What was it about Magna Carta that first attracted you to it?


I agree with the Prime Minister that Magna Carta is seen to be a seminal document of English history. I am happy that it should be honoured and remembered next year, its 800th birthday. It has come to represent the important assertion of the right to a free trial, an early statement of an Englishman’s liberties, and part of the long process to control the powers of the King or the executive government.

I disagree with those, including some who write into this site, who see Magna Carta as a timeless document setting out our liberties in a way which we can never amend or alienate. Magna Carta was a staging post on a long journey to liberty. It was a step forward in curbing the power of the Crown, but it can tell us nothing about our rights vis a vis the EU or the ECJ.

Magna Carta was a peace treaty between the barons and the Crown. It set up a group of 25 elected peers to try to ensure good conduct on the part of the King after signing. At its best it set out eternal truths and freedoms which we still value. At its worst it was unkind and partial. Often it now strikes us as being archaic and irrelevant, as many of the grievances it sought to tackle were rooted in a feudal system which no longer applies.

Few today would want to see its clause about women and justice enforced. “No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband”.  Nor would the right to give heirs in marriage “but  not to someone of lower social standing” pass muster.

Its comments on foreigners might be more popular with the UKIP tendency: “As soon as peace is restored we will remove from the kingdom all foreign knights, bowmen, their attendants and the mercenaries”, but difficult and contentious  to enforce today.

Removing all fish weirs on rivers is not such a central preoccupation as in 1215, as we have gone for windmills rather than  for water wheels on rivers and rely more on sea fishing that river fishing.

The first requirement  that the “English Church shall be free and its liberties unimpaired” has less relevance in a multi faith UK.  The second embedded a “fair” rate of Inheritance Tax which might  be to modern liking as it now  now seems low owing to inflation and only applied to Earls and Knights.

We still like the emphasis on fair trial for those accused, and the system of fines proportionate to the offence.

So to those who worship Magna Carta and dislike what successive Parliaments have done to it, I suggest you first read it in full. Then write in and tell me what first attracted you to it, and whether there are on reflection some parts you think may no longer be appropriate.


  1. Mark B
    June 17, 2014

    John redwood MP wrote;
    “Its comments on foreigners might be more popular with the UKIP tendency”

    I think that was unnecessary. And, I am NOT a UKIPer or supporter.

    Many of those in politics seek to either belittle its contribution to our system of governance or, undermine it by giving away the powers it sought from the King, only to give it to a foreign power.

    Its not what it says, that is important. Its what it stands for. Freedom from tyranny ! And what happens when enough people say; “No !”

    1. APL
      June 17, 2014

      Mark B: “I think that was unnecessary. And, I am NOT a UKIPer or supporter.”

      It’s all of a part. Party before country.

    2. M Davis
      June 17, 2014

      Hear! Hear!

    3. Hope
      June 17, 2014

      Today we learn that GCHQ gets around the law and listens and reads to private communication through Google, Twitter, Youtube etc. Cameron recently made a claim he was satisfied with these type of procedures. Where does this sit with Magna Carter?

      State press regulation, raiding personal bank accounts and listening/ reading private correspdence. Banning people from wearing the cross in the work place, gay marriage without a mandate from the electorate, enter wars in the Middle East without noble cause. Cameron could at least scrap the quango and the information commissioner. It is another charade of Cameron’s democracy. Add to it the laws, regulation and policy are created in Brussels, justice system finally arbitrated abroad and you wonder what on earth politicians do other than present the works of the EU superstate. Does the Magna Carter have any significance?

      1. Tom William
        June 17, 2014

        What is the problem? Anyone can access Youtube or Twitter if they want. It is paranoia to think all private correspondence is actually being read, rather than capable of being read.

        1. Bazman
          June 17, 2014

          Its not being read as individuals letters but mined as by ever complex software.

        2. sm
          June 21, 2014

          Yes i believe it is read or data mined which is pretty close really.

          We need to be alert to the very real abuses that can happen. Ever heard of pre-crime? George Orwell?

          The question you need to consider is why this extra survelliance never leads to other wrong doings being unearthed and prosecuted?

      2. zorro
        June 17, 2014

        Don’t forget the secret courts recently introduced…..so much for a trial by peers.


        1. Hope
          June 18, 2014

          And Vodafone disclosed all that government regulary listened to people on the phone. All without safeguards of any kind. Why have an information commisioner, pure charade. This is big state, big government which normally a Conservative party would be against. Then again, show me which party is actually conservative other than UKIP?

    4. matthu
      June 17, 2014

      “Its comments on foreigners might be more popular with the UKIP tendency”

      I think judging by John’s comment maybe one should assume that he would feel entirely comfortable with the prospect of foreigners being allowed to bear arms in this country?

    5. L Tanner
      June 17, 2014

      I concur.

    6. acorn
      June 17, 2014

      Magna Carta my arse! Here in the 21st Century, Eurosceptics have a more pressing problem.

      Don’t panic you laissez faire, neo-liberal eurosceptics, all is not yet lost. It doesn’t look like Mr Juncker is going to make any concrete UK renegotiation policy proposals, in his programme, for his coming five years as EU Commission President.

