The Magna Carta (also Magna Charta ), long form Magna Carta Libertatum ( German "great deed of freedoms"), is an agreement with the revolting English nobility, sealed by King John Ohneland at Runnymede in England on June 15, 1215 . It is considered to be the main source of English constitutional law . A significant part of the Magna Carta is a verbatim copy of Henry I's Charter of Liberties from 1100, which already granted the English nobility corresponding rights. The Magna Carta guaranteed basic political freedoms of the nobility vis-à-vis the English king, whose land was fiefdom of Pope Innocent III. was. The church was guaranteed independence from the crown. The document was only accepted by the king after considerable pressure from the barons.
Background: Development of feudalism in England
After the conquest of England in 1066, the first Norman king of England, William the Conqueror , replaced the free Scandinavian forms of society and Anglo-Saxon feudalism with feudal rule based on the Norman model. Especially in the Scandinavian populated areas of northern England there were an above-average number of free farmers and entire towns that had no master. It was also common for farmers to have the right to change their landlords along with their property. These privileges no longer existed in the Norman feudal system, and all formerly free peasants became servants . Anglo-Saxon feudalism was characterized by the division of the kingdom into counties (English Shires ), in each of which a Vogt (English shire reeve , shortened to sheriff ) was responsible for maintaining public order and running the courts. The counties were finally grouped into six large earldoms, over which the earls ruled on behalf of the king. Wilhelm smashed these earldoms and left only the counties.
By conquering England bit by bit in the course of the suppression of minor uprisings, William expropriated the long-established landowners and replaced them with Norman followers. As a result of this, the barons' possessions were widely scattered and in different counties. In doing so, Wilhelm made sure that none of the barons could become powerful enough to challenge the king. He supplemented the sheriff's function as judge with the administrative tasks of the Norman vicomtes (counts), who were primarily responsible for collecting taxes. The strong sheriffs were an important pillar of the English kingdom, because they enabled not only indirect rule through the ties between king and vassals but also direct influence.
In the dispute over the successor to Wilhelm II , Heinrich I was only able to prevail against his brother Robert because he guaranteed the barons extensive freedoms and privileges with the Charter of Liberties before his coronation and thus reduced his own power. During his reign, Heinrich managed to maintain royal power and, with the creation of the Exchequer, laid the foundation for an administration that was independent of the royal court and that also functioned in his absence.
On the other hand, under the rule of his successor, Stephan von Blois , extensive anarchy broke out: Stephan fought with Mathilde for the English throne in the English civil war from 1134 to 1154 . In these troubled times, the nobles began to raise their own armies and build castles, undermining royal power and consolidating control over their own possessions.
Rule of the Plantagenets: Power cut of the barons
When Henry II, the first King of the House of Plantagenet, ascended the English throne in 1154 and thus united western French and English territories to form the Angevin Empire , this changed: shortly after his coronation he curtailed the growing power of the barons and left the castles built without permission besieging and building their own fortresses at the same time, so that by the end of the 12th century half of all English castles belonged to the king. Heinrich supplemented the feudal system with an efficient administration with civil servants who could work independently of the royal court. With this, Heinrich created an instrument with which he could exercise more power over his barons and load them with greater financial burdens, with the result that the barons' privileges dwindled. He also took jurisdiction out of the hands of the barons; Negotiations were only held in front of royal courts of law, the proceeds of which flowed into the state treasury. These measures were also found in the other Western European monarchies of the time, but had a stronger effect in England than elsewhere. Under Henry's rule the relationship between the barons and the king changed from a vassal relationship in which the barons were linked to the king by personal loyalty to a relationship in which the barons were the king's highest land tenants. The old royal rights to financial aid grew into a tax system, the former personal obligation of the barons to serve the king in war was replaced by a system in which the barons provided either money or soldiers for armies that overran have been used on the continent for long periods of time. The administration worked efficiently even in the absence of the kings, with Henry II and his successor Richard the Lionheart staying in France most of the time, using wealthy England to finance their wars on mainland Europe.
