Magna Carta 1215
is Latin and means Great Charter.
Magna Carta so Special?
It holds the king accountable to the law. Magna Carta is the most famous document of English
constitutional history. You can find the original, shown above, at the
British Library in London.
Magna Carta was written in
Latin and sealed by
King John of
England in the year 1215.
Read the full
English translation of Magna Carta.
Why Was Magna Carta
Magna Carta was written to
prevent misuse of power by the king. Obviously, King John didn't come up with
this sort of document himself. Why did he approve of it anyway?
The Story Behind Magna
King John owned land in France and the
French wanted it back. After waging war with John, the French
succeeded for the most part. Having lost this war and quite a bit of
money, John made life a little harder for his subjects,
for example by demanding very high taxes and by allowing his
deputies to treat the people arbitrarily.
In January 1215, a group of English barons had
had it. They demanded a guarantee for fair treatment from, and signed by, King John.
To show that they meant business, the barons armed themselves and captured London in May 1215.
Thus threatened with civil war, King
John reasoned correctly that negotiating was the idea of the day and
met with the barons at Runnymede, a meadow by the River
Thames, between Windsor and Staines.
Runnymede is located in today's county of Surrey. If you visit
Runnymede, you'll find this memorial
erected by the American Bar Association.
COMMEMORATING MAGNA CARTA IN
Back to the year 1215.
On June 15, 1215,
a draft, called the
Articles of the Barons, was agreed upon and sealed by King John.
The next few days were spent on refining the rough copy.
On June 19,
1215, the final document, Magna Carta, was completed.
In a Nutshell, What
Does Magna Carta Say?
Magna Carta is a
preamble and 63 clauses.
The clauses can be divided into nine
2. feudal law;
3. feudal law -
4. towns, trade, merchants;
5. reforms of law;
behavior of governmental officials;
7. royal forests;
issues, e.g. dismissal of John's foreign mercenaries;
the king is acting according to this agreement.
What Immediate Impact
Did Magna Carta Have?
The barons were pleased and renewed their oath of allegiance to the
king on the same day Magna Carta had been agreed upon — June 19, 1215.
However, as soon as he had
arrived back home, King John picked up
the phone and asked the Pope to revoke the agreement.
The Pope took sides
with the king.
The barons were outraged and made a couple of phone
calls themselves. French knights came over in support of the English
barons and civil war, also called the