", to which his Great Seal was attached in the meadow at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. In return, the barons renewed their oaths of fealty to King John on 19 June 1215. A formal document to record the agreement was created by the royal chancery on 15 July: this was the original Magna Carta. An unknown number of copies of it were sent out to officials, such as royal sheriffs and bishops.
The most significant clause for King John at the time was clause 61, known as the "security clause", the longest portion of the document. This established a committee of 25 barons who could at any time meet and overrule the will of the King, through force by seizing his castles and possessions if needed. This was based on a medieval legal practice known as "distraint", but it was the first time it had been applied to a monarch. In addition, the King was to take an oath of loyalty to the committee.
Clause 61 essentially neutered John's power as a monarch, making him King in name only. He renounced it as soon as the barons left London, plunging England into a civil war, called the First Barons' War. Pope Innocent III also annulled the "shameful and demeaning agreement, forced upon the King by violence and fear." He rejected any call for restraints on the King, saying it impaired John's dignity. He saw it as an affront to the Church's authority over the King and the 'papal territories' of England and Ireland, and he released John from his oath to obey it.
Magna Carta re-issued
John died during the war, from dysentery, on 18 October 1216, and this quickly changed the nature of the war. His nine-year-old son, Henry III, was next in line for the throne. The royalists believed the rebel barons would find the idea of loyalty to the child Henry more palatable, so the boy was swiftly crowned in late October 1216, and the war ended.
Henry's regentis reissued Magna Carta in his name on 12 November 1216, omitting some clauses, such as clause 61, and again in 1217. When he turned 18 in 1225, Henry III reissued Magna Carta, this time in a shorter version with only 37 articles.
Henry III ruled for 56 years (the longest reign of an English Monarch in the Medieval period) so that by the time of his death in 1272, Magna Carta had become a settled part of English legal precedent.
Henry III's son and heir Edward I's Parliament reissued Magna Carta for the final time on 12 October 1297, as part of a statute called "Confirmatio cartarum", reconfirming Henry III's shorter version of Magna Carta from 1225.
Magna Carta was originally written in Latin. A large part of Magna Carta was copied, nearly verbatim, from the Charter of Liberties of Henry I, issued when Henry I ascended to the throne in 1100, which bound the king to certain laws regarding the treatment of church officials and nobles, effectively granting certain civil liberties to the church and the English nobility.
right|thumb|"Magna carta cum statutis angliae",(Great Charter with English Statutes) page 1 of manuscript, fourteenth century.The document commonly known as Magna Carta today is not the 1215 charter but a later charter of 1225, and is usually shown in the form of The Charter of 1297 when it was confirmed by Edward I. At the time of the 1215 charter, many of the provisions were not meant to make long term changes but simply to right the immediate wrongs, and therefore The Charter was reissued three times in the reign of Henry III (1216, 1217 and 1225) in order to provide for an updated version. After this, each individual king for the next two hundred years (until Henry V in 1416) personally confirmed the 1225 charter in his own charter.
Rights still in force today
For modern times, the most enduring legacy of Magna Carta is considered the right of "habeas corpus". This right arises from what are now known as clauses 36, 38, 39, and 40 of the 1215 Magna Carta.
As the most recent version, it is the 1297 Charter which remains in legal force in England and Wales. Using the clauses in the 1297 charter (the content and numbering are somewhat different from the 1215 Charter): Clause 1 guarantees the freedom of the English Church. Although this originally meant freedom from the King, later in history it was used for different purposes (see below). Clause 9 guarantees the “ancient liberties” of the City of London. Clause 29 guarantees a right to due process.
*I. FIRST, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the Freemen of our Realm, for Us and our Heirs for ever, these Liberties under-written, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of Us and our Heirs for ever.
*IX. THE City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have. Moreover We will and grant, that all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns, and the Barons of the Five Ports, and all other Ports, shall have all their Liberties and free Customs.
*XXIX. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.cite web | url = http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?activeTextDocId=1517519 | title = (Magna Carta) (1297) (c. 9) | work = UK Statute Law Database | date = | accessdate = 2007-09-02 ]
The repeal of clause 26 in 1829 [by 9 Geo. 4 c. 31 s. 1 ] was the first time a clause of Magna Carta was repealed. With the document's perceived protected status broken, in 150 years nearly the whole charter was repealed, leaving just Clauses 1, 9, and 29 still in force after 1969. Most of it was repealed in England and Wales by the Statute Law Revision Act 1863, and in Ireland by the Statute Law (Ireland) Revision Act 1872.