The way to the Magna Carta under King John
Loss of Normandy and other possessions in France
After losing large parts of his French possessions during the war with France, King John spent considerably more time with the government of England than his brother Richard the Lionheart or his father Henry II had done before him. The direct rule of the king therefore aroused the resentment of many barons who had been used to extensive autonomy since the civil war under King Stephen and the long absence of kings Henry II and Richard the Lionheart caused by their wars in France. John's reign also showed increasingly tyrannical features. His unsuccessful campaigns to regain his lost possessions in France consumed a great deal of money, and inflation exacerbated the king's financial crisis. Therefore Johann rose from his barons within 15 years eleven or twelve times a Scutage . On the other hand, despite his crusade, his brother Richard had only raised shield money four times within ten years, and his father Henry II had only raised shield money from the English barons seven times within 35 years. In addition, after the death of one of his barons, Johann charged the heir sometimes horrific fees for the transfer of the deceased's fiefs. The barons feared the king would ruin them, and the fate of his one-time favorite William de Braose and his family showed them that even the most powerful barons were not safe from the king's arbitrariness.
Revolt of the barons against the king
After Johann had to cancel a planned campaign to France again in the summer of 1213, he convened the great council in St Albans on August 4th . The King himself stayed away from the council meeting at the abbey , which was instead presided over by his legal counsel Geoffrey fitz Peter and Stephen Langton , Archbishop of Canterbury . The Pope 's appointment of Langton as Archbishop and Primate of the Church of England had broken John and the Pope and eventually excommunicated the king, and Langton had been an opponent of the king ever since. Many of the knights and barons were bitter about the king because they had to bear the cost of a campaign to France which, in their opinion, exceeded their fiefdom , as it led outside the empire. During the council meeting, the legal advisor accepted that the king should pay compensation for wrongdoing committed. From this concession arose the demand for recognition of the rights and privileges of the barons. Langton then probably referred the barons to the Charter of Liberties issued by King Henry I in 1100, which restricted the king's feudal power, but which in practice had largely not been followed by the king and his successors. At another council meeting in London on August 25th, Langton encouraged the barons to demand that King Henry obey the good laws and reminded them that in lifting his excommunication, King John had sworn that he would abolish unjust laws and the good ones Would renew King Edward's laws . In the presence of the archbishop, the barons swore to fight for their ancestral privileges, and the archbishop promised them his help.
Extension of the revolt to the War of the Barons
In February 1214, Johann set off again on a campaign to France, which ended with his defeat in the Battle of Roche-aux-Moines and the decisive defeat of his allies in the Battle of Bouvines . When he returned to England in October 1214, he immediately wanted to collect the outstanding shield money from his barons. The demands of the defeated king met fierce resistance and many barons refused to pay the requested funds. Presumably on November 20th, St. Edmunds Day , a group of the disaffected barons met in the abbey church of Bury St Edmunds at the tomb of the Martyr King. They vowed that if Johann continued to deny them their old rights, they would no longer feel bound by their oath . If necessary, they would fight for their rights in a war against the king.
On January 6, 1215, the armed barons in London came before the king and demanded compliance with the laws of King Henry I. Langton meanwhile tried to avoid a civil war between the barons and the king. Johann then tried to buy time, since he was not sure how many of the barons were on his side and how many barons were on the side of the rebels. In order to secure the support of the clergy, he made concessions to them on January 15 and promised the barons to answer them on April 26, 1215. After April 19, during Easter week, many of the barons, led by Robert FitzWalter and Eustace de Vesci , gathered in Samford . Johann recognized the seriousness of the situation and tried to get the moderate barons to his side. Since the King had delayed the promised answer, the rebels chose FitzWalter as their leader and began the siege of the royal castle of Northampton . They wrote down their demands on the king in a list of 48 articles. The siege of Northampton was initially unsuccessful, but after the City of London joined the rebels on May 24, the king realized that he had to make concessions. He finally agreed to await the rebels on June 15 in the Runnymede area on the banks of the Thames between Staines and Windsor . The exact location of the meeting is controversial. While the place is often identified as a meadow on the south bank of the river, there are also other theories that see Magna Carta Island on the north bank as the place of notarization , which may have been classified as belonging to Runnymede.
Sealing of the Magna Carta
Johann appeared with a few advisors and friends, while the rebels appeared with their army. After long negotiations, Johann probably agreed to essential demands of the rebels on the first day, but in the following days until June 19 there were further negotiations on individual points. Eventually the king recognized the rebels' demands, dated June 15, with his seal .
