04 March 2007

This is famous Runnymede Meadow, where King John, surrounded by rebel barons, was forced to sign Magna Carta on June 15, 1215. Although the document (it is actually a collection of writings) has been praised as the great forerunner of modern constitutional law, Pope Innocent III had called it a "shameful and demeaning agreement, forced upon the king by violence and fear." The Pope construed the document to be a threat to the Church's authority over the king and declared it null and void, releasing the king from obedience to it. Indeed, King John renounced the oath as soon as the rebel barons left. Most troubling to the Pope and King was Clause 61, which granted a committee of twenty-five barons the power to meet at will and overrule the king's authority by seizing his property. The king was also required to swear loyalty to the committee. When Magna Carta was reissued during the reign of Henry III, Clause 61 was omitted. The document (sans Clause 61) was reissued for the last time in 1297 by the Parliament of Edward I. The charter, however, kept the key provision hailed by constitutionalists today: Clause 39, or habeas corpus, which protected any person from unlawful seizure and imprisonment without due process.