What is the Significance of the Magna Carta?

Originally published on Life’s Little Mysteries on 17 October 2012. By Nina Sen

After the death of King Henry II in 1199 AD, the rule of England fell to his son, Richard I, and later to another of his sons, John. England had been ruled by kings for hundreds of years and these leaders had slowly gained more power. However, the tyrant-like rule of King Richard I and King John was intolerable to British noblemen, who decided to take some power away by writing up a declaration of rights, known as the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta is one of the most important documents in history. It guaranteed the people certain rights, and bound the king to certain laws. At the time, England was mainly operated on a feudal system of land ownership. However, feudal lords and noblemen became angered when King John lost territory to the French. He also increased taxes and oppressed many of his people, arresting them without trials.

In 1215 A.D., these fed-up citizens drafted the Magna Carta (Latin for Great Charter) and forced King John to sign it upon threat of civil war. While it initially was meant to protect the interests of the noblemen, in time, the rights established by the Magna Carta were also extended to commoners.

Many of the laws written in the Magna Carta are not used today and don’t apply to the current system of democracy. However, the act of citizens being able to guarantee their own rights was a major step in forming modern democracies.

Among the most important rules from the Magna Carta that we still use today is the writ of habeas corpus, which means “Do you have the body?” in Latin. This rule means that the government can’t arrest people without cause or in secret and guarantees the right to due process. This rule was written as the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and still guarantees the rights of our citizens to a fair trial in court.

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