Document 1: Selections from the Magna Carta



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The Magna Carta outlined the rights of nobles and limited the king’s power, which a group of nobles thought he was abusing. The excerpts below describe just some of the new agreements between king and nobles.
Document 1: Selections from the Magna Carta

To all free men of our kingdom we [the monarchy] have also granted, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs:


20. For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him from his livelihood.
21. Earls and barons shall be fined only by their equals, and in proportion to the gravity of their offence.
29. No constable may compel a knight to pay money for castle-guard if the knights are willing to undertake the guard in person, or with reasonable excuse to supply some other fit man to do it. A knight taken or sent on military service shall be excused from castle-guard for the period of this service.
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.

Document 2: An Artist’s View
The painting below was created by an unknown artist who copied an engraving by artist Alonzo Chappel. Created several hundred years after the signing of the Magna Carta, it shows the artist’s view of the mood at the historic event.


Document 3: A Contemporary’s Account
Roger of Wendover was a monk and a historian, who lived at the time of the signing of Magna Carta. The Excerpt below is from his account of the signing.

“King John, when he saw that he was deserted by almost all, so that out of his regal superabundance of followers he scarcely retained seven knights, was much alarmed lest the barons would attack his castles and reduce them without difficulty, as they would find no obstacle to their so doing; and he deceitfully pretended to make peace for a time with the aforesaid barons…and told them that, for the sake of peace, and for the exaltation and honor of the kingdom, he would willingly grant them the laws and liberties they required….Accordingly, at the time and place pre-agreed on, the king and nobles came to the appointed conference, and when each party had stationed themselves apart from the other, they began a long discussion about terms of peace and the aforesaid liberties…At length, after various points on both sides had been discussed, king John, seeing that he was inferior in strength to the barons, without raising any difficulty, granted the underwritten laws and liberties, and confirmed them by his charter.”




Document 4: A Historian’s View
C. Warren Hollister is one of many historians today to explore the different meanings of Magna Carta in historical context.
“If authors were looking neither forward nor backward but were contending with problems of the moment, Magna Carta’s most important clauses were designed to keep the king within the bounds of popular and feudal custom. Royal taxes not sanctioned by custom, for example, were to be levied only with the consent of the great men of the kingdom. But implicit in the traditional doctrine that the lord had to respect the rights of his vassals and the rule according o good custom was the constitutional principle of government under the law. In striving to make John a good feudal lord, the barons in 1215 were moving uncertainly toward constitutional monarchy. Thus Magna Carta expresses the notion that the king is bound by traditional legal constraints in his dealings with all classes of free English people."


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