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What is the Magna Carta?

Barons and members of the Church forced King John of England to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.
The first 10 Amendments of the Constitution were greatly influenced by the Magna Carta.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 March 2014
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The Magna Carta is an English legal document written in 1215 CE which had a huge influence on the developing legal system of England. Because England's legal system was used as a model by many former colonies when they developed their own legal systems, the Magna Carta also had an impact on many other governments. Many legal historians believe that the Magna Carta is one of the most important documents of all time, and several copies of it are on display around the world for interested parties to examine.

The proper name for the Magna Carta is the Magna Carta Libertatum, the Great Charter of Freedoms. The document is usually abbreviated as the Magna Carta, or Great Charter. It could be considered a bill of rights for medieval England, although it was not heavily enforced for several centuries. More importantly, it set a precedent which changed the face of England forever, by establishing that the King was not above the law.

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King John of England signed the Magna Carta after immense pressure from the Church and his barons. The King often lived above the law, violating both feudal and common law, and was heavily criticized for his foreign policy and actions within England. The Barons, with the support of the Church, pressured King John to spell out a list of their rights and guarantee that those rights would be enforced. The Barons provided a draft, and after some negotiation, King John put his seal to the Magna Carta in Runnymede in June of 1215.

Many of the rights in the Magna Carta actually appeared in older documents, such as the Charter of Liberties published by Henry I. However, the Magna Carta also contained several clauses which were very influential on the development of similar bills of rights, such as the first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution. Among these were the right to habeas corpus, a clause protecting the freedom of the church, and other clauses which spelled out the rules for due process of law.

King John later abandoned the Magna Carta, triggering a war which lasted until his death in 1216. His son, Henry III, took the throne, and reissued the Magna Carta in 1225, albeit in a different version. Several more drafts of the Magna Carta were produced, enforcing its role in English society, until the final version was released by Edward I in 1297. Strangely, the Magna Carta seemed to disappear until almost 200 years later, when the Elizabethan era sparked a new interest in and furor over the document.

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Discuss this Article

anon348601
Post 93

How did the magna carta change the balance of power in government?

anon326023
Post 91

Can you obtain a copy without breaking the law?

anon321883
Post 90

King John would have been so cruel without the Magna Carta.

anon310490
Post 87

Didn't the Magna Carta also introduce a "Borh" system or the "Franck-pledge" System?

anon305770
Post 84

The Magna Carta was written in order to limit the power of the king and separate the church from policy making.

anon296523
Post 82

How did the Magna Carta help the British subjects?

anon155659
Post 68

i have to do an english project about the origins of english and one thing we have to include is the magna carta, but what does it have to do with the origins of english?

anon155184
Post 67

I'm not 100 percent sure of everything but what i do know is that king john was forced to sign it because society was getting fed up of the monarchy telling them what to do, and that's putting it in loose terms.

He was taken to a field and was forced to sign four copies of the Magna Carta and each copy was taken away by a horseman (each copy in a different direction). The magna carta introduced the Rule of Law (no one is above the law and all are equal before the law) and also established the right to a fair trial. It's all about human rights and stuff. I hope this has helped you all.

anon153741
Post 66

I would like to know:

When was is written? DD/MM/1215? What did it say? Why was King John forced to sign it? Why was it an important event in British history? Please help me!

anon148030
Post 63

very good. now i understand it more clearly.

anon145385
Post 62

I have to write my own Magna Carta for school but I still don't understand what it is properly. Is it a set of rules?

anon118675
Post 55

I really liked this article. it was just the right amount of information and very easy to understand.

jessxoxo
Post 49

a wonderful website. It gave clear and easy to understand information and helped a lot with my overnight assignment. simply wonderful.

anon95713
Post 46

excellent work. this site helped me a lot.

anon91827
Post 45

very helpful website.

anon91153
Post 44

I wanted to know more about when was it signed.

anon83091
Post 38

This helped me get some facts for my homework excellent site.

anon80834
Post 33

Great. I really needed this.

anon77283
Post 29

Great! Perfect for what i needed to have to win my argument! All the facts are here!

anon75824
Post 28

Well i have to do extra credit on this to keep my grade up. it gave me a lot of information and I really do thank this website. it gave me all i needed. thanks!

anon75281
Post 27

very well done, thank you. you explained it really well.

anon72265
Post 26

i wish to know how did the nobles which are normally called barons manage to break the gate of king john's zone because i think that kings are usually protected by the military force.

anon72261
Post 25

i would like to acknowledge the work that was done by the nobles in the implementation of magna carta. I'm very willing to learn more about magna carta. i wish to know what was the role of the church in the development of magna carta and who were going to benefit from this carta.

anon72210
Post 24

Did it really leave an influence on england today?

anon72111
Post 23

i have a project on the magna carta and i got "some" information i needed but not enough.

anon69707
Post 22

I have to do a project on the Magna Carta for a grade bump. And honestly this little article helped. But just not enough. Although, I did get some information I didn't know. Just wish there was more. Besides, what was the point of King John signing it if he didn't follow its directions?

anon64026
Post 18

How does the Magna Carta affect us today? Is it still used?

anon62076
Post 17

What exactly did John do that defined him as "Living above the law"?

anon61534
Post 16

What is the Magna Carta exactly about?

anon61483
Post 15

i need to write a 1000 word essay on the magna carta and i'm only 13.

anon59501
Post 14

how did this affect canada's evolution of democracy? I have an essay about canada's history of democracy.

anon55616
Post 13

I have to write two sentences about this article; in a summary. What is this article saying?

anon50888
Post 12

1. The Magna Carta was a document that

a. shifted the power from the monarchs to the people in Britain.

b. required British royalty to obey the same laws as other English people.

c. limited the power of the people in the British government.

d. gave the power in the British government to members of Parliament.

anon47561
Post 9

What are five rights in the Magna Carta? also what are the rights in the Engish Bill Of Rights?

anon45406
Post 7

Doing this for an essay. What significant changes or declarations were included in the document?

anon45333
Post 6

I actually don't know.

anon33919
Post 5

How do you write a magna carta? Because what if you had to write one? How do you do it?

anon31332
Post 4

How is it that the magna carta was supposed to protect the english and the kings from uprisings yet when it was in place there were battles over its contents and the purpose of such a thing?

Also the magna carta was in place for 12, possibly more, leaders yet not in a single documentation of them is it mentioned. How is that possible or is it based on beliefs?

anon14041
Post 1

1. what did the magna carta try to do??

2. who was the magna carta meant to protect?

3. how and why was the magna carta successful at the time and later?

4. Did the magna carta protect english people?

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