This medieval manuscript was first drafted as a peace treaty between the King and a group of rebel barons but at the end became one of the most important legal documents in history. Here are some interesting and less known facts gathered about the Magna Carta:
Created with the intention to bring peace between King John and his barons, Magna Carta failed spectacularly at averting the on-going war at the time between the Crown and the nobles. It was only in 1225, when King John’s son Henry III decided to reissue the Magna Carta at his own coronation in exchange for a grant of new taxes.
‘Here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break. This reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general charter is the great work of Magna Carta; and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it’ – Sir Winston Churchill
The original document had 63 clauses, then Henry III reduced it to 27. Today only three of them remain in the books, as the rest are considered too particular to the Middle Ages. However, its legacy had a much stronger influence on the entire English legal system.
Left – The barons submitting their demands to Henry/ Illustration from ‘Cassell’s Illustrated History of England’ Right – Magna Carta, the final version issued in 1225 by Henry III (vellum), English School, (13th century) / National Archives, UK
Its worldwide importance
“The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history . . . It was written in Magna Carta.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The core principles of Magna Carta are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791), as well as in many other constitutional documents in the English-speaking world and France.
The Vulture of the Constitution, published by Hannah Humphrey in 1789 (etching), Gillray, James (1757-1815) / Courtesy of the Warden and Scholars of New College, Oxford
Protection of speech
If King John had not sealed the Magna Carta, freedom of speech might not have been possible today. Although it never guaranteed it, the Charter laid the foundation for civil and journalistic rights.