The Magna Carta 1215 – King Henry I of England
When King Henry I of England ascended to the throne in 1100, he issued (and then largely ignored) the Charter of Liberties, or Coronation Charter, which redressed abuses of power by his brother William II by establishing royal directives regarding barons of the realm and church offices, among other things.
A century later, Henry’s great-grandson John had lost the majority of his French holdings, as well as a large sum of money, in an attempt to reclaim them. He taxed the barons in 1214 to fund an ultimately futile military campaign in France. The following year, a number of lords revolted, enraged by John’s frequent abuses of feudal and common law. The king agreed to sign The Magna Carta (“great charter”) at Runnymede, between Windsor and the rebels’ camp at Staines.
The Magna Carta with its sixty-three provisions, drafted by intercessor Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, became a symbol of the supremacy of the constitution over the king, ensuring a barons council, church rights, protection from illegal detention, fast justice, and tax constraints. “No freed man shall be kidnapped, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We move against him, but by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the LAW OF THE LAND,” the monarch pledged in Chapter 39, the document’s most well-known provision.
Due process of law is built on the foundation of that simple but broad restriction. “That King John agreed to sign a statement asserting the idea that no one, not even a monarch, is above the law was significant,” writes legal journalist James Podgers. The paper had “enormous significance in the formation of one of our most prized ideals: the rule of law, a government of laws and not of men,” according to legal expert A. E. Dick Howard.
However, neither the king nor the barons eventually obeyed it, and Pope Innocent III revoked its legality, sparking the First Barons’ War. Following kings issued, ignored, and reissued the arrangement until Edward I confirmed it as a permanent statute in 1297, at which point it became the living cornerstone of Anglo-American constitutional law, explicitly invoked by the U.S. Supreme Court in rulings involving enemy combatants (2008) and petitioning the government even eight centuries after its creation (2011).
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)