Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Happy Birthday MAGNA CARTA (June 15, 1215)!

Question for discussion: Was this document an indispensable contribution to the history of English and/or human liberty?

Discussions - 10 Comments

Oh, I sure hope more conservatives weigh in on this one.

If you are attempting to put American Conservatists alongside with those that preferred the Crown, British Conservatists, then you are not going to get much of a bite with your bait.

Although Magna Charta mostly addressed issues between the throne and the nobles, it did establish conditions that benefitted more common people. However, the real importance of Magna Charta is that it establishes and enshrines the concept of "rule of law" in that thereafter even the king would be subject to a written code with provisions for redress and correction of his/her conduct.

Magna Charta definitely shaped the landscape of English liberalism and in time led to the establishment of individual rights and parliamentary government.

And it is the concept of a "rule of law" that so greatly influenced the Founding Fathers and led to the "Magna Declara" of American Independence in 1776.

Evan Clemens, a persistent question of mine is this, if King John had not been a difficult person, would there ever have been anything like a Magna Charta to do what you say, bring law to kingship? Was it "in the air"?

A more interesting question (to me, at least) is whether the Magna Charta would ever have come about had John not gotten his tail kicked by the French. History suggests that people are generally willing to put up with oppressive taxation when there's a payoff in the form of military victory in the end.


The enormities of King John had nearly all been committed before by monarchs who were seemingly popular, or at least respected. Orderic Vitalis' account of the harrying of the North reads almost like genocide, and he was on the whole positive toward William I. Henry I, a real tyrant if you read the chronicles carefully, was a blinder of his own minor female kin who allowed his courtiers to plunder openly while his court traveled around England; his grandson Henry II was a ruthless operator who, typical of medieval kings, made entire districts pay for the sins of their leading families.

In fact, save King Stephen, there was not a Norman or Angevin king who was not a monster. There is a reason Stephen's reign is called "the anarchy." Chroniclers, from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle to the Gesta Stephani, understood that Stephen was a failure because "he was a mild man, gentle and good, who did no justice."

John's reputation is terrible not just because he was ruthless, crafty, an oath-breaker, and an extortionate tax gatherer - that describes his entire family. John was hated first because he alienated his great magnates, ecclesiastical and lay, by his repulsive personality -peevish, grudgeful, and paranoid; he could not act regally save in short and unconvincing bursts. Even this would have been tolerated - King William Rufus was a homosexual who surrounded himself with a "mincing... girlish" court - if he had any military success. William I, William Rufus, Henry I, Henry II, and Richard most of all, exhibited qualities of personal bravery and good generalship. John fought reasonably well once battle commenced, but was poor at tactics and miserable at strategy. If a king did not win victories and inspire awe, then all his other faults went from an expression of the lamentable fearsomeness of kings to vicious attacks on traditional liberties and the marks of a tyrant.

wm, You've laid it all out in impressive detail...

Thank you!

- though it would be shameful if I could not. I have done nothing but read English chronicles from the 9th through the 13th centuries for the last 9 weeks.

One of only four original copies of Magna Carta will be on display in Philadelphia, at the National Constitution Center, from July 4th through July 25th.

As for the lead question, the answer must be: ABSOLUTELY!

Magna Carta was crucial to the establishment of what we, in this latter time, term the Anglosphere.

Not one mention of habeas corpus! Poor little principal, laying beaten and forgotten in the corner.

Nobody puts Habie in the corner!

Sorry, too much coffee. Point is, I'd like to see people more worked up over its neglect by the currect administration.

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