Feudal rights still in place in 1225
Several clauses were present in the 1225 charter but are no longer in force and would have no real place in the post-feudal world. Clauses 2 to 7 refer to the feudal death duties, defining the amounts and what to do if an heir to a fiefdom is underage or is a widow. Clause 23 provides no town or person should be forced to build a bridge across a river. Clause 33 demands the removal of all fish weirs. Clause 43 gives special provision for tax on reverted estates and Clause 44 states that forest law should only apply to those in the king’s forest.
Feudal rights not in the 1225 charter
Some provisions have no bearing in the world today, since they are feudal rights and were not even included in the 1225 charter. Clauses 9 to 12, 14 to 16, and 25 to 26 deal with debt and taxes and Clause 27 with intestacy.
The other clauses state that no one may seize land in debt except as a last resort; that underage heirs and widows should not pay interest on inherited loans; that county rents will stay at their ancient amounts; and that the crown may only seize the value owed in payment of a debt, that aid (taxes for warfare or other emergency) must be reasonable, and that scutage (literally, shield-payment, payment in lieu of actual military service used to finance warfare) may only be sought with the consent of the kingdom.
Clause 14 states that the common consent of the kingdom was to be sought from a council of the archbishops, bishops, earls and greater Barons. This later became the great council, which led to the first parliament.
Clauses 17 to 22 allowed for a fixed law court, which became the chancellery, and defines the scope and frequency of county assizes. They also state that fines should be proportionate to the offence, that they should not be influenced by ecclesiastical property in clergy trials, and that their peers should try people. Many think that this gave rise to jury and magistrate trial, but its only manifestation in the modern world was the right of a lord to a criminal trial in the House of Lords at first instance (abolished in 1948).
Clause 24 states that crown officials (such as sheriffs) may not try a crime in place of a judge. Clause 34 forbids repossession without a writ precipe. Clauses 36 to 38 state that writs for loss of life or limb are to be free, that someone may use reasonable force to secure their own land, and that no one can be tried on their own testimony alone.
Clauses 36, 38, 39 and 40 collectively define the right of Habeas Corpus. Clause 36 requires courts to make inquiries as to the whereabouts of a prisoner, and to do so without charging any fee.Clause 38 requires more than the mere word of an official, before any person could be put on trial. Clause 39 gives the courts exclusive rights to punish anyone. Clause 40 disallows the selling or the delay of justice. Clauses 36 and 38 were removed from the 1225 version, but were reinstated in later versions. The right of Habeas Corpus as such was first invoked in court in the year 1305.
Clause 54 says that no man may be imprisoned on the testimony of a woman except on the death of her husband.
Anti-corruption and fair trade
Clauses 28 to 32 state that no royal officer may take any commodity such as grain, wood or transport without payment or consent or force a knight to pay for something the knight could do himself, and that the king must return any lands confiscated from a felon within a year and a day.
Clause 35 sets out a list of standard measures, and Clauses 41 and 42 guarantee the safety and right of entry and exit of foreign merchants.
Clause 45 says that the King should only appoint royal officers where they are suitable for the post. In the United States, the Supreme Court of California interpreted clause 45 in 1974 as establishing a requirement at common law that a defendant faced with the potential of incarceration is entitled to a trial overseen by a law-trained judge. ["Gordon v. Justice Court", [http://online.ceb.com/calcases/C3/12C3d323.htm 12 Cal. 3d 323] (1974).]
Clause 46 provides for the guardianship of monasteries.
Some provisions were for immediate effect and were not in any later charter. Clauses 47 and 48 abolish most of Forest Law (these were later taken out of Magna Carta and formed into a separate charter, the Charter of the Forests) [CathEncy|wstitle=Magna Carta] . Clauses 49, 52 to 53 and 55 to 59 provide for the return of hostages, land and fines taken in John’s reign.
Article 50 states that no member of the D’Athée family may be a royal officer. Article 51 calls for all foreign knights and mercenaries to leave the realm.