      The EU as a whole is in an awkward position. Cameron’s potential face-saver at this late stage of the game, could be a vote in the European Council. The decision to nominate Juncker would have to be taken by a qualified majority and it looks like the UK might, just, with luck, get a blocking minority. Assuming it needs four states for a blocking motion to succeed under QMV in the E-Council.

      Jean-Claude Juncker is in no mood to do the UK any favours whatsoever now, thanks to Cameron’s tactics. Eurosceptics, if they are serious and have the “testicular fortitude” to be other than party lobby fodder; need to be tuning to a new political channel that has a different anchorman, UKIP.

      PS. This would all be so much easier, and democratic, if our MPs were selected in open primary elections, where the candidate chooses the party, if any; rather than the party choosing the candidate. FPTP voting systems, always end up with a binary party system. Be it Conservative V Labour or, Republican V Democrat. Unless we brake this sclerosis, nothing is ever going to change.

  2. Old Albion
    June 17, 2014

    JR, whether the document is relevent to today or not, is indeed up for discussion. However it is an important part of English history and i thank you for describing it as such.
    Unlike the PM who refers to it as British history…………..natch.

    1. Jerry
      June 17, 2014

      @Old Albion: “Unlike the PM who refers to it as British history…………..natch.”

      To be fair, we English have exported so much of our civility to other parts of the British Isles and further afield it is an acceptable comment to make, for example there is little difference between the law in Wales and England, even if there is between Scottish law.

      1. Duyfken
        June 17, 2014

        I once was chatting with a lawyer in Edinburgh, who said he went to a local university to study Scottish law. I asked him what he did in the second year. He did not seem to be amused.

  3. Lifelogic
    June 17, 2014

    History is history. The Magna Carta is clearly more emblematic than anything directly relevant to today’s world. History still has some emblematic relevance and shows us that many human problems and power struggles do not change much. Technology and science has however changed the rules of the game to a very large degree.

    We should be looking towards more science and engineering, towards more real and direct democracy. More game theory to ensure a sensible legal system, one that actually acts in the interests of users – rather than those of lawyers and the state sector.

    We need to decrease the huge number of pointless , rent seeking & parasitic jobs that are about, these impoverish us all.

    Not that full democracy is without its problems. Firstly there is always the danger of the poor ganging up to rob the rich and secondly the problem of decisions made by people who have little understanding of technical or cost issues.

    For example “clean renewable” energy might sound sensible, over nuclear and coal – until you look at the science, costs, intermittency and real numbers. But even here the public are surely bound to make better decisions than the Ed Davey types.

    1. Lifelogic
      June 17, 2014

      I see Charlie Elphicke “conservative” MP want to prosecute tax advisers for doing nothing but the entirely beneficial action of advising people how to legally avoid tax. Thus helping to stop Cameron and Osborne types from pissing it down the drain on greencrap, EU, the pigis, pointless wars and the rest.

      Why is this man in the Tory party?

    2. Lifelogic
      June 17, 2014

      The way to get rid of tax avoidance people is to have sensible and low rate tax laws and stop wasting money in government. Not to lock up tax advisers.

    3. APL
      June 17, 2014

      Lifelogic: “Not that full democracy is without its problems.”

      ‘full democracy’ is not a lot better than mob rule. The strongest group of thugs gets to beat the rest.

      Constitutional rule, is the important thing. A clear set of restraints that are difficult to change lawfully.

      The US, for example, is not a democracy, it is (or was) a constitutional Republic.

      What Redwood is arguing for is unfettered rule of the mob. He’d just prefer his mob to be in charge.

      There was a time when you might expect a Tory to argue for small government, with clearly delineated and restricted powers. When people like Redwood argue for mob rule, it’s clear that Tory party no longer exists.

  4. Jerry
    June 17, 2014

    “We still like the emphasis on fair trial for those accused, and the system of fines proportionate to the offence.”

    Well we Plebs do, not sure about Parliament and other law makers though, there have been far to many laws created or modified (from minor civil to major criminal crimes) that have in effect reversed the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, as an example it is now common that the registered keeper of a motor car has to prove that s/he was not driving at the time of the lane or speeding offence, even (in one case I know of) prove that the vehicle was not theirs, even though the registration mark was! Never mind the ratification of that awful EAW…

    1. Iain Gill
      June 17, 2014

      yes the fixed penalty system is a disgrace. and the quangos running it are out of control and breaking laws routinely.

    2. Timaction
      June 17, 2014

      The European Arrest Warrant takes the liberty of English citizens back to the dark ages. It allows the worst of the 28 criminal justice systems to take us without evidence to await trial in a foreign Country without any check or balances. Its totally draconian but acceptable to our feeble quisling legacy parties.
      But LibLabCon just consider us a region of their beloved EU!
      The fact the Magna Carter recognises “foreigner’s” shows an understanding of patriotism sadly lost on the legacy parties!

    3. Lifelogic
      June 17, 2014

      “system of fines proportionate to the offence”

      That would be nice, I recently had to pay nearly ÂŁ800 as fines for companies just because some documents had been lost, stolen I think, and so we were late in filing. What was the offence there one wonders?

      Fair trials would be nice too.

