You likely first learned about the Magna Carta in elementary school, then promptly forgot all about it. Well, that historical document is not only more important in modern society than you think — it also celebrated its 800th anniversary Monday, with much pomp and circumstance.
A ceremony was held on the banks of the Thames at the spot where it was signed on June 15, 1215, the New York Times reported. Plenty of dignitaries attended, including the queen, which one commentator found quite ironic.
That’s because it forced England’s royalty to bend to the law like everyone else — it was the “second greatest humiliation in the history of the monarchy,” one commentator pointed out.
But the 800th anniversary — essentially a medieval political truce that has, over time, come to protect human liberties — was commemorated with a ceremonial boat trip down the Thames, an art installation, seminars, talks, a musical, and a national cheer to the document. And, of course, there is plenty of memorabilia.
But none of this means much to anybody if you can’t remember your history. Here’s the nitty gritty on this, the day marking its 800th anniversary.
- The Magna Carta was a truce between “Bad King John” and some mutinous barons. The document lists their terms, the Christian Science Monitor added.
- Its name is Latin for “Great Charter” (don’t worry, Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t even know that).
- It served as the basis of the U.S. Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Of its 63 clauses, three remain in British statute.
- It fits on one piece of paper, and five original copies still exist.
- It was valid for only ten weeks, according to NPR. Pope Innocent annulled it not long after it was passed, saying, “I declare the charter to be null and void of all validity forever.” That didn’t stick –succeeding monarchs added to it and then released updated versions.
- It was written in Latin after mediation between the monarch and barons, with the church caught in the middle.
- Nobody signed it — not one of the 40 rebellious men who wanted it in the first place — and no one has a clue exactly who wrote it.
- It gave women the right to inherit from her husband following his death.
- The Magna Carta essentially made the rule of law applicable to royals.
Perhaps the coolest fact about the Magna Carta is a new one. Just before its 800th anniversary, scientists pinpointed two of the people who penned the text, the BBC reported. The men responsible were scribes working at cathedrals in Lincoln and Salisbury.
The church also wanted to keep the king’s powers in check, but the king himself didn’t really want it enforced. The bishops did, however, and they got it distributed and archived. That it has survived and is now celebrated would’ve amazed the barons, said Magna Carta Trust Chairman John Dyson.
“They would surely have been astonished that over time Magna Carta came to be regarded as one of the most important constitutional documents in our history. They would not have believed that (their) lists of demands would become a symbol of democracy, justice, human rights and perhaps above all, the rule of law for the whole world. But that is exactly what has happened.”
[Photo Courtesy Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images]