Articles 60, 62 and 63 provide for the application and observation of the Charter and say that the Charter is binding on the King and his heirs forever, but this was soon deemed dependent on each succeeding king reaffirming the Charter under his own seal.
The first long-term constitutional effect arose from Clauses 14 and 61, which permitted a council composed of the most powerful men in the country to exist for the benefit of the state rather than in allegiance to the monarch. Members of the council were also allowed to renounce their oath of allegiance to the King in pressing circumstances and to pledge allegiance to the council and not to the King in certain instances. The common council was responsible for taxation, and although it was not representative, its members were bound by decisions made in their absence. The common council, later called the Great Council, was England's proto-parliament.
The Great Council only existed to give input on the opinion of the kingdom as a whole, and it only had power to control scutage until 1258 when Henry III got into debt fighting in Sicily for the pope. The barons agreed to a tax in exchange for reform, leading to the Provisions of Oxford. But Henry got a papal bull allowing him to set aside the provisions and in 1262 told royal officers to ignore the provisions and only to obey Magna Carta. The barons revolted and seized the Tower of London, the Cinque ports and Gloucester. Initially the King surrendered, but when Louis IX of France arbitrated in favour of Henry, Henry crushed the rebellion. Later he ceded somewhat, passing the Statute of Marlborough in 1267, which allowed writs for breaches of Magna Carta to be free of charge, enabling anyone to have standing to apply the Charter.
This secured the position of the Great Council forever, but its powers were still very limited. The council originally only met three times per year and so was subservient to the King’s council, Curiae Regis, who, unlike the Great Council, followed the king wherever he went.
Still, in some senses the council was an early form of parliament. It had the power to meet outside the authority of the King and was not appointed by him. While executive government descends from the Curiae Regis, parliament descends from the Great Council, which was later called "the parliamentum". However, the Great Council was very different from modern parliament. There were no knights, let alone commons, and it was composed of the most powerful men, rather than elected citizens.
Magna Carta had little effect on subsequent development of parliament until the Tudor period. Knights and county representatives attended the Great Council (Simon de Montfort’s Parliament), and the council became far more representative under the model parliament of Edward I which included two knights from each county, two burgesses from each borough and two citizens from each city. The Commons separated from the Lords in 1341. The right of the Commons to exclusively sanction taxes (based on a withdrawn provision of Magna Carta) was re-asserted in 1407, although it was not in force in this period. The power vested in the Great Council by, albeit withdrawn, Clause 14 of Magna Carta became vested in the House of Commons but Magna Carta was all but forgotten for about a century, until the Tudors.
The Magna Carta was the first entry on the statute books, but after 1472, it was not mentioned for a period of nearly 100 years. There was much ignorance about the document. The few who did know about the document spoke of a good king being forced by an unstable pope and rebellious barons “to attaine the shadow of seeming liberties” and that it was a product of a wrongful rebellion against the one true authority, the king. The original Magna Carta was seen as an ancient document with shadowy origins and as having no bearing on the Tudor world. Shakespeare’s "King John" makes no mention of the Charter at all but focuses on the murder of Arthur. The Charter in the statute books was thought to have arisen from the reign of Henry III. Fact|date=September 2007
First uses of the charter as a bill of rights
This statute was used widely in the reign of Henry VIII but was seen as no more special than any other statute and could be amended and removed. But later in the reign, the Lord Treasurer stated in the Star Chamber that many had lost their lives in the Baronial wars fighting for the liberties which were guaranteed by the Charter, and therefore it should not so easily be overlooked as a simple and regular statute.
The church often attempted to invoke the first clause of the Charter to protect itself from the attacks by Henry, but this claim was given no credence. Francis Bacon was the first to try to use Clause 39 to guarantee due process in a trial.
Although there was a re-awakening of the use of Magna Carta in common law, it was not seen (as it was later) as an entrenched set of liberties guaranteed for the people against the Crown and Government. Rather, it was a normal statute, which gave a certain level of liberties, most of which could not be relied on, least of all against the king. Therefore, the Charter had little effect on the governance of the early Tudor period. Although lay parliament evolved from the Charter, by this stage the powers of parliament had managed to exceed those humble beginnings. The Charter had no real effect until the Elizabethan age.
