Magna Carta

Magna Carta (Latin for 'Great Charter') was the brainchild of Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury (c.1150-1228). To combat King John's attacks on the church, ill-advised foreign policies, and excessive demands for feudal aidsGlossary - opens new window and feudal incidentsGlossary - opens new window, in 1213 he suggested that the barons should draw up a binding 'charterGlossary - opens new window of liberties', to protect themselves and other subjects from unreasonable actions on the part of the Crown.

Eventually, on 12 June 1215, the barons forced John to meet them at Runnymede, a large meadow beside the Thames, in Surrey; and after several days of negotiation he reluctantly agreed to affix his seal to the charter. Copies of it were then delivered by messengers to every county in the realm.

Although some of the charter's 63 clauses have little relevance today, others safeguard basic civil liberties. During Tudor times it was practically forgotten, being regarded as a relic of the feudal era. But in the 17th century it was rescued from oblivion by the ParliamentariansGlossary - opens new window, who recognised its humanitarian and democratic qualities - and in the 20th century it inspired some of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights issued by the United Nations in 1948.

Magna Carta was reissued in 1216 by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke (regent for the nine-year-old Henry III), with the omission of a number of clauses that he judged unreasonable from the sovereign's point of view. Further revisions were made in 1217 and 1225. The third version of Magna Carta - the final version that entered the statute books - is reproduced here.
Catalogue reference: DL 10/71 (1225)


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