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History of Magna Carta in United Kingdom

“The imminent danger of finding himself at war with his own rebellious barons persuaded -in accordance to Bamber Gascoigne´ Encyclopedia of Britain about “Magna Carta”– King John to fix his royal seal (on 15 June 1215 ‘in the meadow called Runnymede between Windsor and Staines’) to this charter, which limited his own power and which has been considered in English-speaking countries as the first touchstone of individual liberty.

The document attempted to lay down regulations for a feudal society, and much of it soon became outdated. By the same token the concessions of lasting importance were probably of minor interest to the king and his barons. Chief among these were clauses 39 and 40 (38 and 39 in later versions), which said that no free man would be imprisoned or punished without prior judgement by the law of the land; and that justice would not be denied, delayed or sold. This uncompromising statement of the supremacy of the law has given Magna Carta its lasting and almost magic status (also causing it to be thought of, incorrectly, as the origin of *habeas corpus).

Four copies of the 1215 Magna Carta survive (two in the cathedrals where they were first deposited, Lincoln and Salisbury, and two in the British Library), but the document was subsequently revised and reissued on several occasions. The version which became established in English law, being frequently reprinted in part or whole, is that issued by *Henry III when he became of age in 1225.”

“Magna Carta, or Magna Charta, is the thirteenth-century document regarded -according to Gale Encyclopedia of US History: Magna Carta- as the foundation of English constitutional liberty. By early spring of 1215, England was in the throes of a civil war. King John’s blundering foreign policy had disrupted the Angevin Empire and had alienated a considerable number of his former followers. His clash with Rome over the vacant See of Canterbury outraged the nation’s religious leaders. More significant were his repeated violations of feudal and common law. These abuses caused most of John’s barons to revolt. John capitulated at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. Here he gave his consent to the Magna Carta.

No document in all of English history equals the Magna Carta, although none has been more misunderstood or misinterpreted. The “great charter” was a treaty won by a victorious barony from a defeated king. In its essence, the charter simply meant that John, like all the English, was to be subject to the spirit and letter of the law. His past conduct was condemned; in the future he was to rule in accordance with law and custom. The charter was not a document of human liberties. Although it did stipulate that personal liberty and private property could be taken away, the document contained no explicit reference to habeas corpus, jury trial in criminal cases, or Parliament’s control over taxation. Several centuries were to pass before these basic rights became an integral part of England’s organic law.

Between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Magna Carta was largely forgotten. The civil conflicts attending the War of the Roses and the strong arm of the Tudors blotted out the memory of the Magna Carta. Contemporary literature of the Tudor period (1485–1603) is strangely silent about the charter, and William Shakespeare in King John made no reference to what probably was the most important event in the life of that monarch. Had the great dramatist known of the charter, he would hardly have passed over so significant an episode.”


Further Reading

A. L. Cross, History of England and Greater Britain (1914), ch. xix-xxvi; E. P. Cheyney, A Short History of England (1904), ch. xii, xiii; Cambridge Modern History, Vol. III (1905), ch. viii-xi; J. F. Bright, History of England, 5 vols. (1884-1904), Vol. II, Personal Monarchy, 1485-1688 (in part); A. D. Innes, History of England and the British Empire, 4 vols, (1914), Vol. II, ch. iii-viii; J. R. Seeley, Growth of British Policy, 2 vols. (1895), a brilliant work, of which Vol. I, Part I, affords an able account of the policy of Elizabeth. More detailed studies: J. S. Brewer, The Reign of Henry VIII from his Accession to the Death of Wolsey, 2 vols. (1884); H. A. L. Fisher, Political History of England, 1485-1547 (1906), ch. vi-xviii; A. F. Pollard, History of England from the Accession of Edward VI to the Death of Elizabeth (1910); J. A. Froude, History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 12 vols. (1870-1872), a masterpiece of prose-style but strongly biased in favor of Henry VIII and against anything connected with the Roman Church; E. P. Cheyney, A History of England from the Defeat of the Armada to the Death of Elizabeth, Vol. I (1914), scholarly and well-written. Also see Andrew Lang, A History of Scotland, 2d ed. (1901-1907), Vols. I and II; and P. H. Brown, History of Scotland (1899-1900), Vols. I and II. Important biographies: A. F. Pollard, Henry VIII (1905), the result of much research and distinctly favorable to Henry; E. L. Taunton, Thomas Wolsey, Legate and Reformer (1902), the careful estimate of a Catholic scholar; Mandell Creighton, Cardinal Wolsey (1888), a good clear account, rather favorable to the cardinal; J. M. Stone, Mary the First, Queen of England (1901), a sympathetic biography of Mary Tudor; Mandell Creighton, Queen Elizabeth (1909), the best biography of the Virgin Queen; E. S. Beesly, Queen Elizabeth (1892), another good biography. For Mary, Queen of Scots, see the histories of Scotland mentioned above and also Andrew Lang, The Mystery of Mary Stuart (1901); P. H. Brown, Scotland in the Time of Queen Mary (1904); and R. S. Rait, Mary Queen of Scots, 2d ed. (1899), containing important source-material concerning Mary. Walter Walsh, The Jesuits in Great Britain (1903), emphasizes their political opposition to Elizabeth. Martin Hume, Two English Queens and Philip (1908), valuable for the English relations of Philip II. For English maritime development see David Hannay, A Short History of the English Navy (1898); J. S. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor Navy, 2 vols. (1898), and, by the same author, The Successors of Drake (1900); J. A. Froude, English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century (1895).

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  • Article Name: History of Magna Carta
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  • Description: The imminent danger of finding himself at war with his own rebellious barons persuaded -in accordance to Bamber Gascoigne´ [...]

This entry was last updated: October 30, 2016


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