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This document represents one of the most important historical documents we have today. It represents a contract between English king John and a number of English lords and bishops who led the rebellion against him after John lost Normandy to the French. The contract is important because it gave independence to the English Church and guaranteed that it will be free to elect people for clerical positions and make other decisions without the influence of the king or any other power holder in the state.
Moreover, Magna Carta is one of the first legal documents that granted liberties to common people (although it only specifies “all free men” and leaves out other members of society like women or slaves). For this reason, this document holds an important spot in the history of the fight for human rights and liberties around the world.
The contract also defines rules of inheritance and establishes clear classes among men, as well as a detailed taxation system.
It also pays attention to minors who were to inherit their late father’s property. Such minors were under the protection of the king, they were granted a custodian who was not allowed to abuse his position to his own benefits and they were also relieved of any taxes. Several points also covered the status of widows who were allowed to stay in their late husband’s house for forty days and were given their dowry and inheritance after that period. There was a possibility for a widow to hold property (a rare example where a woman is allowed to do so), although legally, she wasn’t the official owner, just a holder of the land in the name of the lord the land was assigned to.
This status, however, limited widows’ freedom of choice, because they were not allowed to remarry without the consent of the Lord who was the property owner. From the other hand, they weren’t forced to remarry.
The following clauses cover debt payment and the possibility of women and children inheriting a debt. The main impression of the Magna Carta is that the lords were trying to protect their property, as well as their families. The fact that they paid so much attention to defining the issue of inheritance suggests so. The authors did secure for themselves a certain degree of influence state-wise, but they also limited their jurisdiction, saying that only local people (in power) could decide on some important issue from a specific area. Several clauses that define fines for offenses promise that earls and barons could be fines, as well. In other words, they were no exception from the law.
The clauses also cover some common issues like building bridges, allowing fishermen on the Thames and the Medway, establishing one food and drinks measuring system, afforesting and other environmental issues, as well as returning hostages to the surrounding rulers. Free men were, by this document, granted liberties, and justice. They were protected by law and they could only be judged, fined and arrested by the officials who were previously chosen in that region. In this sense, Magna Carta is a very significant document related to establishing what will later develop into a modern state or a republic.
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