The English version of the Magna Carta, written in Latin , consists of 63 articles, some of which have very different contents. This shows that the text was not designed uniformly, but is a collection of formulations. Individual articles, such as Articles 10 and 11, which deal with the liability of guarantors in the event of debts, contradict each other in part. Many of the sections deal with practical questions of feudal law, including the prohibition of fish traps in the Thames in Article 33. The articles on the particularly contentious issues of shield money and guard duty are believed to have been written by Stephen Langton, the learned Archbishop of Canterbury or influenced.
Note: in many translations into German, the Magna Carta is divided into 79 articles. However, the following overview refers to the division of the English version into 63 articles.
- The first article affirms the freedom of the Church of England.
- Articles 2 to 16 deal primarily with feudal law, above all with the amount of the fees for the transfer of fiefs and with the guardianship of underage heirs, widows and orphans. Article 14 became particularly important, according to which the king can collect shield money or aid money, except in the case of specified exceptions, only after the consent of the representatives of the kingdom in the grand council, which justified the budgetary sovereignty of the parliament. One of the main reasons for the barons' rebellion was the question of whether the barons also had to do military service for the king in France, i.e. outside the realm. This controversial question is not answered by Article 16, according to which military service is only to be performed according to its obligations.
- Articles 17 to 22 and Article 24 deal with case law and fines. Article 21 states that nobles may only be convicted by peers. Criminal justice is placed in the hands of royal judges instead of county courts by Article 24. Article 23, on the other hand, deals with the maintenance of bridges built for hunting in the king's hunting grounds.
- Article 25 deals with the administration of the counties, Articles 26 and 27 with inheritance law. Article 28 prohibits unjustified requisitions by castle garrisons; according to Article 29, the royal officials are not allowed to demand any monetary payments if the nobles want to perform their mandatory guard duty in the royal castles themselves. Article 30 prohibits royal officials from confiscating horses without the owner's consent, while Article 35 prescribes uniform weights and measures.
- The famous Article 39 (in later versions Article 29) establishes procedural law: “No free man should be arrested, imprisoned, robbed of his goods, ostracized, banished or otherwise attacked; nor will we do anything else to him, or have him thrown in prison, than by the legal judgment of his peers or by the state law. ”In the original drafts of the Magna Carta this right was only given to the barons, but in the final version to all free citizens conceded. This formulation had no far-reaching consequences in the 13th century, when a large part of the population was still serfs, but after the number of free citizens increased in later centuries, this article became an important basic right. However, the laws on which the article relies were largely not yet precisely defined.
- Article 40, which states that the king must not sell, refuse, or delay law or justice, refers to the fees for deeds and legal proceedings.
- Article 41 protects foreign merchants and Article 42 guarantees freedom of travel.
- Articles 44, 47, 48 and 53 regulate the royal forest sovereignty .
- According to Article 45, the king may only appoint officials who are familiar with the state laws. Article 50 goes further and calls for the dismissal of a number of named officials and confidants of the king, such as the relatives of Gerard d'Athée , Engelard de Cigogné, and others who came from the king's estates in France. According to Article 51, the king should dismiss the foreign mercenaries he used in his wars.
- Article 55 requires the king to remission of wrongly imposed fines.
- Articles 56, 57 and 58 concern the Welsh princes under Llywelyn ab Iorwerth who supported the barons' rebellion,
- while Article 59 concerns the Scottish King Alexander II , who was also allied with the rebelling barons.
- A committee of 25 barons is appointed to monitor compliance with the Magna Carta, whose powers are documented in Article 61.
