“Here is a law which is above the King”

“Here is a law which is above the King”

Do you know where Churchill made this state­ment? “Here is a law which is above the King which even he must not break. This reaf­fir­ma­tion of a supreme law and its expres­sion in a gen­er­al char­ter is the great work of Magna Car­ta; and this alone jus­ti­fies the respect in which men have held it.” —J.F.

Yes, in a book in 1956. Churchill was explain­ing Magna Car­ta, the Great Char­ter of Free­doms, one of the tow­er­ing bench­marks of West­ern Civ­i­liza­tion. In his His­to­ry of the Eng­lish-Speak­ing Peo­ples, vol. 1, The Birth of Britain (Lon­don: Cas­sell, 1956), 256-57. Churchill wrote:

King John signs Magna Carta (Wikipedia Commons)
King John of Eng­land signs Magna Car­ta (Wikipedia Com­mons)

If the thir­teenth-cen­tu­ry mag­nates under­stood lit­tle and cared less for pop­u­lar lib­er­ties or Par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cy, they had all the same laid hold of a prin­ci­ple which was to be of prime impor­tance for the future devel­op­ment of Eng­lish soci­ety and Eng­lish insti­tu­tions. Through­out the doc­u­ment it is implied that here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break. This reaf­fir­ma­tion of a supreme law and its expres­sion in a gen­er­al char­ter is the great work of Magna Car­ta; and this alone jus­ti­fies the respect in which men have held it. The reign of Hen­ry II, accord­ing to the most respect­ed author­i­ties, ini­ti­ates the rule of law. But the work as yet was incom­plete: the Crown was still above the law; the legal sys­tem which Hen­ry had cre­at­ed could become, as John showed, an instru­ment of oppres­sion.

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