Reinterpretation of the charter
In the Elizabethan age, England was becoming a powerful force in Europe. In academia, earnest but futile attempts were made to prove that Parliament had Roman origins. The events at Runnymede in 1215 were "re-discovered", allowing a possibility to show the antiquity of Parliament, and Magna Carta became synonymous with the idea of an ancient house with origins in Roman government.
The Charter was interpreted as an attempt to return to a pre-Norman state of things. The Tudors saw the Charter as proof that their state of governance had existed since time immemorial and the Normans had been a brief break from this liberty and democracy. This claim is disputed in certain circles but explains how Magna Carta came to be regarded as such an important document.
Magna Carta again occupied legal minds, and it again began to shape how that government was run. Soon the Charter was seen as an immutable entity. In the trial of Arthur Hall for questioning the antiquity of the House, one of his alleged crimes was an attack on Magna Carta.
Edward Coke’s opinions
One of the first respected jurists to write seriously about the great charter was Edward Coke, who had a great deal to say on the subject and was influential in the way Magna Carta was perceived throughout the Tudor and Stuart periods, although his opinions changed across time and his writing in the Stuart period was more influential. In the Elizabethan period, Coke wrote of Parliament evolving alongside the monarchy and not existing by any allowance on the part of the monarch. However he was still fiercely loyal to Elizabeth, and the monarchy still judged the Charter in the same light it always had: an evil document forced out of their forefathers by brute force. He therefore prevented a re-affirmation of the charter from passing the House, and although he spoke highly of the charter, he did not speak out against imprisonments without due process. This came back to haunt him later when he moved for a reaffirmation of the charter.
Coke was not alone in his confused opinions about the charter among the people in that era. The Petition of Right in 1628 was meant as a reaffirmation of the charter but was defeated by the Attorney General (Robert Heath). He stated that the petition claimed it was a mere codification of existing law stemming from Magna Carta, but, he claimed, there was no precedent shown as to these laws existing in such as a way as they bound the present king; there was a definite feeling that the king could not be bound by law and therefore Clause 39 and all others did not apply to him. The charter was seen as important as a statement as to the antiquity of Parliament, that it was pre-Norman, and not because it was the catalyst to the genesis of Parliament. Again, certain modern critics dispute this latter point. The Charter was seen in part as entrenched law by Coke's opinion and no one would dare deny it, but it was not seen as binding on the king. Fact|date=September 2007 Such suggestions were impermissible until the Stuart period.
Magna Carta’s role in the lead-up to the Civil War
By the time of the Stuarts, Magna Carta had attained an almost mythical status for its admirers and was seen as representing a ‘golden age’ of English liberties extant prior to the Norman invasion. Whether or not this 'golden age' ever truly existed is open to debate; regardless, proponents of its application to English law saw themselves as leading England back to a pre-Norman state of affairs. What is true, however is that this age existed in the hearts and minds of people of the time. Magna Carta was not important because of the liberties it bestowed, but simply as ‘proof’ of what had come before; many great minds influentially exalted the Charter; by the seventeenth century, Coke was talking of the Charter as an indispensable method of limiting the powers of the Crown, a popular principle in the Stuart period where the kings were proclaiming their divine right and were looking, in the minds of some of their subjects, towards becoming absolute monarchs.
It was not the content of the Charter which has made it so important in the history of England, but more how it has been perceived in the popular mind. This is something that certainly started in the Stuart period, as the Charter represented many things, which are not to be found in the Charter itself. Firstly it was used to claim liberties against the Government in general rather than just the Crown and the officers of the crown, secondly that it represented that the laws and liberties of England, specifically Parliament, dated back to a time immemorial and thirdly, that it was not only just but right to usurp a king who disobeyed the law.
For the last of these reasons Magna Carta began to represent a danger to the monarchy; Elizabeth ordered that John Coke stop a bill from going through Parliament which would have reaffirmed the validity of the Charter, and Charles I ordered the suppression of a book which Coke intended to write on Magna Carta. The powers of Parliament were growing, and on Coke’s death, parliament ordered his house to be searched; the manuscripts were recovered, and the book was published in 1642 (at the end of Charles I's Personal Rule). Parliament began to see Magna Carta as its best way of claiming supremacy over the crown and began to state that they were the sworn defenders of the liberties — fundamental and immemorial — which were to be found in the Charter.
