• On June 15, 1215, Magna Carta was sealed in Runnymede, England. Although the “Great Charter of Liberties” was declared “illegal, unjust, harmful to royal rights and shameful to the English people” just two months later, today it is considered one of the foundations of Western democracy.
    Magna Carta was a peace treaty between King John and a group of wealthy nobles called barons. The barons wanted more financial and political power than the king was willing to give them. These barons vowed to “stand fast with the liberty of the church and the realm”—not the king. The rebel barons organized a military and quickly occupied England’s capital city, London. At that point, King John decided to negotiate with them.
    Magna Carta has 63 chapters, called clauses. Most of these clauses protected the rights of the church and limited the amount of taxes owed to the king. The most significant clauses, however, are the 39th and 40th:
      • 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 judgment 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.”
    Magna Carta did not have an immediate impact. The liberties in the charter actually applied to very few people in medieval England. Most people were villeinspeasants who had to appeal to landowners to seek justice. Moreover, the document was rejected by both the pope and King John in August 1215, leading to the “First Barons’ War” in England. However, King John’s son and grandson (King Henry III and King Edward I) reissued Magna Carta as part of the law during their reigns.
    The principles of equal justice first outlined in Magna Carta helped shape the entire Western tradition of rights and responsibilities under the law. It influenced such documents as the United States Bill of Rights and the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    appeal Noun

    request for assistance, support, or aid.

    baron Noun

    low-ranking landowner.

    Bill of Rights Noun

    first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

    capital Noun

    city where a region's government is located.

    Encyclopedic Entry: capital
    charter Noun

    document that outlines rules for how a state or other organization will be organized.

    civil rights Plural Noun

    set of fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all individuals, such as participation in the political system, ability to own property, and due process and equal protection under the law.

    clause Noun

    one part of a contract, treaty, or other agreement.

    democracy Noun

    system of organization or government where the people decide policies or elect representatives to do so.

    exile Noun

    forced ejection from a country, or a person who feels forced to leave.

    financial Adjective

    having to do with money.

    foundation Noun

    basis of something.

    human rights Noun

    basic freedoms belonging to every individual, including the rights to social and political expression, spirituality, and opportunity.

    immediate Adjective

    quickly or right away.

    impact Noun

    meaning or effect.

    imprison Verb

    to confine or put in a jail-like facility.

    justice Noun

    administration of law.

    law Noun

    public rule.

    legal Adjective

    allowed by law.

    liberty Noun


    Magna Carta Noun

    (1215)  "great charter" granted by King John, recognizing the rights and privileges of the aristocrats, the church, and freemen in England.

    medieval Adjective

    having to do with the Middle Ages (500-1400) in Europe.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    negotiate Verb

    to discuss with others of different viewpoints in order to reach an agreement, contract, or treaty.

    noble Noun

    person born into a position with a high rank or class.

    peasant Noun

    person of low social rank and little social mobility in medieval society, usually a small farmer, farmworker, or owner of a houshold industry.

    political Adjective

    having to do with public policy, government, administration, or elected office.

    pope Noun

    leader of the Catholic Church.

    principle Noun

    rule or standard.

    realm Noun

    region of the Earth that harbors similar groups of species.

    rebel noun, adjective

    person who resists the authority of government.

    reign Verb

    to rule as a monarch.

    right Noun

    specific freedom or opportunity granted to an individual or organization based on the law.

    royal Adjective

    having to do with a monarchy.

    seal Noun

    formal or official stamp, emblem, or other mark.

    seize Verb

    to take suddenly.

    significant Adjective

    important or impressive.

    tax Noun

    money or goods citizens provide to government in return for public services such as military protection.

    treaty Noun

    official agreement between groups of people.

    villein Noun

    most common type of unfree peasant (serf) in medieval England, owing dues and services to his or her lord.

    wealthy Adjective

    very rich.