The Magna Carta – Sam Godfree

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The Magna Carta – Sam Godfree

1-   The beginnings of the common law.

The common law is the English justice system which was introduced by Henry II.  He decided that trial by ordeal and trial by combat was not a very effective justice system. Whereas the law that he made which is trial by jury lets every citizen able to prove their innocence. Trial by ordeal and trial by combat were both based on the accused citizen being guilty until proven innocent. The trial by jury worked in a way that the citizen accused of a crime was innocent until proven guilty and the trial by jury worked by having the perpetrator stand in front of twelve of his peers and they would be given the information and evidence. The jury would make a vote of whether the perpetrator was innocent or guilty.

2-   What is the Magna Carta and who was involved with the signing of Magna Carta?

The Magna Carta was a document that King John was forced to sign which took away most of his power, the laws that the Magna Carta stopped trial by ordeal and trial by combat. It also took away the power of being able to accuse people of crimes that were based on rumours. Another thing the Magna Carta restricted was the amount of taxes the King could put upon his people and also the amount of time he could use people for battles.

3-   Who wrote the Magna Carta?

The people who were involved with the writing of the Magna Carta were nobles who were furious with the kings actions towards his people.

4-   When was the Magna Carta signed?

The Magna Carta was signed by the reigning King at the time, who was King John in 1215.

DIORAMA: In the diorama above, there is a knight reading the Magna Carta to citizens in the city.


The Magna Carta and Early British Parliament by Brittany Wing-Tang

The Magna Carta

This diorama is of the signing of the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta was signed in the year 1215 in a place called Runnymede. It was King John who signed it and here he his with three of his barons/kights.

The Magna Carta

King John was reluctant to sign the Magna Carta but was forced to by his kights.The Magna Carta did many things for King Johns people but restricted the taxes that the King could put on them. He later went back on his word and had a change of mind, and heart.

How were people tried before the common law was introduced?

Before the common law was introduced, there were two trials. These were trial by ordeal and trial by combat. Within trial by ordeal there were two trials. They were trial by fire and trial by water.

The trial by fire was where a person was forced to hold a red, hot, metal poker for a few seconds. Then, three days later if the wound had healed completely, they were innocent. The Medieval people thought that God healed those who were innocent in a short amount of time. The second of these trials was trial by water. Trial by water involved a barrel full of cold water. Then, to see if a human was innocent or guilty, they would place the person in the water and wait to until the person either sank, or floated. If the body floated they were guilty because the water was pure and it rejected things that did evil. These trials were commonly used on peasants.

Trial by combat was completely different to trial by ordeal. Only noblemen were able to take part. This was because only they were taught at a young age to fight against a different person. Trial by combat was where you duel another nobleman. The person who was thought to be guilty was made to wear heavier armour because God, suppose ably, protected the innocent.  Whoever won was considered innocent.

Who introduced the common law and what were the new ideas of the common law that were initiated?

After Henry II was crowned king in the year 1154, Henry was the harbinger of the common law. He was thinking that everybody should have the chance to have royal justice. Originally the royal court or kings court dealt with the more serious problem. These cases included; murders, treasons, rape, burglary, and stealing wood (weather dead or alive) from a royal forest. Common law decisions were/is made by judges. This makes is it a judicial system.

One of the ideas of the common law was that people should be thought of as innocent until proven guilty. Before the common law was introduced, it was the other way around, guilty until proven innocent. King Henry II also accustomed trial by jury. This was where a group of 12 or so peers hear/see the facts and the evidence of the case, then there, they make the guilty or innocent decision.

The common law and trial by jury changed the way England saw the justice system. It is well established all over the world nowadays.

What measures did the people go to, to get the Magna Carta signed?

Since the Magna Carta restricted the kings ability on the amounts of tax, King John refused to sign it on many occasions. The towns people tried many things to get the king to sign it, but they did not prevail. The people that made King John sign the Magna Carta was the noblemen. Noblemen came fully armoured and went to the king in Runnymede. To paraphrase, they basically said, ‘We will desert you if you refuse to sign the Magna Carta. No army will be here to protect you.’ Eventually King John reluctantly signed the Magna Carta.

When and why might have did King John back out of the Magna Carta?

It’s not clear on the exact date that King John went back on his word, but it has been said that it was a short time after he had signed the Magna Carta. This could have of been for many reasons, but the main excuse was because King John saw many of new laws as restrictions. Such as the amount of taxes he could put on his people.

Describe how the early Parliament is structured and compare that to today’s parliament?

The early parliament in Europe is a lot like the parliament in Australia. There are many similarities between the both. The only difference is the names.

The Witan group started the beginnings of parliament. The king would call them together every now and then and asked them for advised. After the 1066 The Witan became the Great Council and the came together three times a year. In Australia the Governor General is like the Witan nowadays. She, (in our case) gives advice to the Prime Minister.

The early parliament was split into two houses. These are; the house of Lords and the house of Commons. They are a lot like the upper house and the lower house in Australia. These are also know as the House of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Both sets of Houses met is separate places and had different responsibilities. Any bills that the house of Commons/House of  Representatives made had to be passed to the upper house. In this case the House of the Senate and the house of lords. If this house agreed to the terms, it would be made a law.

Not a lot has changed in parliament over a time period of 8 centuries. We may be in different countries, but our Government has similarities.


William, M. 1986 anonymous Rise of the Monarchs and the Magna Carta anonymous anonymous

Saldais, M, Ross, S and Young, D (2006) “Humanities Alive History 1” John Wiley & Sons Australia