Ms. Magna Carta is thrilled to be holding two events on November 26th featuring Dr. Carolyn Harris, author of Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law and Human Rights.
Dr. Harris will be speaking over the lunch hour in the Law Building On November 26th, and will also be one of the presenters at the Legislative Assembly of Alberta Visitor Centre the same evening. Both presentations will will be focused on the Magna Carta’s history and present day significance.
To hold you over until she visits Edmonton, here are 10 interesting facts from her book; enjoy!
It is the interpretation of the document by Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), rather than the vastly different intentions of the rebel barons who drafted it in 1215, that inform our modern perceptions of the great charter. 
King John, who placed his seal on the Magna Carta in 1215, was the youngest of 8 children. His eldest surviving brother (Henry) led an unsuccessful revolt against his father at the age of 18 with the support of his mother and brothers. King Henry II reconciled with his sons, but imprisoned his wife. When young Henry died of dysentery, Richard was next in line for the throne. Richard never saw eye-to-eye with King Henry II, so John left his father’s deathbed to gain favour with Richard when the time came. When King Richard was captured, John offered something of a reverse-ransom to have the King kept in captivity. Several years later, Richard died from a crossbow wound, and against all odds, John inherited the throne. 
The Charter of the Forest, a complementary document to the Magna Carta, takes the prize for the piece of legislation to be in force for the longest period of time: 1217 - 1971. 
Before the creation of the Charter of the Forest, the King controlled management and distribution of the “forest” which constituted about one third of the land. King John wielded this power to settle personal scores: “he expressed his displeasure with the Cistercian Order by forbidding the monks from pasturing their livestock in the forest until twelve abbots begged his forgiveness on their knees.” 
After King John’s death, his son became king at the age of nine, which may have been a key cause of the Magna Carta’s revival: “the accession of the first child-king of England since 978 provided the opportunity for senior barons and clergymen to govern the country in Henry’s name, reissue Magna Carta, and build upon the charter’s clauses to institute further reforms.” 
There are 24 surviving copies of the Magna Carta from the thirteenth century, and one of them was recently purchased for 21.3 million dollars! 
“Magna Carta experienced a period of obscurity that lasted from the mid-1400s until the early 1600s, becoming a text consulted by legal scholars alone instead of inspiring the general public.” Lucky for us, Sir Edward Coke revived interest in the document through legal text and commentary. 
How did the word get out about Magna Carta? “Each version of the charter was laboriously handwritten by clerks. Distribution took weeks, as the only means of transport were by horseback or riverboat. Since the literacy rate in medieval England may have been as low as 5 percent in rural areas, Magna Carta was read aloud in churches and town halls in French, Latin, and English.” 
It was a slow and steady process by which Magna Carta transitioned from legally binding document, to a symbolic one: “The first Statute Laws Revision Act of 1856 began the process of removing ‘obsolete’ legislation from the British statute books. ...The 1863 legislation repealed seventeen clauses from the 1225 version of Magna Carta issued by Henry III when he achieved his majority.” 
- The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights was greatly influenced by the Magna Carta. The Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly with 48 countries voting in its favour, none against, and 8 abstentions. Several countries abstained due to concerns with terms such as equal marriage rights, freedom of movement, or racial equality. 
Want to read more? Of course you do! This book can be purchased on Amazon
 Carolyn Harris, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law and Human Rights (Dundurn, Toronto: 2015) at 64.
 Ibid at 27-32.
 Ibid at 102.
 Ibid at 24.
 Ibid at 49.
 Ibid at 97, 105.
 Ibid at 60.
 Ibid at 47.
 Ibid at 91.
 Ibid at 100.