GB 2015 006 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta

GB 2015 006 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the foundation stone of the Rule of Law whose influence has extended around the world. To commemorate this milestone Royal Mail has worked closely with the Magna Carta 800th Committee to produce six Special Stamps depicting the Magna Carta itself as well as major international bills and ...

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declarations inspired by it that have been issued to protect civil liberties and rights.

Meaning ‘The Great Charter’, it was reluctantly granted by the tyrannical King John of England in Runnymede on 15th June 1215 as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced. Written in Latin on a single parchment and comprising a total of 63 clauses, Magna Carta established for the first time that the king was subject to the law rather than above it. It was effectively a peace treaty between the king and a group of barons. Once King John was forced to acknowledge a schedule of rights and of limitations on royal action, consideration was given to ways of ensuring he abided by the charter’s ruling. To this end, clause 61 known as the security clause (forma securitatis) was included which allowed the selection by the barons of twenty-five barons of the realm to “observe, maintain and cause to be observed the peace and liberties which we have granted”.

Although nearly a third of the text was dropped or substantially rewritten within ten years and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, the Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British Constitution and its principles are echoed in the US constitution and others around the world. The many divergent uses that have been made of it since the Middle Ages have shaped its meaning in the modern era, and it has become a potent, international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of power. Indeed, in any debate on the issue of liberty the Magna Carta is regularly cited. Clauses 39 and 40 remain to this day on the statutory books, establishing that no man will be imprisoned or have his land taken away unless by the law of the land and judged by his peers. But there were other clauses incorporated in the Magna Carta at the insistence of certain barons to protect their own interests including clause 60 which restricts the right to fish in the Thames and a reference to silting in the Medway; it also refers to the removal of alien Knights and foreigners.