Five Things to know about the Magna Carta

KingJohn

It’s been over 800 years since King John of England affixed his royal seal on the original draft of the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215. It’s no secret that the document has had a lasting impact on democratic society.

From November 23 to December 29, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta is hosting the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest exhibit. Edmonton is one of four Canadian cities to play host, and the only one in Western Canada. This free exhibit is a wonderful opportunity to see a piece of history in person.

The Magna Carta’s influence is not only political but has also resonated culturally and socially over the centuries. Here are five facts you might not have known:

  1. The original version of the Magna Carta that was officially sealed in 1215 was rejected by King John within 10 weeks of its issue.

The document was revised and reissued in 1225 by John’s son, Henry III. It underwent several modifications in the years following until its final reissue in 1297 and reconfirmation in 1300.

  1. There isn’t one ‘original’ copy of the Magna Carta.

Because there were so many versions of Magna Carta, including multiples copies of the first version, there are still a handful of each surviving. The Magna Carta: Law, Liberty & Legacy exhibition in Edmonton features the 1300 exemplification of the document, from the year of its reconfirmation. It is one of seven such copies in the world.

MagnaCarta

  1. Eleanor Roosevelt called the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights “the international Magna Carta for all…”

As the intent of the original document was to codify the rights of English barons against a tyrannical monarch, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first charter of its kind to state that human beings were inherently entitled to universal rights.

Roosevelt was chairperson of the United Nations Human Rights Commission and played an instrumental role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In her famous speech “On the Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, Roosevelt made the reference to the Magna Carta.

  1. The original Magna Carta paved the way for very early women’s rights

The Magna Carta gave widows (mostly from the elite class) increased financial protection following marriage and ensured they were granted their proper inheritance. It wasn’t uncommon for a husband’s male heirs from a previous marriage to claim the inheritance for themselves. The document said that a widow would receive her proper inheritance “at once and without trouble.”

It was also regular practice at the time for noble women to have their marriage rights sold to the highest bidder. The Magna Carta included a few clauses intended to stop this practice such as: “No widow shall be compelled to marry.”

  1. The legend of Robin Hood begins with the Magna Carta

Remember Robin Hood, the daring bandit who robbed the rich to give to the poor? The legend of Robin Hood is intricately tied to circumstances that led to the signing of the Magna Carta. It is the romanticized story of a hero rebelling against the taxes levied by King John, which a rebel group of barons saw as unfair and heavy-handed.

RobinHood

To learn more about the Magna Carta, and its companion document, The Charter of The Forest, visit the free exhibit in Edmonton, which is open daily to the public until Tuesday, December 29.

Bonus fact: This copy of the Magna Carta is insured for $40 million!

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