In the four centuries since the Charter had originally catered for their creation, Parliament’s power had increased greatly from their original level where they existed only for the purpose that the king had to seek their permission in order to raise scutage. They had become the only body allowed to raise tax, a right which although descended from the 1215 Great Charter was not guaranteed by it, since it was removed from the 1225 edition. Parliament had become so powerful that the Charter was being used both by those wishing to limit Parliament's power (as a new organ of the Crown), and by those who wished Parliament to rival the king's power (as a set of principles Parliament was sworn to defend against the king). When it became obvious that some people wished to limit the power of Parliament by claiming it to be tantamount to the crown, Parliament claimed they had the sole right of interpretation of the Charter.
This was an important step; for the first time Parliament was claiming itself a body as above the law; whereas one of the fundamental principles in English law was that the law, Parliament, the monarch, and the church held all, albeit to different extents. Parliament was claiming exactly what Magna Carta wanted to prevent the king from claiming, a claim of not being subject to any higher form of power. This was not claimed until ten years after the death of Lord Coke, but he would not have agreed with this, because he claimed in the English Constitution the law was supreme and all bodies of government were subservient to the supreme law, which is to say the common law, as embodied in the Great Charter. These early discussions of Parliament sovereignty seemed to only involve the Charter as the entrenched law, and the discussions were simply about whether Parliament had enough power to repeal the document.
Although it was important for Parliament to be able to claim themselves more powerful than the King in the forthcoming struggle, the Charter provided for this very provision. Clause 61 of the Charter enables people to swear allegiance to what became the Great Council and later Parliament and therefore to renounce allegiance to the king. Moreover, Clause 61 allowed for the seizing of the kingdom by the body which later became Parliament if Magna Carta was not respected by the king or Lord Chief Justice. So there was no need to show any novel level of power in order to overthrow the king; it had already been set out in Magna Carta nearly half a millennium before. Parliament was not ready to repeal the Charter yet however, and in fact, it was cited as the reason why ship money was illegal (the first time Parliament overruled the king).
Trial of Archbishop Laud
Further proof of the significance of Magna Carta is shown in the trial of Archbishop Laud in 1645. Laud was tried with attempting to subvert the laws of England including writing a condemnation of Magna Carta claiming that as the Charter came about due to rebellion it was not valid (a widely held opinion less than a century before, when the ‘true’ Magna Carta was thought to be the 1225 edition, with the 1215 edition being considered less valid for this very reason). However, Laud was not trying to say that Magna Carta was evil, and he actually used the document in his defence. He claimed his trial was against the right of the freedom of the church (as the Bishops were voted out of Parliament in order to allow for parliamentary condemnation of him) and, that he was not given the benefit of due process contrary to Clauses 1 and 39 of the Charter. By this stage, Magna Carta had passed a great distance beyond the original intentions for the document, and the Great Council had evolved beyond a body merely ensuring the application of the Charter. It had gotten to the stage where the Great Council or Parliament was inseparable from the ideas of the Crown as described in the Charter and therefore it was potentially not just the King that was bound by the Charter, but Parliament also.
Civil War and interregnum
After seven years of civil war, the king surrendered and was executed; it seemed Magna Carta no longer applied, as there was no King. Oliver Cromwell was accused of destroying Magna Carta, and many thought he should be crowned just so that it would apply. Fact|date=September 2007 Cromwell had much disdain for the Magna Carta, at one point describing it as "Magna Farta" to a defendant who sought to rely on it [ [http://www.dca.gov.uk/judicial/speeches/lcj150605.htm Department for Constitutional Affairs - Speeches - Speech by The Lord Chief Justice - Magna Carta: a Precedent For Recent Constitutional Change ] ] .
In this time of foment, there were many revolutionary theorists, and many based their theories at least initially on Magna Carta, in the misguided belief that Magna Carta guaranteed liberty and equality for all.
