Happy 800th birthday to Magna Carta
“Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?”
So said the legendary Tony Hancock in his classic version of 12 Angry Men. Such a lack of knowledge – albeit for comedy effect – will be inexcusable this year as the signing of the historic document celebrates its 800th anniversary. It was in June 1215 that King John, in an effort to appease rebellious barons – who had captured London a month previous – enshrined in law some of the freedoms we hold dear today and ended absolute monarchy.This last-gasp attempt by John to prevent civil war ultimately paved the way for subsequent constitutional legislation, here, in the USA, and even in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet it wasn’t an immediate success – the original document lasted but a few months before it was annulled by Pope Innocent III at the behest of the king. Written completely in Latin, it was reissued four times during its first 100 years, and today, only three of its clauses remain on the statute books: one defends the liberties and rights of the English Church; another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns; and the third gives all English subjects the right to justice and a fair trial.Two of the four remaining copies are held by the British Library, with one each at Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals. For more information visit www.magnacarta800th.com.