UK celebrates 800th anniversary of Magna Carta

Monday 11th May 2015 12:01 EDT

This year marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, one of the most important documents in Medieval England, which was signed between King John and the barons of Medieval England, in June 1215. Magna Carta derives from Latin, which means “Great Charter”.

An international commemoration will be taking place on 15th June 2015 to mark the 800th anniversary. HM Queen Elizabeth II will attend the ceremonial activities which are taking place on Runnymede Meadows near Windsor, where the Magna Carta was sealed.

Additionally, to honour the 800th anniversary, the new Weston Library at the Bodleian Library will host an exhibition called 'Marks of Genius', which will display the Gloucester Charter.

The Magna Carta is a document which consisted of a series of written promises between the king and his subjects that the king would govern England and deal with its people according to the customs of feudal law. The Magna Carta was an intent by the barons to prevent a king from misusing his powers where the people of England could suffer.

England had owned land in France. The barons provided the king with both money and men to defend this territory. It is said that traditionally, the king would always consult with the barons before raising taxes and demanding more men for military service, as this was part of the Feudal System.

For many years, English kings had proven to be militarily successful abroad and had good relations with the barons. However, King John had proven to be unsuccessful in his military campaigns abroad, plus his constant demands for more money and men for the military angered the barons.

By 1204, John had lost his land in northern France and in response to this, John introduced high taxes without consulting with the barons. This was against feudal law and accepted custom which further aggravated the barons.

Furthermore, 1214 proved to be a ruinous year for John. He again suffered military defeat in attempt to get back his territory in northern France. He returned to London and demanded more money from taxes, to which the barons did not comply with and rebelled against his power. Ultimately, the barons obtained London, although they did not defeat John entirely. By the Spring of 1215, both sides were willing to discuss matters, which resulted into the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta was also used by the British Empire, which lasted more than 300 years across the globe. Magna Carta was used by imperialists to defend international aspiration and by endemic people to claim liberty and integrity.

Magna Carta’s imperial legacy accentuated the preponderance of location and status when seeking the protection of British justice. While many assumed that British law applied in all of Britain’s territories and that everyone was equal before the law, what mattered greatly was whether the subject was white, wealthy or British-born.

Merchants and emigrants proclaimed that as ‘freeborn’ Englishmen the rights granted to them by Magna Carta were deployable, befitting not only in Britain, but also in Britain’s territories overseas.

In 1690, such merchants challenged the East India Company’s advantageous ownership as an ‘infringement of Magna Carta’. Following the challenge, an Act of Parliament allowed private firms to enter the field.

In the 1770s, the Supreme Court of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa argued that Magna Carta’s impingement was only local and that its protection did not apply in the East India Company’s provinces.The British residents retaliated angrily and convinced that their rights had travelled with them to Asia. In this case, insistence of legal rights were mixed together with political demands and aspirations.

The rebellions began as a military mutiny which spread to large parts of the East India Company’s territories. Some of the rebels were violent and ruthless and the British authorities responded with equal harshness.

East India Company rule ended, only to be replaced by direct British rule. A promulgation delivered in the name of Queen Victoria announced that Indians would receive the same treatment as ‘all Our other Subjects’, as well as their rights to religious freedom and to seek office under the imperial government be acknowledged. While more Indians got involved in the government and some were guaranteed the falsity that was promulgated, as a whole, Indians continued to be treated more atrociously than their British 'equivalents' up to the Indian independence in 1947.

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