      When one sees some of the unreasoned pure appeals to emotion & pathetic theatrics in our courts, the emphasis on the horror and the violent details of the crime (rather than asking the relevant question of was it this person actually did it or not), one tends to despair about fair trials too.

      How can it be be beyond reasonable doubt is two of the jury find the opposite way in majority verdicts or where they unreasonable? What is reasonable doubt? – one in a hundred, a thousand, a million or a billion?

      The main thing is that juries should act to stop the powers that be from in effect enslaving the voters as they very nearly do now.

      etc ed

      1. Iain Gill
        June 17, 2014

        I’ve been involved in a fair number of court cases. In every single case the side able to afford the more expensive legal team of the two sides won. The legal system does not dispense fairness or justice, it dispenses victory to the more wealthy. Hardly worth the bother.

        1. Bazman
          June 17, 2014

          Why do you think Russia loves the British legal system?

        2. libertarian
          June 18, 2014

          iain Gill

          Sorry that is just not true. I can show you 1,000’s of cases where the wealthier of the two sides lost

      2. Jerry
        June 17, 2014

        @Lifelogic: “Fair trials would be nice too.

        (Anonymity? ed) until found guilty of a serious, life changing, what ever the Jury decide, trial would be nice too. I fully understand why some feel that naming a defendant is necessary but a similar rational can be used to demand the naming of the victim, better then to have (anonymity? ed) for both rather than have to name a possibly vulnerable witness for the prosecution – sorry to say, there are many in this world who still believe that old adage about no smoke without fire.

        John R, I hope I have been vague enough not to cause you any problems?!

        1. Jerry
          June 17, 2014

          Oops, I meant Anonymity, blooming spiel chocker and no edit function!….

          1. Lindsay McDougall
            June 17, 2014

            A warning about spell checkers. Some convert ‘cranage’, a somewhat unusual word, to ‘carnage’, which has a very different meaning. Not as bad as computerised translation, though. I once had a German article about toll roads translated into English. The German word for ‘toll’ was translated to ‘death’ throughout. It made hilarious reading.

      3. Bazman
        June 17, 2014

        We live in a democracy and a progressive tax system is part of this democracy if only to protect the rich and the rest of us. The rich must pay more and just because they pay the most as individuals does not exclude them from paying more.

        1. Jerry
          June 18, 2014

          @Bazman: “The rich must pay more and just because they pay the most as individuals does not exclude them from paying more.”

          Is that what they call a vortex tax regime, you pay more tax and thus you will pay ever more higher taxes!

          Why would anyone ever wish to succeed if they can never be rewarded for that success. Might as well just fiddle those tractor production figures, might as make do with old technology rather than invent new etc, after all we are not going to get to take home any more money for actually working our socks off…

          1. Bazman
            June 18, 2014

            All falls down as the rich have taken a bigger share over the years and continue to take more. What you are seeing is a concentration of extreme wealth in the hands of a small fraction of a percentage of people. A new financial aristocracy who believe they have the right to even more. The lass wealthy have ben gien large rises in income top pay any additional taxes and in a flat tax system the middle would pay more with the rich and poor paying less. Get back to the real world. If you have paid billions in tax, but still have billions left the incentive argument does not apply only your apologist nonsense does.

          2. Edward2
            June 19, 2014

            If taxing the rich even more was done to help the poor then I would be less against it than your real reason which is just an envious dislike of a very small number of super rich.
            All the EU and the UK politicians would do is waste this extra money on themselves and on many useless new schemes which would do little to make the poor rich.
            The State already has billions to achieve less inequality and fails.
            Blame the State for inequality not the rich.
            In other news the rich are paying more tax in the UK than ever before.

          3. Bazman
            June 19, 2014

            Massive inequality cannot be just dismissed as ‘jealousy by your simplistic logic. It is right and fair that a 100 peole own more than than than 19 million others in thsi country. Massive inequality means little for the population to spend on living and supporting industry and those with a few quid to spare speculating on property and causing further housing shortages. The feel jealous of the super rich when they cannot afford to heat their houses, buy food or pay rent Jealousy? How old are you? 12? They feel angry and lean towards extreme political parties. You think they should just except this massive gap in living standards? The jealousy exists between the super rich who believe that a smaller mansion and yacht means they are somehow hard done by. You know what do do with.

        2. libertarian
          June 18, 2014


          Of course the rich pay more. Its done on a percentage of earnings basis. So even if we all paid the same flat rate of tax the rich would still pay vastly more. What is of more interest is the millions of people who don’t contribute at all in terms of tax payments or productivity

          1. Bazman
            June 20, 2014

            The rich would pay less than they do now, the poor would pay less and the middle would pay more or face massive cuts. Fact. This is the UKIP policy they forget to talk about. Millions of these non productive non contributors are pensioners or those who do not earn enough to pay tax. The working poor who also claim benefits too. You can call them subsidies if you like. Subsiding their low living standards and employers low wages. Many others are in education, single mothers, by choice or otherwise, the sick and with a tiny percentage bone idle scroungers. When you get some facts get back to us, but facts are not what you are about.

