History Tuesday, it’s 800 years old but what was it


This week I thought I would talk a little about the Magna Carta do you know what it is………….I am sure you have heard of it though.

Well if you don’t know I will tell you because it was on the news tonight and it made me think why are they talking about this old thing. Well it is because it was signed or some say had the seal of King John on the 15 June 1215 which was 800 years ago.

Anyway it is a charter agreed by King John of England, it was first drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons, it promised to protect the rights of the church, as well as protecting the barons from illegal imprisonment and gave them access to swift justice and limitations on feudal payments to the crown to be implemented through a council of 25 barons.

However, neither side stood by their commitments and the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent 111 leading to the first barons war. It was after the death of King John that Henry 111 reissued the document in 1216, be it stripped of some of its more radical content, in an unsuccessful attempt to build political support.


At the end of the war in 1217 it formed part of the peace treaty agreed at Lambeth where the document acquired the name Magna Carta, to distinguish it from the smaller Charter of the Forest which was issued at the same time. It was in1297 that it became part of England’s statute law.

The charter became part of English political life and was typically renewed by each monarch in turn, although as time went by and the fledgling English Parliament passed new laws, it lost some of its practical significance. However, at the end of the 16th century there was an upsurge in interest in Magna Carta. Lawyers and historians at the time believed that there was an ancient English constitution, going back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons, that protected individual English freedoms.

It is a bloody long document being just under 4000 words long,quite long even by the standards of the time, it would have taken clerks at least four hours to write out each copy. Of course there was more then one copy and no photocopiers around.

The original versions would have been written in Latin, the first known English version was made in 1534, three hundred years after it was first written. Although the first translated version was into French, this was because French was the international language of chivalry, of the nobility and gentry aka the ruling classes. The first surviving text copy is a print copy from 1534.

Now you maybe wondering what the Magna Carta’s greatest achievement was well it placed the king under the law, as the kings view was that the king was above the law, he believed he was only answerable to God, the Magna Carta changed that.

Now you most like think it did nothing for women being it was written in a time when women had few if any rights, however, it did do something significant for well-born aristocratic women.

Clause 7: A widow, after the death of her husband, shall forthwith and without difficulty have her marriage portion and inheritance.

Clause 8: No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she prefers to remain without a husband.

The Magna Carta contained 63 clauses when it was first written but only 3 of those clauses remain part of English law today One defends the liberties and rights of the English Church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, but the third is the most famous:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.
To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

So now you know a little about the damn thing, I knew none of this myself.


2 thoughts on “History Tuesday, it’s 800 years old but what was it

  1. Yay, finally something I’ve heard about…Oh, wait, turns out I knew nothing about the Magna Carta. Hold on, 4,000 words is long? Uh oh, I have to reevaluate the length of my posts.

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