Eamonn Butler

Author and broadcaster on economics and social issues

Magna Carta: A Primer

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Most people know the romantic story of Bad King John, forced to sign Magna Carta—the ‘Great Charter’ of rights and liberties—by his unruly barons. The reality is different: there was such a meeting in 1215, but there was no quill pen (kings then would seal documents) and the charter, with its clauses on fish weirs, widows’ inheritances and forests, did not look much like a new constitution. And King John had the Pope annul it a few weeks later anyway.

And yet, Magna Carta crystallized many of the freedoms that ran deep in the Anglo-Saxon consciousness—as they do in Western societies today. The rule of law. No taxation without consent. No arbitrary arrest, no sale of justice. Trial by jury.The security of private property. Eamonn explains how, though few of the original 63 clauses of the charter are still in force, the principles of freedom and limited government that it encapsulated are still with us and vital to us today.

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