        3. Edward2
          June 18, 2014

          What is your definition of “rich” Baz?
          Is someone working in Greater London on say ÂŁ150,000 pa but married with several kids and only the one income coming in with a big rent or mortgage, commuting costs and living costs rich?
          Bear in mind he or she would pay nearly half of that salary to the state already in tax NI and council taxes
          Have you looked at the type of skilled professionals who are emmigrating each year from the UK?
          Hundreds of thousands are leaving each year and your spite and envy driven dreams for even higher tax will only increase this trend.

          1. Bazman
            June 19, 2014

            How many billion would you say makes you rich?

          2. Edward2
            June 20, 2014

            Stop obsessing about “the rich” Baz.
            The real question is how do you improve the standard of living for all people in the UK.
            I feel a smaller sized state, less taxation, more freedom, more democracy, better education, better training and support for those wanting to start their own businesses is a way forward.
            You seem to believe killing off the billionaires, taxing the millionaires into poverty and a bigger all involving high tax socialist superstate will do it.
            Despite the many failings of the European model of democratic capitalism controlled in a mixed economy, this is undoubtedly our best for improving standards of living.
            Blame Governments for badly utilising the vast sums of money they have rather than fixating on a few billionaires.

          3. Bazman
            June 20, 2014

            Stop obsessing about “the rich” Baz?
            When this countries system seems to be set up for their benefit at the expense of the population. Who should stop obsessing? Me or their deluded apologist supporters?

          4. Edward2
            June 21, 2014

            The top few percent paying record amounts of tax is still not enough for you.
            Until it is 100% you would not be satisfied.

  5. Gary
    June 17, 2014

    A little off topic, if this sort of thing is ever really off topic.

    Another conspiracy “theory” becomes conspiracy
    “fact” as The FT reports ” a cluster of central
    banking investors has become major players on
    world equity markets .” The report, to be
    published this week by the Official Monetary and
    Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) , confirms
    $29.1tn in market investments, held by 400
    public sector institutions in 162 countries.


    So , there’s your so-called growth. This is going to end very badly.

  6. John r
    June 17, 2014

    It think the mythology of Magna Carta has come to us from the USA where they are taught to see it as a a precursor of their Constitution. If you visit Runnymede you will see that the monument there was funded by the American Bar Association.

    It’s our version of St. Patrick’s Day parades, something invented in the New World to represent an idea of the Old World and then imported back into the Old World.
    Previously St. Patrick’s Day was no big deal in Dublin, and we were able to learn about the proper place of Magna Carta in our history.

  7. APL
    June 17, 2014

    JR: “Magna Carta was a staging post on a long journey to liberty.”

    No disagreement there.

    JR: “It was a step forward in curbing the power of the Crown, ”

    Yes, but the Crown is but one form of autocracy. We now have Mr Blair, Mr Brown and Mr Cameron – each presumed to the Royal prerogative. So in the last 100 years, your ‘long journey to liberty’ has been utterly frustrated, a U turn has been executed by a privileged clique and our condition in regards to liberty is as bad as it was under King John.

    In directly abrogating the restraints of power accepted in the English constitution over hundreds of years, the established foundation of the authority of the State has been undermined, the British political elite have executed a Coup d’Ă©tat.

    JR: “but it can tell us nothing about our rights vis a vis the EU or the ECJ.”

    Firstly, you are correct. The reason being, you (the political elite) have consciously decided to ignore the restraints of the English constitution.

    Firstly, Magna Carta is a foundational document of the English constitution. The English system does not have one unified document dreamt up in a struggle for independence. The English were among the first searching for independence and we got it piece by piece, then demonstrated to everyone else up until about 1950 how it should be used.

    Now Politicians seeking popularity, have undermined Magna Carta, abolishing, thanks to Strathclyde the role of the Lords in protecting the constitution. You have isolated the Crown and sat by while the executive abrogates the powers of the Crown, (Tony Blairs usurping the right of the Crown to declare war – and look where that got us!) the commons in Parliament has become ever more supine and are no bulwark against tranny . Today there being no active protection of the constitution in the Lords, and no one in the commons who cares, our courts have been politicised and turned into a supreme ‘puppet court’, subject to the oversight of the ECJ.

    We are ever more subject to arbitrary law then we ever were under King John, and you don’t seek to restore our protections, rather witter about how MC is an document of nothing more than historical interest – why is that?

    Because you as an established member of the political elite – benefit for the new state of affairs.

    You, no less that every other fraud in Parliament are paid very comfortably to protect the freedoms and privileges of subjects of the Crown, and you refuse to do it.

    JR: “Often it now strikes us as being archaic and irrelevant, as many of the grievances it sought to tackle were rooted in a feudal system which no longer applies.”

    But which the politicans have sought to restore. You have on the one hand a former Prime Minister who, (words left out ed) Took us into a disastrous and unnecessary war and cost the lives of countless humans.

    etc ed

    In 2014 ordinary people have no less of a grievance about excessive taxation that the Barons did in 1215.

    JR: “As soon as peace is restored we will remove from the kingdom all foreign knights, bowmen, their attendants and the mercenaries””

    So, get rid of the US occupying forces, they were here in a time of dire National emergency, but they have stayed too long and become an all but permanent presence.

    The rest of your post hoc rationalisations are largely rubbish too.

  8. Iain Gill
    June 17, 2014

    I always find the American declaration of independence interesting, the actual words being rather different to its hype.
    As integrated into life in the US as I was when I lived there I never did drink the toast at Independence Day meals, celebrating killing British soldiers as the dedication usually does. Maybe that’s another good British value eh.

