Magna Carta

(1215)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

The Magna Carta originally contained sixty-three “chapters,” or clauses, that asserted what the barons considered to be their ancient rights in an effort to protect themselves and their property. By the time Edward I agreed to reissue the Magna Carta in 1297, there were thirty-seven clauses. The clauses that pertained solely to the conflict leading up to the signing of the document in 1215 had been eliminated, and all clauses concerned with the administration of forests had been transferred to a separate Forest Charter in 1217.

The document commences with a preamble, which states that it is a declaration of liberties granted to “Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Priors, Earls, Barons, and … all freemen of this our realm.” The clauses that follow enumerate various types of liberties, including freedom of the church, feudal law regarding the holding of land, the rights of widows, the reformation of the justice system, property rights, the...

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Portrait of King John (Yale University Art Gallery)

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