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Back in the Day: Magna Carta and the early days of law

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Back in the Day: Magna Carta and the early days of law


June 15, 1215. King John of England puts his royal seal to the Magna Carta at Runnymede, an early step in the process to the rule of constitutional law in the English speaking world. After a series of diplomatic and military failures, a group of 25 barons teamed up to rebel against the unpopular King. They left him little choice but to agree to the Articles of the Barons, under which the King could be held to account and could not act arbitrarily. One clause in the document stated that no free citizen may be imprisoned or punished except when judged by his peers and the law of the land, an early guarantee of the right to trial by jury. Under King John, the charter had little effect; he largely ignored it. But several revisions over time shaped the constitutional evolution of the United Kingdom and had enough influence on emigrants to inspire the constitutions of countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and other countries belonging to the British Empire. Some historians refer to it as the greatest constitutional documents of all time.

Also on June 15: French physician Jean Baptiste Denys performs the world’s first ever blood transfusion (1667); Crown prince Wilhelm becomes Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German Empire’s last emperor (1888); UEFA is formed in Basel, Switzerland (1954).

Born on June 15: Bernard Lamy (1640), Harry Nilsson (1941), Johnny Hallyday (1943), Helen Hunt (1963), Courteney Cox, Michael Laudrup (1964).

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