Back to the video list: History of the British Isles


Over the centuries the democratic societies of Ancient Greece were forgotten or ignored. The Magna Carta of 1215 was a decisive step towards democracy and constitutional states.






  • Date: 15 Jun 1215
  • Location: Runnymede, Surrey, England
  • Event: King seals the Magna Carta & with it guarantees rights to the nobility & freedom of the church


Parties & Persons Involved

  • King John of England (1166 – 1216)
  • Barons of England


Background & Prehistory

  • 1100: With the coronation of Henry I the Charter of Liberties is issued which guarantees the freedom of the church & rights of the barons against the king
  • 1202 – 1214: John leads an unsuccessful war against France
  • 1204: John loses Normandy
  • 1214: John fails to retake Normandy in the Battles of Rouch-aux-Moines (02 Jul) & Bouvines (27 Jul)
  • Conflict with the barons esp. because of an increase in taxes& the loss of estates in Normandy
  • Jan 1215: Rebellion of the barons against John with the aim to reinstate the Charter of Liberties
  • 10 Jun 1215: The barons march into London
  • 15 Jun 1215: John seals the Magna Carta
  • 19 Jun 1215: The barons renew their allegiance to John


Key Points of the Magna Carta

  • Freedom of the church
  • Right to property
  • Right of widows to property so that they do not need to remarry
  • Prohibition of disproportionately high taxes
  • Freedom of the City of London
  • Right to a just trial
  • Prohibition of cruel & unreasonable punishments
  • Prohibition of unjust arrest


Further Developments

  • Nov 1215 – Sep 1217: The 1st Barons’ War breaks out after King John disconfirmed his approval of the Magna Carta
  • 18 Oct 1216: King John dies
  • 19 Oct 1216: John’s underage son Henry is crowned king
  • 12 Nov 1216: The Magna Carta is reissued in a modified form
  • 1225: The full-aged Henry III confirms the Magna Carta in shortened version
  • 1227: Henry III questions the validity of the Magna Carta
  • 1297: Edward I reissues the Magna Carta in return for tax increases
    • Eventually Magna Carta is  legally valid
  • During the 19th century nearly all of the articles of the Magna Carta are repealed & replaced


Consequences & Impact

  • Outstanding importance in the historical context
    • The monarch is (formally) bound to the written law
    • The monarch’s subjects (nobility) have rights of freedom
  • The Magna Carta can be seen as the 1st European step to a constitutional state & democracy
  • Parts of the 1297 Magna Carta are still of central importance in the British law
    • Art. 1: Freedom of the church
    • Art. 9: Freedom of the City of London
    • Art. 29: Certainty of the law
  • The Magna Carta has substantial influence on constitutions around the world, i.e. U.S. Constitution, constitutions of most of the Commonwealth members