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HOME   -   HISTORIC DOCUMENTS   -   MAGNA CARTA 1215

 
   


Magna Carta 1215
MAGNA CARTA


Magna Carta 1215

Magna Carta is Latin and means Great Charter.




What Makes 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.

Explore the original document.

Read the full English translation of Magna Carta.



 

Why Was Magna Carta Written?

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 Carta

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, 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 RUNNYMEDE
COMMEMORATING MAGNA CARTA IN RUNNYMEDE



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 groups, regarding:

1. church;

2. feudal law;

3. feudal law - subtenants;

4. towns, trade, merchants;

5. reforms of law;

6. behavior of governmental officials;

7. royal forests;

8. immediate issues, e.g. dismissal of John's foreign mercenaries;

9. ensuring 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  First Barons' War, broke out the same year in which the Magna Carta was signed.

The First Baron's War was fought from 1215 to 1217.

King John died in 1216 and later that year the first Magna Carta amendments were written. The document was reprinted in the name of John's son Henry III. Further changes were issued in 1217 and 1225.

Although a crucial document at the time, Magna Carta was not as big a deal as it became for future generations. How so?



 

What Importance Does Magna Carta Have in History?

Magna Carta became the symbol against oppression, the symbol of the constitution over the king, or as seen in the photo above, a symbol of freedom under law.

And since oppression has always been of concern whenever people had power over people, Magna Carta became famous whilst history dragged on.

Magna Carta influenced future law and constitution making, such as the Petition of Right (England, 1628), the Habeas Corpus Act (England, 1679), and the  Bill of Rights (United States, 1791). The 1225 version of Magna Carta was integrated into British statue law.

 

How Many Copies of the Original Magna Carta exist?

There are four existent copies of the original Magna Carta of 1215.

Each copy differs a little in size, shape, and text. Two of these copies are at the British Library in the British Museum in London. Another one is at Lincoln Cathedral and the other one is at Salisbury Cathedral. It is not known how many copies of the 1215 version were made.

Re-issues were made in 1216, in 1217, in 1225, in 1264 (all by Henry III), and in 1297 (by Edward I). At Durham Cathedral are versions from 1216, 1217, and 1225.

Of the 1297 issue, four copies still exist. One of them was gift wrapped by the British government and given to the people of Australia, who put it on display in  Parliament House at Canberra.

  
Magna Carta, Parliament House, Canberra
Commonwealth of Australia

 

 

The Only Magna Carta Permanently Residing in the United States

The only Magna Carta permanently residing in the United States is a 1297 (Edward I) version. It is stored at the National Archives and you are welcome to visit it.

Here's the website.

MAGNA CARTA
MAGNA CARTA


 

 


 


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