I write this just as I’m returning to Canada from Runnymede, England. The Queen was there, as were the Duke of Edinburgh, the Princess Royal, and Prince William. The five of us — along with a thousand others from all over the world — were gathered to commemorate, and to celebrate, the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta by King John on June 15, 1215.
So what’s the big deal? Why is it that a document that, as a British civil servant once described it, is nothing more than an archaic piece of paper with no intrinsic value, should attract such attention?
After all, while bits of it continue to have the force of law, the majority of Magna Carta’s provisions reflect little more than an incoherent jumble of individual grievances from King John’s nobles. Moreover, John himself showed his disdain by reneging on the deal a mere nine weeks later. And the Pope formally nullified it as soon as he became aware of its terms.