Magna Carta, England 1215

Magna Carta, England 1215

The Magna Carta (Great Charter) was written by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, and agreed to by King John of England at a meadow called Runnymede, near Windsor, on June 15, 1215.  This year marks the 800th anniversary of the signing.

Magna Carta 150x150The Magna Carta was based on the rule of law, rather than the rule of man (the king).  Although it was primarily written to protect the rights and property of barons from a tyrannical king, it also contains some provisions for the common man.

It became part of English law and later influenced the writing of the American Constitution in 1789, which became the supreme law of the land. 


Multiple copies (exemplifications) of the Magna Carta were made, written in Latin on sheepskin vellum sheets, using quill pens, each sealed with the royal seal, using beeswax and resin.  Only 4 of the original exemplifications remain today.

The original Magna Carta was one long text.  In 1759, Sir William Blackstone divided the document into 63 numbered clauses.

Magna Carta Clauses

Here are some excerpts from clauses in the Magna Carta:

(1)  TO ALL FREE MEN OF OUR KINGDOM we have also granted, for us and our heirs forever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs:

(9)  Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent in payment of a debt, so long as the debtor has movable goods sufficient to discharge the debt.

(20)  For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood.  In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise.

(27)  If a free man dies intestate, his movable goods are to be distributed by his next-of-kin and friends, under the supervision of the Church. The rights of his debtors are to be preserved.

(30)  No sheriff, royal official, or other person shall take horses or carts for transport from any free man, without his consent.

(39)  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.

(40)  To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

(45)  We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or other officials, only men that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well.

(52)  To any man whom we have deprived or dispossessed of lands, castles, liberties, or rights, without the lawful judgement of his equals, we will at once restore these.  We shall have respite for the period commonly allowed to Crusaders.  On our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once render justice in full.

Fifth Amendment

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (“no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”) is a direct descendant of clause 39 of the Magna Carta, which guarantees proceedings according to the “law of the land.”

Watch for special programs commemorating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

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