The Committee of 25 Barons
In accordance with Article 61, after the King's recognition of the Magna Carta, a committee was set up to implement the provisions of the charter. The model for this 25-member body was the then still limited self-government of the City of London , which stood on the side of the rebels and was led by 25 Aldermen . The members of the committee were elected by the assembled barons, the members being known through Matthew Paris . Details of the electoral process have not been handed down, but recent studies show that the committee consisted without exception of declared opponents of the king who were in the forefront of the opposition to his tyrannical rule. Neither William Marshal , Hubert de Burgh or other moderate supporters of the king belonged to the committee, but William Hardel, the Mayor of London , belonged to the committee. In addition to observing and implementing the provisions of the Magna Carta, the committee was also supposed to maintain peace in the empire, which is why the members were all powerful barons with appropriate military capabilities, which also explains why the committee did not include clergymen like Archbishop Langton. Should an official or the king himself violate a provision, it should be reported to one of the members of the committee. If the violation was not settled within 40 days, the 25 barons were entitled, together with the other barons, to occupy royal estates and castles and to take military action against the king. This provision required the king to accept armed opposition.
The following 25 barons belonged to the committee:
- William d'Aubigné , Lord of Belvoir
- Roger Bigod, 2nd Earl of Norfolk
- Hugh Bigod , later 3rd Earl of Norfolk
- Henry de Bohun, 1st Earl of Hereford
- Richard de Clare, 3rd Earl of Hertford
- Gilbert de Clare , who later became the 4th Earl of Hertford
- John FitzRobert , Lord of Warkworth Castle
- Robert FitzWalter , Lord of Dunmow Castle
- William de Forz
- William Hardel , Mayor of London
- William de Huntingfield
- John de Lacy, 1st Earl of Lincoln
- William de Lanvallei , Lord of Standway Castle
- William Malet , Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset
- Geoffrey de Mandeville, 2nd Earl of Essex
- William Marshal , later 2nd Earl of Pembroke
- Roger de Montbegon , Lord of Hornby Castle
- Richard de Montfichet
- William de Mowbray , Lord of Axholme Castle
- Richard de Percy
- Saer de Quincy, 1st Earl of Winchester
- Robert de Ros , Lord of Hamlake Castle
- Geoffrey de Say
- Robert de Vere , later Earl of Oxford
- Eustace de Vesci , Lord of Alnwick Castle
Even though the work of the committee failed due to the civil war between the rebels and the king that began in the autumn, the formation of the committee was an important attempt to limit and control the power of the king. It served as a model for the reform efforts of the English barons of 1258 , which again led to the civil war.
The peace achieved through the recognition of the Magna Carta was short-lived. Neither the king nor the rebellious barons probably ever intended to recognize the Magna Carta permanently. The king turned to his liege lord Pope Innocent III. who annulled the Magna Carta on August 24, 1215 and promised excommunication to anyone who obeyed it.
For their part, the rebellious barons had not yet disbanded their army, and civil war broke out again in September. During the war, a group of barons offered the English crown to the French Prince Ludwig , who then landed in England with an army. After the changeable course of the war, King John died in October 1216. The Earl Marshal William Marshal and Peter des Roches , Bishop of Winchester , had John's son Heinrich crowned the new king, and Marshal as regent recognized a slightly revised version of the Magna Carta. After John's death and the renewed recognition of the Magna Carta, the majority of the barons had no reason for further rebellion and then joined the young Heinrich. After several defeats, the French Prince Ludwig had to leave England in September 1217. After the peace agreement, Marshal confirmed the Magna Carta again on November 6, 1217, with the regulations of the royal forests being outsourced in a separate forest charter. From this point on, the Carta was given its name Magna Carta to distinguish it from the Forest Charter. These laws of the Magna Carta made the old rights of Henry I and the laws of King Edward obsolete.
The final version of the Magna Carta from 1225
In December 1224 the regents asked the great council for a tax on the 15th part of the movable property to cover the administrative costs. The great council set a precedent ; it only approved the tax after the Magna Carta was recognized on February 11, 1225 by King Henry III. As with the versions of 1216 and 1217, this version did not contain the article according to which a committee of barons should monitor compliance with the Carta, as this allowed the barons to rebel. The Magna Carta in the version of 1225 remained unchanged from then on. Instead of a committee of barons, the Church took on the sanctioning of violations of the provisions of the Magna Carta, because Archbishop Langton threatened anyone, whether king, official or baron, with excommunication if the Magna Carta was disregarded. Henry III. confirmed this version of the Magna Carta several times in the course of his long reign, and the Archbishops of Canterbury renewed the threat of excommunication. This led to the final acceptance of the Magna Carta, and towards the end of Henry III's reign. a disregard for the Magna Carta by the king had become almost unthinkable. Under Henry III. There were further power struggles between the king and the barons, which led to the Second Barons' War and in 1264 under Simon de Montfort to the formation of the first directly elected parliament . The validity of the Magna Carta, however, was beyond doubt.