  9. Denis Cooper
    June 17, 2014

    There’s a cracking letter in the Telegraph today, JR, may I reproduce it in full?

    You may have met the author, he has lived in Rome for a long time but has spoken at many meetings here and given evidence to a parliamentary committee.


    “Magna Carta laid the foundations of British freedoms”

    “Trial by jury and habeas corpus are among those freedoms under threat”

    “SIR – Magna Carta is to be celebrated by David Cameron’s administration, even if Allan Massie says that it was not a “revolutionary” step in its time.

    Yet it was the first, successful attempt to limit the state’s power. Clause 29, to this day, deprives the state of power to order punishment of a citizen, which can be decided only by a jury of the defendant’s peers. It inspired the American revolution.

    Nobody has mentioned that Magna Carta never crossed into continental Europe. Continental criminal procedures are little known in Britain, even by the Government.

    In 1215, Pope Innocent III was setting up the Inquisition, which, far from limiting the authorities’ power over the individual, made it absolute. When he heard of Magna Carta, he wrote to the English clergy saying they had done something “abominable and illicit”. In Europe, only England escaped the Inquisition. Centuries later, Napoleon’s new laws adopted and adapted an inquisitorial method, redirecting it to the service of the state. Napoleon’s codes underpin most continental legal systems today.

    Brussels aims to create a unified European criminal code. The embryo “Corpus Juris” proposal was unveiled in 1997, and was denounced in The Daily Telegraph. It would abolish trial by jury, habeas corpus, and other safeguards considered normal by the British, yet ignored by the European Convention.

    The European arrest warrant is a stepping stone towards Corpus Juris: a European prosecutor will issue European warrants. Yet Mr Cameron intends to reconfirm the European arrest warrant. This will trash the foundation stone of our freedoms in Magna Carta. So just what is Mr Cameron meaning to celebrate?

    Torquil Dick-Erikson

    As I understand the government attempts to defend its willingness to see any of us carted off to a foreign country to languish for months in some hellish prison, just on the say-so of one of their officials, on the basis that all of the EU countries are signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights.

    But Torquil Dick-Erikson has pointed out that while that is true in theory its provisions may be insufficient safeguards in practice where a country’s tradition is very different to our own.

    1. Hope
      June 17, 2014

      That is why you cannot believe a word Cameron says.

      1. Lifelogic
        June 17, 2014

        We judge him by his actions and here he is clearly a big state, pro EU, greencrap, LibDem in all his actions – so neither Liberal nor Democratic.

        Which pro EU, Libdem, big state, greencrap, arts grad has he found for the BBC I wonder – to replace Lord Patten? ÂŁ140K is it for the part time job of overseer of indoctrination of the populous, in chief?

  10. JoolsB
    June 17, 2014

    The Magna Carta is indeed a document relating to ENGLISH history and thank you for describing it as such – a politician who is not afraid to say the word ENGLAND. Maybe you should have a word with Cameron who in his avoidance of all things ENGLISH only does Britain even when talking about something as quintessentially ENGLISH as the Magna Carta. No doubt had he been talking about some important historical Scottish document, he would have had no such trouble saying the word Scotland rather than Britain.

  11. Brian Tomkinson
    June 17, 2014

    JR: “it can tell us nothing about our rights vis a vis the EU or the ECJ.”
    That is because politicians, without seeking our consent, surrendered the powers with which they were entrusted by the British people to an anti-democratic foreign organisation and most of you in Westminster are happy for that to continue.

  12. Denis Cooper
    June 17, 2014

    On a historical note, it is not widely know that Magna Carta was not entirely unprecedented in England, because a thousand years ago in 1014 Æthelred had only been allowed back as king on conditions agreed with the English nobles and written into what was essentially a contract.

    Maybe we should really be celebrating that this year? It is true that unlike Magna Carta the exact date of the contract is unknown, and in any case we will have now missed it, but we could still remember it.

    I don’t expect that the wikipedia account is entirely reliable but it serves as a starting point:


    “Sweyn then launched an invasion in 1013 intending to crown himself king of England, during which he proved himself to be a general greater than any other Viking leader of his generation. By the end of 1013 English resistance had collapsed and Sweyn had conquered the country, forcing Æthelred into exile in Normandy. But the situation changed suddenly when Sweyn died on 3 February 1014. The crews of the Danish ships in the Trent that had supported Sweyn immediately swore their allegiance to Sweyn’s son Cnut the Great, but leading English noblemen sent a deputation to Æthelred to negotiate his restoration to the throne. He was required to declare his loyalty to them, to bring in reforms regarding everything that they disliked and to forgive all that had been said and done against him in his previous reign. The terms of this agreement are of great constitutional interest in early English History as they are the first recorded pact between a King and his subjects and are also widely regarded as showing that many English noblemen had submitted to Sweyn simply because of their distrust of Æthelred.”

    Unfortunately no copy of that agreement has survived, or at least none has yet been discovered; it has been suggested that the English nobles had picked up the idea of a contract with their king from the Danes, but that too is uncertain.

