Magna Carta

(Latin: Great Charter)

The charter of liberties wrested from King John of England at Runnymede by the revolting barons, June 1215. It was revised and reissued, 1216, 1217, and 1225. Its chief purpose was to protect the feudal rights of the baronage, especially in the matter of dues, service, and the administration of justice, though clauses in favor of the Church, merchants, and villeins were included. The supposed guarantees of habeas corpus, universal trial by jury, and no taxation without representation have been read into the Charter by later generations. The value of Magna Carta to political progress lay not so much in the individual clauses as in the general check it represented to absolutism. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, played a prominent part in the negotiations leading up to the drafting and acceptance of Magna Carta and it contained five guarantees of value to the Church. Article I promised respect for all the Church's rights and liberties, and in particular freedom of elections. Article XIV assured bishops and abbots of a place in the Common Council. Article XXII provided that fineB imposed on the clergy should not fall upon their revenue from ecclesiastical benefices. Article XXVII confirmed the Church in the function of supervising the distribution of the chattels of freemen who died intestate. Article XLII gave clerics, as well as most others, freedom to leave England and return at will. The last two clauses were omitted from the revised Charter. Pope Innocent III annulled the Charter, suspended Langton, and excommunicated the barons. The Pontiff objected to the means used to force the Charter from the king who was a Crusader and a vassal of the Holy See. But the policy of Rome was not permanent. The suspension of Langton was lifted, a papal legate sanctioned the reissue of the Charter, 1216 and 1217, and violations of the Charter were punished by ecclesiastical censures.

New Catholic Dictionary

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