The Levellers believed that all should be equal and free without distinction of class or status. They believed that Magna Carta was the ‘political bible’, which should be prized above any other law and that it could not be repealed. They prized it so highly that they believed all (such as Archbishop Laud) who “trod Magna Carta…under their feet” deserved to be attacked at all levels. The original idea was to achieve this through Parliament but there was little support, because at the time the Parliament was seeking to impose itself as above Magna Carta. The Levellers claimed Magna Carta was above any branch of government, and this led to the upper echelons of the Leveller movement denouncing Parliament. They claimed that Parliament’s primary purpose was not to rule the people directly but to protect the people from the extremes of the King; they claimed that Magna Carta adequately did this and therefore Parliament should be subservient to it.
After the Civil War, Cromwell refused to support the Levellers and was denounced as a traitor to Magna Carta. The importance of Magna Carta was greatly magnified in the eyes of the Levellers. John Lilburne, one of the leaders of the movement, was known for his great advocacy of the Charter and was often known to explain its purpose to lay people and to expose the misspeaking against it in the popular press of the time. He was quoted as saying "the ground and foundation of my freedome I build upon the grand charter of England". However, as it became apparent that Magna Carta did not grant the level of liberty demanded by the Levellers, the movement reduced its advocacy of it. Welwyn, another leader of the movement, advocated natural law and other doctrines as the primary principles of the movement. This was mainly because the obvious intention of Magna Carta was to grant rights only to the barons and the episcopacy, and not the general and egalitarian rights the Levellers were claiming. Also influential, however, was Spelman’s rediscovery of the existence of the feudal system at the time of Magna Carta, which seemed to have less and less effect on the world of the time. The only right, which the Levellers could trace back to 1215, possibly prized over all others, was the right to due process granted by Clause 39. One thing the Levellers did agree on with the popular beliefs of the time was that Magna Carta was an attempt to return to the fabled pre-Norman ‘golden age’.
However, not all such groups advocated Magna Carta. The Diggers were a very early socialistic group who called for all land to be available to all for farming and the like. Gerrard Winstanley, a leader of the group, despised Magna Carta as a show of the hypocrisy of the post-Norman law, since Parliament and the courts advocated Magna Carta and yet did not even follow it themselves. The Diggers did, however, believe in the pre-Norman golden age and wished to return to it, and they called for the abolition of all Norman and post-Norman law.
The Commonwealth was relatively short lived however, and when Charles II took the throne in 1660, he vowed to respect both the common law and the Charter. Parliament was established as the everyday government of Britain, independent of the King but not more powerful.Fact|date=December 2007 However, the struggles based on the Charter were far from over and took on the form of the struggle for supremacy between the two Houses of Parliament.
In 1664, the British navy seized Dutch lands in both Africa and America leading to full-scale war with Holland in 1665. The Lord Chancellor Edward Lord Clarendon, resisted an alliance with the Spanish and Swedes in favour of maintaining a relationship with the French, who were the allies of the Dutch. This lack of a coherent policy led to the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-67), with the Dutch burning ships in the docks at Chatham, and the blame was placed on Clarendon. The Commons demanded that Clarendon be indicted before the Lords, but the Lords refused, citing the due process requirements of the Charter, giving Clarendon the time to escape to Europe.
A very similar set of events followed in 1678 when the Commons asked the Lords to indict Thomas Lord Danby on a charge of fraternising with the French. As with Clarendon the Lords refused, again citing Magna Carta and their own supremacy as the upper house. Before the quarrel could be resolved, Charles dissolved the Parliament. When Parliament was re-seated in 1681, again the Commons attempted to force an indictment in the Lords. This time Edward Fitzharris who was accused of writing libellously that the King was involved in a papist plot with the French (including the overthrowing of Magna Carta). However, the Lords doubted the veracity of the claim and refused to try Fitzharris saying Magna Carta stated that everyone must be subject to due process and therefore he must be tried in a lower court first. This time the Commons retorted that it was the Lords who were denying justice under Clause 39 and that the Commons were right to cite the Charter as their precedent. Again, before any true conclusions could be drawn Charles dissolved the Parliament, although more to serve his own ends and to rid himself of a predominantly Whig Parliament, and Fitzharris was tried in a regular court (the King’s Bench) and executed for treason. Here the Charter, once again, was used far beyond the content of its provisions, and simply being used as a representation of justice. Each house was claiming the Charter under Clause 39 supported its supremacy, but the power of the King was still too great for either house to come out fully as the more powerful.
