The Magna Carta is still regarded as the foundation of liberty to this day; it instigated an overhaul of English law. Included in its many declarations was the promise ‘freemen’ would have access to due legal process. This promise was not extended to male ‘serfs’ nor women in any layer of society.
There are clauses of the Magna Carta nevertheless, giving women new rights, thereby laying the foundation of women’s rights as we think of them today
- Clause 7 ‘At her husband’s death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband’s house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.’
- Part of Clause 8 ‘No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a husband.’
- Clause 11 ‘If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it.’
It’s appalling to women in modern western society to contemplate these statements as an improvement to a woman’s lot in life; nevertheless they were included in the Magna Carta – it was a beginning.
The implications and legacy of the Magna Carta continue to transcend barriers of language and ideologies 800 years after the event. Many modern constitutions; those of the United States of America, Australia and New Zealand to name just a few – countries at the forefront of feminism – are based on the Magna Carta.
The seeds of women’s rights as a global issue, albeit a tiny handful of seeds, were sown in the Magna Carta; at the very least, it was a contribution towards the cause.
© Linda Perry 2015 – Blackheath Dawn writer.