    What seems more certain is that while the Norman Conquest set back the cause of liberty and limited government in England for several generations those ideas did eventually bubble up again from below, and with various reverses carried through from Magna Carta in 1215 to the Declaration of Rights in 1688:


    wherein Parliament did not in fact claim new rights for the first time but reasserted what were seen as ancient rights and liberties:

    “… the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons, pursuant to their respective letters and elections, being now assembled in a full and free representative of this nation, taking into their most serious consideration the best means for attaining the ends aforesaid, do in the first place (as their ancestors in like case have usually done) for the vindicating and asserting their ancient rights and liberties declare …”

    And we must hope that the same thing will happen soon with regard to our present self-abasement before the EU.

    1. Hope
      June 17, 2014

      Excellent blog. Thank you.

    2. L Tanner
      June 17, 2014

      Well said.

  13. acorn
    June 17, 2014

    The attraction is weapons and militias and who controls them, the King; the Barons or the Plebs, it always has been.

    Free men of England had to own a weapon in order for the king to have an ever ready army. However, recognizing that an armed citizenry could create serious resistance to an oppressive king, the Assize of Arms, signed by King Henry II of England, 1181, allowed the king to restrict the types and numbers of weapons a man could own. The start of gun control.

    Magna Carta, signed by King John of England, 1215. King John signed the Magna Carta due to the military strength of the wealthy land barons of the day, who had built large private militias that were heavily armed. A pretty powerful lobby group even by todays rotten standards.

    The Petition of Right, signed by King Charles I of England, 1628 was to reaffirm the liberties and rights of the Magna Carta; the balance of military power had all shifted, over some four hundred years back the government.

    The Game Act, signed by King Charles II, 1671 stopped the peasants owning guns again and killing the Kings game. The English Bill of Rights 1689 (William and Mary) let rich protestants own guns and stopped rich Catholics owning guns, a reversal of what her dad had done previous.

    Every English / UK government since, has done its best to stop the Plebs having guns that they just might use on the government, as a substitute for voting at ballot boxes.

  14. Bert Young
    June 17, 2014

    Magna Carta was the first step in the right direction of independence . It was a demonstration that ” enough was enough ” and that dogma superimposed could and would be rejected . It was also the first recognition that foreigners based here who had enjoyed benefits would no longer be tolerated . The country wanted to start again refreshed from constraints . From the moment it was signed into place , a feeling of unity and respect began . England became great and proud . In the particular Magna Carta had many features out of kilter with the public , in the round it put down the building block of a system of law and order the world recognised and respected .

  15. Excalibur
    June 17, 2014

    Roger Scruton in ‘England: an elegy’ “The English Law existed not to control the individual but to free him. It was on the side of the subject against those — whether usurping politicians or common criminals — who wished to bend him unconsenting to their will. ….. Magna Carta expressly affirmed ancient rights and freedoms, and demanded that the King be subject to the law.”
    So this was the revelation that first drew my attention to Magna Carta as a schoolboy. That everyone, even the King, was subject to the law of the land. Naively, I thought the law would be enforced uniformly across the populace as a whole. I now know differently.

  16. Terry
    June 17, 2014

    Doesn’t the same apply to the American Constitution/Bill of Rights? Outdated? And the teachings of the Bible and the Koran? The Americans at least amended their Bill of Rights – we Brits don’t even have one.
    What happened to Mr Camerons proposed British “Bill of Rights”, John? Is that another seed that fell on stony ground?

    1. Anne
      June 18, 2014

      We do indeed have a Declaration of Rights and a Bill of Rights, along with Magna Carta and many people in the last WAR fought and many died fighting to keep them and our way of life which may always be different from those on the Continent.
      Magna Carta pops us many times throughout HANSARD, so it is indeed still going strong. Baroness Knight of Collingtree: 4 Feb 1998 : Column 649 “History surrounds us as well as beauty. The 16 barons and two archbishops who forced King John to sign Magna Carta are always looking down on us from their niches. William Joyce, the most notorious traitor of the last war, faced judgment at that Bar”.
      Mr. Luff: 16 Jan 1998 : Column 635 The creator of parliamentary democracy, Simon de Montfort, died in my constituency, at Evesham, 700 years ago, at the battle of Evesham. Bad King John, reluctant signatory to the Magna Carta, lies buried in Worcester cathedral. We are at the heart of English history, and we associate with both our county and our country, and also with our kingdom. We are proud of all of them.
      12 Jan 1998. David Davis. “The control of the nation’s finances has featured as a central part of constitutional debates and disputes, from Magna Carta to the Parliament Act 1911, and it should not be a surprise that the issue is the central feature of the Bill”. “The Members of this Chamber, Members of another place, those who have a university education and broadsheet readers in general are well aware that this is the reverse of the truth and that Britain, with its Magna Carta, jury system, equality before the law, its House of Commons with power to refuse to vote funds to the Monarch, the Glorious Revolution and so on, has always been–despite many imperfections–far freer than almost any continental nation” Many, many times Magna Carta is mentioned through the many years from my research. Far too many to place here, so Magna Carta-which was taught in schools in my day should be continued TODAY because we will be fighting to keep ALL OUR LAWS, RATHER THAN THE EU’S CORPUS JURIS. That I know for sure.

