36 things worth knowing about Magna Carta

Today we celebrate 800 years of Magna Carta. Since 1215 it has been used to protect life, liberty and property and become the basis for constitutional rights around the world. Here are 36 things you may not know about the “greatest constitutional document of all times”.

.entry img {float:none; clear:both; display:block;}.entry p{margin-top:20px;}.top-ten {color:#000; font-size:16px; line-height:21px;margin-top:25px;padding-top:20px;border-top:1px solid #bbb;}.top-ten:first {border-top:1px solid #fff;}

1.Magna Carta means “Great Charter” in Latin.

2. It was originally known as the Charter of Runnymede.

3. It is referred to as Magna Carta and not The Magna Carta.

4. It is 800 years old on June 15 this year.

5. The document was drawn up following a rebellion by King John’s barons. The barons wanted the King to limit his own power and stop enforcing costly taxes for his wars in France.

6. John was not popular.

One chronicler, Gerald of Wales, described him as a “tyrannous whelp”. An attempt to assassinate John in 1212 failed.

7. Some of the grievances addressed by Magna Carta predate John.

His brother Richard I, “the Lionheart”, embarked on a Third Crusade costing around £200,000 – about 10 years’ national income. The UK equivalent today would be about £6.5 trillion.

8. The venue for the treaty, Runnymede in Surrey, was chosen because it was near the barons’ headquarters at Staines and the King’s castle at Windsor – and because it was too boggy to turn into a battleground.

9. King John didn’t actually sign Magna Carta – he used his Great Seal to authenticate the document.

10. It was not written down in its final form at Runnymede but at a later date by scribes working in the Royal Chancery.

11. It is around 3,600 words long and divided into 63 clauses.

Most of the clauses deal with how to administer justice, and the detail of particular feudal rights and customs.

12. It was written on dried and smoothed sheepskin.

This was so expensive that the scribes abbreviated words and used very small writing in order to save space.

13. Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury who played a significant role in Magna Carta’s drafting is also credited with dividing the Bible into the chapters we still use today.

14. According to its preface, the purpose of Magna Carta is, “the honour of God, the exaltation of the holy Church, and the better ordering of our kingdom”.

15. Its first and last clauses guarantee the freedom of the English church.

The first one states, “we have granted to God, and by this present Charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired”.

16. Magna Carta was nullified by the Pope after ten weeks.

He said Magna Carta was “illegal, unjust, harmful to royal rights and shameful to the English people” and declared it “null and void of all validity for ever”.

17. King John died unexpectedly on 19 October 1216, after, it is said, eating a “surfeit of peaches”.

Magna Carta was reissued on behalf of John’s nine-year-old son Henry, by his regent William Marshal. It was intended to be an indication that the new king wished to govern fairly.

18. An amended version was issued by Henry, by now Henry III, in 1225 when he turned 18.

This 1225 document was granted in return for new tax revenue. The number of clauses was reduced to 27.

19. Henry’s new stance paved the way for the first English Parliament in 1265.

20. Magna Carta was finally put on the statute books by Edward I in 1297.

Copies of this version are in the US National Archives and Australia’s Parliament House.

21. Perhaps the most famous clauses of Magna Carta are 39 and 40.

“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 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.” And: “To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.”

22. Magna Carta led to the development of an English legal system with regular judges and courts.

Prior to Magna Carta, justice was dispensed by the king himself. After Magna Carta, the king’s law became the common law of England.

23. In the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, William of Orange cited Magna Carta in justifying the overthrow of James II.

24. Magna Carta was used in the writing of the US Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – championed by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1946 as “a Magna Carta for all mankind”.

25. The US Capitol building has a copy of Magna Carta engraved in gold.

26. Only four copies of the 1215 Magna Carta survive today: one in Lincoln Cathedral, one in Salisbury Cathedral, and two in the British Library.

27. Only four clauses from the original charter still exist in UK law.

One clause defends the liberties and rights of the English Church, another upholds the liberties and customs of London and other towns, and the third and fourth give all English subjects the right to justice and a fair trial. Clauses removed include those concerning fishing on the River Medway in Kent.

28. Magna Carta remains in full with all its original clauses on the statute books of 17 of the 50 US states. This includes the River Medway clauses!

29. From 1790 to the present day, Magna Carta has been cited over 400 times in cases heard by the United States Supreme Court.

30. Most clauses of Magna Carta remain in force in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

31. At the start of World War II, Winston Churchill tried to persuade Lincoln Cathedral to donate its original Magna Carta to the US in the hope that it would lead to support for an alliance with Britain.

32. Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta spent the duration of the war under guard at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

33. The only monument to Magna Carta at Runnymede was put up by the American Bar Association in 1957.

Its inscription reads: “To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of Freedom Under Law”. 23

34. In 2007, a 1297 edition of Magna Carta sold at auction for $21.3 million, the most ever paid for a single page of text.

35. Magna Carta was used to oppose the Blair government’s attempts to extend the period of detention without trial to 42 days.

36. On February 3 2015, the only four known copies of the 1215 Magna Carta were brought together for the first time, at the British Library, to be seen by the 1,215 people who won their tickets in a public ballot. This was the first time Salisbury Cathedral’s copy had ever left Wiltshire.