Friday, 5 June 2015

Magna Carta



It is 800 years this month since the sealing of the Magna Carta. The charter was meant to bring peace between King John and the barons but has also been described as the closest thing our country has ever had to a Constitution as well as the forerunner to subsequent Declarations of Human Rights. I was in Lincoln a few weeks ago where one of only 4 remaining copies of the original Magna Carta is preserved.

Of course we all know that it sought to enshrine the right of free men to justice and to protect them from punishment outside of the law or without a trial by their equals. I was not however aware that it also contained clauses which would have been of relevance to family lawyers (had such beings existed in the days of the Crusades). Indeed there is specific reference to guardians who are entrusted under the Charter with management of a ward’s land, and are compelled to restore that land to their ward “stocked with plough teams and such implements of husbandry as the season demands” when the heir comes of age.

Obviously there is no reference to divorce, but marriage is referred to. It is specifically stipulated that heirs may be given in marriage “but not to someone of a lower social standing” and their next of kin must first be informed. Moreover widows were not to be compelled to remarry, provided that they wished “to remain without a husband.” I imagine that may have been the closest a disenchanted woman could come to living without a man.

However and whilst the Magna Carta provided for a widow to receive her inheritance “at once and without trouble” it allowed her to remain in her deceased husband’s home for only forty days. Imagine, therefore, the meagre level of provision that might have been made in those days had divorce been an option, or what King John might have thought of the Matrimonial Causes Act and the financial provision now awarded by the courts applying a “yardstick of equality.” 



1 comment:

Jim Davis said...

Fascinating to think about, I have never really considered what divorce was like back then, or if it existed at all.