An Assembly Talk: What is the Magna Carta and how does it affect me? What is the Magna Carta?

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An Assembly Talk:

What is the Magna Carta and how does it affect me?
What is the Magna Carta?

  • Ask Children if anyone has any idea?

Explain the history before it:

  • Explain a little about the rule of King John pre-magna Carta

  • Explain that John was a medieval English king who was forced by his rebellious barons to agree to a list of laws called Magna Carta

  • Consider WHY the barons wanted to limit the rule of King John

  • Explain the reason why the King didn’t want to be bound and also why he eventually did seal Magna Carta in 1215 and subsequently future

  • Kings agreed to be governed by it (depends on the age of children at the assembly how much detail to go in to).

  • Consider the importance of the Magna Carta to people living in that time.

After 1215 to modern day:

1628: King Charles the First tried to run the country more and more by himself, increasing taxes and fines, and throwing people who disagreed with him in prison. His opponents like Sir Edward Coke accused the King of breaking the law and ignoring Magna Carta. They claimed ordinary people were guaranteed certain ancient rights by Magna Carta. If a king tried to take these rights away then Magna Carta showed that his people could resist him (just like people resisted King John). Suddenly Magna Carta was popular again. In 1642 Charles the First faced a rebellion and after two bitter civil wars was executed in 1649.
1679: The Habeas Corpus Act (a law) strengthened the right of people not be kept in prison unfairly. The new law was based on an article in Magna Carta.
1688-1689: Rebel lords invited the Dutch prince William of Orange to invade Britain and overthrow King James II. Parliament demanded that he accept a Bill of Rights” (a set of laws) inspired by Magna Carta if they made him king. William agreed, ensuring the continued adherence to the Magna Carta.
1763: Parliament tried to control critics by arresting and imprisoning journalists, writers and others. One writer, Arthur Beardmoore arranged to be arrested while teaching about Magna Carta to his son.
1763-1769: The politician John Wilkes criticised Parliament and was arrested. He called Magna Carta a “glorious inheritance” and claimed to be defending it. His supporters wore a blue ribbon in their hats stamped with an image of Magna Carta.
1776: Americans rebelled against the British declaring a new country called the United States of America, independent of Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was partly inspired by Magna Carta. The Americans used it to claim that ordinary people had certain rights under the law. If a king (in this case King George the Third) tried to take away these rights, then people could resist him, just as this happened to King John.
1787: The American constitution (basic laws of the United States) was directly inspired by Magna Carta.
1791: A Bill of Rights was added to the American Constitution. The fifth amendment deliberately borrowed wording from Magna Carta “Nor shall any persons be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law”.
1870: Victorians looked back on Magna Carta as a summary of the ancient laws and rights of England, and rewrite a lot of them, but they retain the underlying principles.
How does Magna Carta affect me?
It may be that you think that it happened so long ago and in a different country that it doesn’t affect you, and given many of the terms have been removed from English law, but it should be remembered that many of the principles are still included (and have been expanded on) in the British Legal System and adopted across the globe including in New Zealand.
Take a moment to think about the freedoms you hold today? (make a list from audience). Now what do you think would happen if the Magna Carta had never been agreed? What do you think New Zealand would look like now?
My Rights:
Each an everyone of you here have the rights. Many can trace their heritage to Magna Carta: the right to liberty, the right to a fair trial, the right to have the law applied to everyone… imagine if you didn’t?

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