Magna Carta (Great Charter), the liberty of citizens & the rule of law

The Magna Carta – Latin for Great Charter

The Magna Carta, sealed under oath by King John at Runnymede, England in 1215, became part of English law, and subsequently adopted into Australian law.  It has been described as ‘the foundation stone of the rule of law’ by Lord Irvine of Lairg in his lecture on the Magna Carta to the Australian Parliament, click here to read it.

In medieval England succession and inheritance were matters of concern, considerably so for the succession of the monarch.  Two interesting excerpts relating to wills from the Magna Carta, sealed under oath by King John at Runnymede, England in 1215 are from Clauses 26 and 27, reproduced below.

Other parts of the Magna Carta affecting succession and inheritance law are Clauses 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 30 and 31. The British Library has given an English translation online of the Magna Carta which makes easy reading and appreciation of the importance in the development of inheritance and succession law.

For example Clause 7 states:

(7) At her husband’s death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband’s house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.

The Australian Parliament holds a manuscript of the Magna Carta, one of four manuscripts known to exist.  It is on display in Parliament House, Canberra.  The Senate’s website at  http://www.magnacarta.senate.gov.au/ contains interesting information on its relevance to Australia, and its importance to the liberty of citizens.  Two excerpts on succession from the Magna Carta are produced below for interest:

Debts of the deceased have to be paid first, before the executors could distribute

“26.     If anyone holding a lay fief of us dies and our sheriff or bailiff shows our letters patent of summons for a debt which the deceased owed us, it shall be lawful for the sheriff or our bailiff to attach and list the chattels of the deceased found in lay fee to the value of that debt, by the view of lawful men, so that nothing is removed until the evident debt is paid to us, and the residue shall be relinquished to the executors to carry out the will of the deceased.  And if he owes us nothing, all the chattels shall be accounted as the deceased’s saving their reasonable shares to his wife and children.

 What was to happen on an intestacy (no will)

“27.    If any free man dies intestate, his chattels are to be distributed by his nearest relations and friends, under the supervision of the Church, saving to everyone the debts which the deceased owed him.”

Magna Carta, Icon of Liberty,
Rex Davis (ed)
Dean and Chapter of Lincoln in association with Lincoln Magna Carta Trust,1988

© BHS Legal
29 September 2014, updated 14 January 2018