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What is Magna Carta?

Magna Carta, meaning ‘The Great Charter’, is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John of England (r.1199-1216) as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215, Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Although nearly a third of the text was deleted or substantially rewritten within ten years, and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British constitution.

Most of the 63 clauses granted by King John dealt with specific grievances relating to his rule. However, buried within them were a number of fundamental values that both challenged the autocracy of the king and proved highly adaptable in future centuries. Most famously, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of Magna Carta’s core principles are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791) and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).
Magna Carta 1215

Original 1215 edition of Magna Carta, Cotton Augustus ii.106
One of the four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta containing the famous clause ‘to no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice’.

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Why does Magna Carta matter today?

In 1215 Magna Carta was a peace treaty between the King and the rebel barons. In that respect it was a failure, but it provided a new framework for the relationship between the King and his subjects. The 1225 version of Magna Carta, freely issued by Henry III (r.1216-72) in return for a tax granted to him by the whole kingdom, took this idea further and became the definitive version of the text. Three clauses of the 1225 Magna Carta remain on the statute book today. Although most of the clauses of Magna Carta have now been repealed, the many divergent uses that have
- See more at: http://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-an-introduction#sthash.bZzkVNQL.dpuf…...

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