Reason and inspiration
This year marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the foundation stone of the Rule of Law whose influence has extended around the world. To commemorate this milestone Royal Mail has worked closely with the Magna Carta 800th Committee to produce six Special Stamps depicting the Magna Carta itself as well as major international bills and declarations inspired by it that have been issued to protect civil liberties and rights.
Meaning ‘The Great Charter’, it was reluctantly granted by the tyrannical King John of England in Runnymede on 15th June 1215 as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced. Written in Latin on a single parchment and comprising a total of 63 clauses, Magna Carta established for the first time that the king was subject to the law rather than above it. It was effectively a peace treaty between the king and a group of barons.
Once King John was forced to acknowledge a schedule of rights and of limitations on royal action, consideration was given to ways of ensuring he abided by the charter’s ruling. To this end, clause 61 known as the security clause (forma securitatis) was included which allowed the selection by the barons of twenty-five barons of the realm to “observe, maintain and cause to be observed the peace and liberties which we have granted”.
Although nearly a third of the text was dropped or substantially rewritten within ten years and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, the Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British Constitution and its principles are echoed in the US constitution and others around the world. The many divergent uses that have been made of it since the Middle Ages have shaped its meaning in the modern era, and it has become a potent, international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of power. Indeed, in any debate on the issue of liberty the Magna Carta is regularly cited.
Clauses 39 and 40 remain to this day on the statutory books, establishing that no man will be imprisoned or have his land taken away unless by the law of the land and judged by his peers. But there were other clauses incorporated in the Magna Carta at the insistence of certain barons to protect their own interests including clause 60 which restricts the right to fish in the Thames and a reference to silting in the Medway; it also refers to the removal of alien Knights and foreigners.
Magna Carta – First Class
Sealed at Runnymede on 15th June 1215 most of the clauses in the Magna Carta were drawn up to address specific grievances concerning the rule of King John.
Simon De Montfort’s Parliament – First Class
Set up in January 1265 this was the first Parliament to which the burgesses who were the representatives of the towns were summoned. De Montfort was a French political adventurer who came to England in 1253 and was the leader of the baronial opposition to King Henry III.
Bill of Rights – £1.33
The Bill of Rights was passed in 1689 and made parliament a branch of government superior to the monarch. Several articles from it remain relevant today particularly those relating to ‘freedom of election’ and ‘freedom of speech’.
American Bill of Rights £1.33
This is a collective name afforded to the first ten amendments to the American constitution. They guaranteed freedom of religion and speech, the liberty of the press, the right to petition and bear arms, and immunity against arbitrary search and arrest as well as excessive punishment.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights – £1.52
This was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 in response to the horrors of war and constitutes the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled. The first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which was charged with drafting the Declaration, was Eleanor Roosevelt.
Charter of the Commonwealth – £1.52
Adopted in December 2012 and officially signed by Her Majesty the Queen in March the following Year, the Charter of the Commonwealth comprises 16 care beliefs and brings together the values and aspirations that united the Commonwealth, namely democracy, human rights and the rule of law.