The squabble also continued outside the Palace of Westminster. In 1667 the Lord Chief Justice and important member of the House of Lords, Lord Keating, forced a grand jury of Middlesex to return a verdict of murder when they wanted to return one of manslaughter. However, his biggest crime in the eyes of the Commons was that, when the jury objected on the grounds of Magna Carta, he scoffed and exclaimed “Magna Carta, what ado with this have we?” The Commons were incensed at this abuse of the Charter and accused him of “endangering the liberties of the people”. However, the Lords claimed he was just referring to the inappropriateness of the Charter in this context, but Keating apologised anyway. In 1681 the next Lord Chief Justice, Lord Scroggs, was condemned by the Commons first for being too severe in the so-called ‘papist plot trials’ and second for dismissing another Middlesex grand jury in order to secure against the indictment of the Duke of York, the Catholic younger brother of the King later to become James II. Charles again dissolved Parliament before the Commons could impeach Scroggs, and removed him from office on a good pension. Just as it seemed that the Commons might be able to impose their supremacy over the Lords, the King intervened and proved he was still the most powerful force in the government. However, it was certainly beginning to become established that the Commons were the primary branch of Government, and they used the Charter as much as they could in order to achieve this end.
Supremacy of the Commons
This was not the end of the struggle however, and in 1679 the Commons passed the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, which greatly reduced the powers of the Crown. The act passed through the Lords by a small majority, arguably establishing the Commons as the more powerful House. This was the first time since the importance of the Charter had been so magnified that the Government had admitted that the liberties granted by the Charter were inadequate. However, this did not completely oust the position of the Charter as a symbol of the law of the ‘golden age’ and the basis of common law.
It did not take long before the questioning of the Charter really took off and Sir Matthew Hale soon afterwards introduced a new doctrine of common law based on the principle that the Crown (including the government cabinet in that definition) made all law and could only be bound by the law of God, and showed that the 1215 charter was effectively overruled by the 1225 charter, further undermining the idea that the charter was unassailable, adding credence to the idea that the Commons were a supreme branch of Government. Some completely denied the relevance of the 1215 Charter as it was forced upon the King by rebellion (although the fact that the 1225 charter was forced on a boy by his guardians was overlooked). It was similarly argued against the Charter that it was nothing more than a relaxation of the rigid feudal laws and therefore had no meaning outside of that application.
The danger posed by the fact that Charles II had no legitimate child was becoming more and more real, as this meant that the heir apparent was the Duke of York, a Catholic and firm believer in the divine right of kings, threatening the establishment of the Commons as the most powerful arm of government. Parliament did all it could to prevent James’s succession but was prevented when Charles dissolved the Parliament. In February 1685, Charles died of a stroke and James II assumed the throne of the United Kingdom. Almost straight away James attempted to impose Catholicism as the religion of the country and to regain the royal prerogative now vested in the Parliament. Parliament was slightly placated when James’s four-year-old son died in 1677 and it seemed his Protestant daughter Mary would take his throne. However when James' second wife, Mary of Modena, gave birth to a male heir in 1688 Parliament could not take the risk that another Catholic monarch would assume the throne and take away their power, and in 1688 the Convention Parliament declared that James had broken the contract of Magna Carta and nullified his claim to the throne. This finally proved that Parliament was the major power in the British Government; Mary, James II's eldest daughter was invited to take the throne with her husband William of Orange. Many thought that, with bringing in a new monarch, it would be prudent to define what powers this monarch should have, so the Bill of Rights was created. The Bill of Rights went far beyond what the Magna Carta had ever set out to achieve. It stated that the Crown could not make law without Parliament. Although the raising of taxes was specifically mentioned, it did not limit itself to such, as Magna Carta did. However, one important thing to note is that the writers of the Bill did not seem to think that the Bill included any new provisions of law; all the powers it ‘removes’ from the crown it refers to as ‘pretended’ powers, insinuating that the rights of Parliament listed in the Bill already existed under a different authority, presumably Magna Carta. So the importance of Magna Carta was not completely extinguished at this point, although it was somewhat diminished.