Magna Carta

Magna Carta

Eight hundred years ago on June 15, 1215, in a field at Runnymede, King John of England affixed his seal to Magna Carta. Confronted by 40 rebellious barons, he consented to their demands in order to avert civil war. 

Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. It is concerned with many practical matters and specific grievances relevant to the feudal system under which they lived. The interests of the common man were hardly apparent in the minds of the men who brokered the agreement.  It also failed to resolve the conflict between King John and his barons, and was reissued several times after his death.  But principles expressed in Magna Carta resonate to this day.

During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The document, written on parchment in 1297 with iron gall ink, is one of four surviving 1297 versions of Magna Carta in the world today and is on display at the National Archives, courtesy of philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.  

Amazing! Original Magna Carta Copy Found in Scrapbook

An original copy of the Magna Carta has been discovered in a scrapbook in Kent, England.

The tattered document dates back to 1300, 85 years after King John of England was compelled to sign the first agreement limiting the rights of kings. This version was issued by King Edward I (King John’s grandson), who was under pressure from the church and the barons to reaffirm good governance, said Sophie Ambler, a research associate with the Magna Carta Project.

“Nobody knew it was there,” Ambler said of the damaged document. “This Magna Carta had been stuck into a scrapbook by a Victorian official from the British Museum at the end of the 19th century.” Read more.

In June the world will celebrate 800 years since the issuing of Magna Carta. But 2015 is also the anniversary of another important, and far more radical, British milestone in democratic history.

Almost exactly 750 years ago, an extraordinary parliament opened in Westminster. For the very first time, elected representatives from every county and major town in England were invited to parliament on behalf of their local communities.

It was, in the words of one historian, “the House of Commons in embryo”.

Read more on BBC, that is covering the topic extensively, for the BBC Democracy Day (20 Jan)

Image: Statue of de Montfort on the Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower in Leicester

Magna Carta originals reunited for 800th anniversary

The four surviving original Magna Carta copies go on display together for the first time from Monday as Britain kicks off 800th anniversary celebrations for a contract with global significance.

Considered the cornerstone of liberty, modern democracy, justice and the rule of law, the 1215 English charter forms the basis for legal systems around the world, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the US constitution.

A total of 1,215 people, drawn from a ballot, have won the chance to see the unification at the British Library, which is bringing together its two originals with those of Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals from Monday to Wednesday. 

The four parchments will also be on private show in parliament on Thursday, kicking off a year of celebrations for a document that still has resonance eight centuries on. Read more.

On the face of it, the original Magna Carta — the “Great Charter” — was a peace treaty that lasted about two months and applied to just a handful of people. It might’ve been forgotten by history, but it established the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. And, perhaps most famously, that all “free men” had the right to justice and a fair trial.

The ideas it came to embody — democracy, freedom and human rights — have ensured that the Magna Carta remains a universal touchstone of liberty some 800 years later. Early pioneers to America took the principles of the Magna Carta with them, which provided a framework for the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.


The Magna Carta is 800 today – here is its story.

Complement with 100 diagrams that changed the world

Today is the 800th anniversary of King John’s signing of the Magna Carta, “the greatest constitutional document of all time.”

We’ve pulled together a collection of free resources from across Oxford University Press to mark the occasion, including biographies (such as King John), articles on legal history, historiography, family politics, and more.

Image credit: The 1297 version of Magna Carta, one of four originals of the document. Owned by David Mark Rubenstein, on loan to the US National Archives and Records Administration. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Burnt Magna Carta Read for First Time in 283 Years

More than 280 years after it was damaged in a fire, one of the original copies of the Magna Carta is legible again.

Written in 1215, the Magna Carta required the king of England — King John — to cede absolute power. Today, the Magna Carta is seen as a first step toward constitutional law rather than the hereditary power of royalty. There were four copies of the document created at the time. One, held by the British Library, was badly damaged in a fire in 1731.

Now, researchers have used a technique called multispectral imaging to decipher the text of the “Burnt Magna Carta” without touching or further damaging the delicate parchment. Read more.

Sir William Marshal 1st Earl of Pembroke. If you haven’t heard of Marshal, that’s unfortunate, because he was one of the greatest knights of the Middle Ages. He served 4 (technically 5) kings of England with unbending loyalty and honour during his over 50 year career. He fought in countless battles, and was the greatest tournament fighter in the history of Europe. In his 25+ years on the combat circuit he went completely undefeated against over 500 knights, and god knows how many commoners. In his prime, which lasted several decades, he was considered the best swordsman on the continent.

In 1216 at age 71 he came out of retirement to become lord protector to Henry III (age 9) following King John’s death. Furthermore England was in turmoil as the King of France had just invaded Britain with a 24,000 man army in support of a group of Barons who had rebelled against King John, in what is known as the 1st Barons War.

With the King only age 9 and the rebels in control of London and the French occupying much of the South East, it fell to Sir William Marshal to lead the English. In 3 months 6,000 men came to his banner simply because of his legendary reputation. And in 1217 He marched on the massive French force.

Luckily, France had divided its forces in two, so 12,000 were rampaging around the countryside, and 12,000 were laying siege to the city of Lincoln.

Lincoln was an odd situation because it was a walled city with a walled castle within it, and the French had already taken the out walls when Marshal arrived.

Marshal, at age 71 in full armor and sword drawn led the charge into the city despite being outnumbered 2 to 1. Several accounts tell of the Arch Bishop of Canterbury riding behind him yelling “GOD IS WITH THE MARSHAL! GOD IS WITH THE MARSHAL!”.

The fighting dragged on for hours and despite being outnumbered the English began to take the upper hand. when the French commander revealed Himself.

Thomas Du Perch a renowned French Knight and undefeated on the tourney circuit for six years straight. He started cleaving through the English forces like a hot knife through butter until he came face to face with Sir William

The two clashed like titans. Du Perch with youth and strength on his side, but Marshal had the skill and wisdom gained from winning over a thousand personal battles over his 50+ years of experience.

It went back and forth, neither appearing to have the upper hand. The fighting completely stopped around them, the whole day, and the fate of England was going to rest on this single duel.

Something happened. Maybe Du Perch was a moment too slow, maybe Marshals joints finally loosened up, but Marshal put his sword through the eye slit of Du Perch’s Helmet.

Panic immediately swept the French army, and it began to rout as it realised the Lion of England still had the strength to roar. This was helped by the fact Marshal had ordered his crossbowmen sneak up onto the roofs of the buildings and where they began unleashing a deadly hail of bolts into the French forces.

 The decisive victory at Lincoln was the turning point in the 1st Barons war. Following the defeat of the French navy at the Battle of Dover, the French forces were forced to return to France ending the War. This would be the last time a foreign would ever successfully England. In the last years of his life Sir William secured the succession of Henry the third) helped solidify the Magna Carta before retiring to his estate, where he died peacefully in 1219.

Source: Edited from a post by