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Articles of the Barons

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Magna Carta
When was Magna Carta created?

It started as “Articles of the Barons” and was formally issued on June 15th 1215. This formal version, combined with other charters, is what came to be known as Magna Carta. Later Kings reissued Magna Carta, of which the 1297 version by King Edward I being most influential to future generations.

What was the purpose of the Magna Carta?

The purpose of the Magna Carta was to curb the King and make him govern by the old English laws that had prevailed before the Normans came. The Magna Carta was a collection of 37 English laws - some copied, some recollected, some old and some new. The Magna Carta demonstrated that the power of the king could be limited by a written grant.

While Magna Carta would one day become a basic document of the British Constitution, democracy and universal protection of ancient liberties were not among the baron’s goals.  The Charter was a feudal document and meant to protect the rights and property of the few powerful families that topped the rigidly structured feudal system.  In fact, the majority of the population , the thousands of unfree laborers, are only mentioned once, in a clause concerning the use of court-set fines to punish minor offenses.  Magna Carta’s primary purpose was restorative : to force King John to recognize the supremacy of ancient liberties, to limit his ability to raise funds and to reassert the principle of “due process.” Only a final clause, which created an enforcement council of tenants-in-chief and clergymen, would have severely limited the king’s power and introduced something new to English law : the principle of “majority rule.” But majority rule was an idea whose time had not yet come : in September, at John’s urging, Pope Innocent II annulled the “shameful and demeaning agreement , forced upon the king by violence and fear.” The civil war that followed ended only with John’s death in October 1216.  
Janel McCarthy - National Archives and Records Administration

Some Key Curbs on the King’s Power

1. The Church - The Church was to be free from royal interference, especially in the election of bishops

2. Taxes - No taxes except the regular feudal dues were to be levied, except by the consent of the Great Council, or Parliament

3. The right to due process which led to Trial by Jury

4. Weights and Measures - All weights and measures to be kept uniform throughout the realm

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