  17. Paul H
    June 17, 2014

    Please explain how the PM’s new-found enthusiasm for the tenets of the Magna Carta are compatible with his enthusiasm for the European Arrest Warrant.
    Until I see a satisfactory reconciliation of these two views, I shall assume that Cameron is simply commandeering the Magna Carta in another attempt to fool UKIP voters.

  18. libertarian
    June 17, 2014


    Thanks for that, I thought it was only me. I read the translation of the MC last night and thought exactly that. It has no relevance to today and there is virtually nothing in it that I would wish to see enforced today. Its typical of our approach to all kinds of outdated “traditions” such as the belief that the NHS is the envy of the world or that our parliament is the mother of democracy.

    1. Hope
      June 17, 2014

      Today we learn the NHS has sold personal details to private companies. It is about time there was root and branch reform.

  19. Neil craig
    June 17, 2014

    “Staging post” is right. It is important as enshrining some separation of powers but it is very much a feudal document. “1066 and all that” got it right when summarising every concession about fair trials, not dissecting people etc with “except for the common people”.

    As a UKIP supporter I endorse the idea that we should not have foreign knights wandering around causing mayhem & taunting Brits, calling them kniggits.

  20. WitteringsfromWitney
    June 17, 2014

    “So to those who worship Magna Carta and dislike what successive Parliaments have done to it,”

    If Magna Carta, generally considered part of our uncodified constitution, then to anyone who believes in democracy should we the people not have been asked whether we agreed to the changes made?

    Oh and please do not offer the old excuse that we had such a voice at general elections – manifestos are not worth the paper on which they are written.

  21. The PrangWizard
    June 17, 2014

    Magna Carta may be nearly 800 years old so it is bound to contain some references which can be nit-picked over today, but it should not be sneered at or diminished. To me and many others it is one of the great documents and symbols of English history and the right to freedom.

    It may have been the barons then who objected to the excesses of the King but the smug and arrogant British political and cultural Establishment should take note that one day they will be brought to explain why they have treated the people of England with disdain, and for not doing anything like enough to address their grievances. Although some speak up from time to time they are not treated seriously – indeed some of them are merely putting on a bit of a show – and the juggernaut rolls on and over them too with barely a pause.

    They will be in the position of the King. They just cannot understand how they are seen by many, no matter how much evidence is placed before them they ignore it – ‘surely that’s not about ME’ they say to themselves and ‘anyway, what do ordinary people know’. Remember Gordon Brown and ‘that bigoted woman’.

    1. Mark B
      June 18, 2014

      That, ‘bigoted women’ still votes Labour.

      But what was it that someone recently said about loyalty ? To me, loyalty is a two way street.

  22. forthurst
    June 17, 2014

    The Magna Carta Libertatum did commit English monarchs in perpetuity to allow and uphold certain rights and freedoms for all the English, not just the Barons, without defining how this would be achieved in practice, in addition to the resolution of specific matters which were outstanding as a consequence of the activities of King John which therefore had no perpetual pertinence.

    On the matter of the heirs, it might well be that it followed from the previous clause concerning guardianship, in which case it is intended to ensure that an heir is not married off to a relative of a guardian of lower status; it would therefore not constrain on an heir on reaching his majority or in the unlikely event of his own father having initiated the match.

    As to the ‘UKIP’ clause, it should apply today to the occupation of our country by American forces, the spying on English people on behalf of them, and all those, not being accredited emissaries,who act here apparently for the benefit of an alien power, both temporal and ‘spiritual’.

    The freedom of the English Church has been grossly impaired ever since it was seized by Henry VIII; the Church is not prospering under the control of the Monarch and perhaps the claim of the ultimate lay authority over the spiritual domain should be revoked.

    The PM, while flaunting the benefits of a Rolls-Royce mind furnished with a Rolls-Royce education on the David Letterman show did not give justice to the scope and extend of a document which, although hurriedly drafted and in a Mediaeval context, was an important milestone in the formulation of our English law.

  23. Vanessa
    June 17, 2014

    If it is not relevant at all now, then why are we celebrating its 800th anniversary? As I understood it, the barons represented “the people” to the King making sure he signed to conserve our freedoms.

    Magna Carta was the basis of the USA Declaration of Independence and, I think, most of the Commonwealth countries’ legal systems are based on a fair trial and no imprisonment with a fair trial which some of us English are seeing swept away by the EU.
    If you read Christopher Booker on Sundays his pieces cataloguing parents thrown into gaol for waving at their children who have been taken into “care” is deeply upsetting – this is without a trial. Most of those children (who earn their social services and “carers” huge sums) are then groomed and abused which would not have happened with the parents.

    Magna Carta might have something to say about this and rightly so.

  24. Anonymous
    June 17, 2014

    “Its comments on foreigners might be more popular with the UKIP tendency: “As soon as peace is restored we will remove from the kingdom all foreign knights, bowmen, their attendants and the mercenaries”, but difficult and contentious to enforce today.”

    This is unfair on UKIP whose beliefs on immigration are far more sophisticated and fair than you give credit.

    In fact we can safely ascribe such outright xenophobia to the BNP – a political option which has already been roundly rejected by our people, by UKIP and by the UKIP leader. What UKIP stands for (as you know) is selective and limited immigration with no basis along racial lines – not the anarchic and barely controlled ‘system’ that your Prime Minister and party allows.

