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Top ten Magna Carta facts

The Magna Carta

© Image courtesy of the British Library © Joseph Turp

    • The Magna Carta is a very important document that has helped shape the laws of England and the rest of the United Kingdom since it was written in 1215. It is nearly 800 years old and you can see it in several places across the country.

      But what is it all about?

      The team here at Show Me HQ has done some research and spoke to an expert from the British Library for Magna Carta Topic Guide. Here's a close up of the document from the British Library so you can see what it looks like.

      A close up of the Magna Carta© Image courtesy of the British Library © Joseph Turp
      Magna Carta is Latin for Great Charter, and its introduction meant that for the first time, citizens had some rights against an absolute monarch, which means that the King couldn’t get his way all of the time.

      Dr Claire Breay, an expert from the British Library says "It established, for the first time, that the law was a power in its own right to which the King was a subject, and that the King wasn't above the law."

      Although the Magna Carta gave people rights and bound the King to the same laws as everyone else, it didn’t really affect the powers the King had.

      The Magna Carta was the result of the Barons of England standing up to King John and essentially saying “Enough is enough, stop ruining the country!”

      This act of defiance was known as the Barons’ Revolt. Did the King give in to the Barons' demands? Let's see what Fact 4 says about King John and the Magna Carta...

      Dr Breay has told us that "King John agreed to it to try and placate the Barons and make peace." King John was forced to recognise the terms in the Magna Carta because he was deeply unpopular after he raised taxes and fought an unsuccessful war in France.

      King John signing the Magna Carta© The Granger Collection, New York (Britannica.com) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
      You might remember the miseries caused by King John’s high taxes from the stories of Robin Hood, who would steal from the rich to ease the suffering of the poor.

      Where was the Magna Carta signed? No, not at the bottom. The terms of the document were agreed upon in Runnymede, which is near Windsor.

      Many people think that the Magna Carta was signed by King John and the Barons – it wasn’t. No one signed it! Instead they used a Royal Seal to show that the King had agreed to the terms of the charter.

      No one signed it, because it wasn't initially written down. Dr. Breay has old us that "the original agreement that King John made with the Barons was an oral agreement," which means it was spoken rather than written down. It would have been recorded by the King's scribes.

      Not only does the document have a Latin name, the Magna Carta was written in the language too.

      Only three of the original sixty three clauses, the things the King and the Barons agreed, are still in force. They are:
      • The freedom of the English Church
      • The “ancient liberties” of the City of London – which means that London keeps its sometimes unusual laws.
      • The right to due process with a jury in a court of law.

      The British Library has two copies of the Magna Carta, which is just greedy really. One of them is always on display and you can discover loads about it and read a translation at the British Library’s website.

      If you want to read all of the things that Dr Breay has to say about the Magna Carta, you can find an interview with her on our grown ups' site.

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