Often, it is in retrospect that particular events assume their greatest importance.
When the English barons gathered at Runnymede to parley with King John, they weren’t thinking of history; they were thinking of themselves.
They weren’t conscious of universal rights; they were conscious of their own grievances.
For the most part, the Magna Carta reads like a log of claims against the king.
Merely to make such claims, though, reveals a clear understanding that the king can’t do what he likes, and that a subject has rights even against a sovereign.
Even in the 13th century, this was not a novel concept.
Even then, the king’s coronation oath typically included a promise to govern according to law.
It wasn’t long, though, before the Magna Carta came to be seen as a constitutional watershed binding all future kings. Continue reading