    So no. The comments on foreigners would not be popular with the so called UKIP ‘tendency’. But I’m glad you said it in public. Let it be clear that even the most right wing Tory is disconnected from the common man on this subject.

  25. L Tanner
    June 17, 2014

    We must remember the context in which it was drawn up. When King John became king, he was still sovereign over much of northern France as well as England. He lost the former. He seems to have had a knack for making enemies, even with the Pope who promptly excommunicated him. John even appears to have contemplated changing the national religion, of course, which, considering this present time, would have been most ironic.
    And then of course, the latter years of his reign were bedevilled with civil war, and, the incredible but conveniently largely forgotten fact of the ‘English’ nobility inviting over Prince Louis from France with the idea of making him king. Clearly, Louis might not have been considered a ‘foreigner’, but we must remember that the nation state did not exist in those days and England lay very much in the French cultural fold from 1066 to the end of the 14th century. The English speaking majority are almost wholly silent during this period, much like the present English have been muffled politically today – yes, we really haven’t spoken yet.
    So, magna carta is simply a kind of new beginning borne out of necessity in very difficult times, not quite what it seems, yet a fascinating document in the incredible script of ‘accepted’ English history which seems to mean more to Americans than the English. I wonder why.

  26. Lindsay McDougall
    June 17, 2014

    “………… remove from the kingdom all foreign knights, bowmen, their attendants and the mercenaries”……………. I can think of a modern equivalent of that and their removal would not be a bad idea. Are we, for example, going to allow the 400 UK ISIS soldiers to return ‘home’?

  27. Bazman
    June 17, 2014

    Maybe we need an update Magna Carta to curb the new financial aristocracy who believe that the country should be run for their benefit alone to the detriment of all others? We will end up like Russia a country run for the benefit of about a thousand people. Oligarchs leaving diggers in their underground London extensions for archaeologists to find in the future whilst handing out sweets to the distant masses.

  28. margaret brandreth-j
    June 17, 2014

    I have read it, looked, as Dennis, at Wikipedia and must admit couldn’t help but fall asleep. I notice the three clauses which have been kept, mainly talk about the freedom and rights of the church and the Roman church ( which are being threatened at present by other religions) .The Queen in State and religious rituals acts in a way to highlight the supremacy of the church and her recognition of it’s superiority.

    When we are talking about knights and Barons in the 13th Century it can hardly be applied to the 21st century: although with landowners still in situ and most paying 999 years land rental there is a parallel with the feudal system.

    Anything which we own will have heirs and with provision of a will will go direct to our heirs or otherwise, the solicitor as guardian, who will need to be given a fee and pay inheritance tax to the state, which will be rather more than ÂŁ100.Widows will still not pay for that inheritance and instead of 50% ownership ,will have 100%.

    If I can keep awake, I will read some of the clauses which have been dropped for better or worse.

    1. margaret brandreth-j
      June 17, 2014

      I.E. Inheritance tax paid on the estates.

  29. Martin
    June 17, 2014

    We now have Secret Trials, POTA and RIPA.

    River Power – now that is an interesting thought – all the extra dams might help control flooding as well as generate some power.

  30. David Price
    June 18, 2014

    I found myself in a situation where officers of the court had appeared to have broken the law (criminal and civil) yet the government of the day was unwilling to prosecute and there appeared no other means of redress whatsoever. As a start to understanding what could be done I looked at what was left of Magna Carta So much has been repealed by pariliament but the following was among the little that remained;

    “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 pass upon him. nor condemn (deal with) him, but by lawful judgement of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny to any man either Justice or Right.”

    Yet neither the government nor judiciary are willing to uphold this clause either, so what point does Magna Carta have other than as an historical document that now has no bearing on our circumstances. Better to start with something that does relate to our situation today and has active support such the Declaration of Independence than a document that only has interest for a few musty historians

  31. margaret brandreth-j
    June 18, 2014

    “but not to someone of lower social standing”

    In the 21st century this is a strange concept.A lower social standing ?what is this, money? No! criminals have barrel loads of the stuff, Education? No most could afford a degree these days with loans etc, Those who you mix with?No , judging from many comments , persons would not want to mix with anyone in power, Ethics? possibly , but money and who you know doesn’t come into this , so that is rather anti-social ,so No…What is lower social standing?

  32. Anne
    June 18, 2014

    You asked John, “What was it about Magna Carta that first attracted you to it? In my day, we were taught about our Common Law Constitution at school, and many-not me-too young- fought to keep it and our way of life in the 1939-1945 War. We were however bombed out along with a great many others. We knew many people where we lived at that time, that were here one day and gone the next. I remember our Church bringing forward the Evening Service to the after-noon because of the early bombing at that time. I remember one elderly gentleman went fast asleep in his Pew that afternoon and we in the choir nudge each other and I guess sniggered at him. He and his wife were both killed that night, and had they been at Church that evening, they might not have been killed. Strange how things like that never leaves us., and why I will continue to fight to keep our own Common law Constitution that so many in that last war, gave THEIR LIVES for our FREEDOM to Govern ourselves.

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