The document that has come to be known as Magna Charta (spelled variously as "charta" or "carta"), or Great Charter, is recognized as a fundamental part of the English constitutional tradition. Although it is not a constitution, it contains provisions on criminal law that were incorporated into the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.
In 1215 King John of England (1199–1216) fought more than forty English barons and their followers in a civil war. The king had angered the barons by extracting revenues based on their feudal obligations in order to fight a war in France. After John lost the war, the barons rebelled against the king.
The rebels first demanded that the king confirm the Charter of Henry I, a coronation charter from 1100 in which King Henry I had promised to abolish all evil customs that oppressed the realm. Additional grievances were added to the charter, which King John was forced to accept at Runnymede in June 1215, after the rebels occupied London.
Magna Charta contains sixty-three chapters. Many of the chapters defined the king's feudal rights over his vassals, preventing the king from arbitrarily collecting revenue from the barons. Chapter 39 established the right to due process of law, and in chapter 40 the king promised that he would not sell, deny, or delay justice to anyone.
Magna Charta did not resolve the dispute between the barons and King John. Within months they were fighting again. In August 1215 the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, John's feudal overlord, on the grounds that it had been executed under duress. In 1216, however, after John's death the charter was reissued with some modifications. At the conclusion of the civil war in 1217, it was reissued again with minor revisions. This version of Magna Charta became part of the English constitutional tradition; confirmed by later kings and interpreted by Parliament, it is still revered as a symbol of English liberties.
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