On June 15, 1215, King John of England and his barons and nobles signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede, England. In fact, the barons had forced King John to accept the sixty-three provisions of the Magna Carta (“Great Charter”). The Magna Carta was not originally intended to secure rights for all English citizens. Rather, it was meant to assert the feudal rights of England’s barons, who had become disenchanted with King John’s rule. Soon after it was signed, John ignored the tenets of the charter and began warring with his barons again. Despite the motivations of the authors and signers, the document contains political principles that remain important today. After its original issuance in 1215, the Magna Carta was revised and reissued. The 1297 version of the charter, which is the version used here, was renewed under King Edward I and remains on the statute books to this day, although numerous provisions have been repealed by specific legislation.
The Magna Carta has gained significance as the centuries have passed and has come to symbolize the very foundation of civil liberties. It limited royal power and asserted that monarchs also were subject to the rule of law. During the Tudor period (1485–1603), the Magna Carta faded into the background. In the later seventeenth century, it was revived by lawyers and parliamentarians. By that point, it had taken on a different level of meaning and had been transformed into a symbol. This new significance was not lost on British colonists in North America, who drew upon the Magna Carta as they came into conflict with King George III over rights and taxation.
Read our complete coverage of the Magna Carta, including in-depth analysis by the scholar Matthew Fiorillo.