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Why is Magna Carta significant?

Magna Carta is significant because it is a statement of law that applied to the kings as well as to his subjects. Although the idea of England as a community with a law of the land independent of the will of the king was implicit in custom before 1215, Magna Carta gave this concept its first clear expression in writing.

Dissatisfaction with Government

Magna Carta was an attempt by the rebels to state what they believed established custom to be, and by implication, where they believed the king was breaking the rules. The text reveals dissatisfaction not just with John, but with the whole system of government that had been developed by John's predecessors as well. The king, however, also pointed to customary rules to justify his position. Magna Carta was initially more a piece of propaganda justifying the rebel cause than a piece of constitutional law. As a piece of baronial propaganda, it was distributed widely. Copies were sent to every county court in England and it was ordered to be translated into the vernacular. It therefore very quickly became widely known and copied. 


You can access biographies of

King John
Henry III
Simon de Montfort, 8th earl of Leicester
Edward I

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

External links

View the Magna Carta on the British Library's website


Parliament in the Making

2015: Parliament in the Making is a year-long programme of events, projects and resources recognising 800 years of democratic heritage. Further information can be found via the 2015 portal.