Importance in later centuries
Before the English Civil War
From the 14th century, the Magna Carta was of lesser importance. When revolutionary disputes between the crown and parliament broke out in the 17th century due to the absolutism of the Stuart kings , it was reinterpreted , especially by the lawyer Sir Edward Coke, as a document of English civil rights and has since been considered the most important English constitutional law. Coke was originally Chief Justice of James I. He used the Magna Carta to portray the king's opponents not as revolutionaries but as keepers of traditions. Some of his claims, such as that the Magna Carta was passed by a parliament, are definitely wrong, but his interpretation of Article 39/29 established the limitation of the king's power. He used the Magna Carta as the basis of the Petition of Right , which Parliament asked Charles I to sign .
Importance for the USA
After the Glorious Revolution, interest in the Magna Carta waned again in England. It gained importance in North America. Coke had also written the Virginia Company's first charter , which guaranteed the colonists their rights. William Penn first published the Magna Carta in America in the book The Excellent Privilege of Liberty and Property Being the Birth-Right of the Free-born Subjects of England . The rebellious colonists quoted the Magna Carta against the British Parliament like the parliamentary supporters against the king at the beginning of the English Civil War in the 17th century and rejected the stamp duty as a violation of the Magna Carta. Massachusetts gave itself a seal in 1775, in which a settler holds a sword in one hand and the Magna Carta in the other. Coke's writings on Magna Carta ultimately influenced the founders of the United States, especially Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and through them the United States Constitution . Article 5 of the US Bill of Rights in particular is influenced by the Magna Carta.
In 1957, the American Bar Association erected a memorial in Runnymede to highlight the importance of the Magna Carta to American law and the Constitution. To this day, the Magna Carta, as one of the foundations of the American constitution, is of great importance to the American public.
The Magna Carta is still the basis of the rule of law , justice and the formation of parliament in Great Britain. However, most of the original articles have been abolished over time by Statute Law Revision Acts and replaced by new laws, so that the Magna Carta has for the most part only historical and symbolic meaning.
However, three articles (four after the 1215 count) are still part of law in England and Wales:
- article 1
"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. "
“FIRST We gave to God, and through this charter we have forever affirmed for ourselves and our heirs that the Church of England will be free and have all her rights and freedoms inviolable. We have also granted these freedoms to all the freemen of our kingdom, and to ourselves and our heirs, in order to have and keep them and their heirs, from us and our heirs, forever. "
- Article 9
"IX. THE City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it has 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. "
“The City of London is supposed to have its old freedoms and habits that it already has. We will also grant that all other cities, districts, places and the barons of the Cinque Ports and all other ports will have their freedoms and customs. "
- Article 29
"XXIX. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized 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. "
“No free man may be kidnapped or imprisoned or his property or his rules or his habits confiscated, ostracized, exiled or otherwise destroyed; nor shall We pass him on or condemn him except by the lawful judgment of his own kind or by the law of the land. We will not sell, deny or prevent the law or justice to anyone. "
Widely regarded as one of the most important legal documents in the development of modern democracy, the Magna Carta was a crucial turning point in the effort to establish freedom. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations 1948 is also referred to as the Magna Carta for all humanity , following the meaning of the medieval document . Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights can also be traced back to the Magna Carta.
In order that the results of the Runnymede negotiations could be disseminated throughout England immediately, up to thirteen copies of the document were issued in June 1215. The documents differed in their size and shape and, due to incorrect write-offs, sometimes even in their wording. Four copies have survived to this day. Two of these are owned by the British Library and one each is in Lincoln Castle in Lincoln and one in Salisbury Cathedral . The latter is best preserved and, unlike the others, shows hardly any signs of wear.
A copy of the text from 1297, ordered by King Edward I , was auctioned by the Sotheby’s auction house on December 18, 2007 for US $ 21 million. The document was acquired by US attorney David Rubenstein , former advisor to former President Jimmy Carter . It is the only privately owned version of the Magna Carta.
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