Magna Carta is the most famous document in English history. And yet its survival is purely accidental. King John, who negotiated the document with his rebellious barons, had no intention of honouring its contents. Annulled by the pope within weeks of being issued, it was destined to oblivion. But with the sudden death of John, all of this changed. Magna Carta was reissued by the regents of the boy King Henry III as an apology for past misrule and as a promise of future good government. It was reissued on successive occasions and repeatedly cited in legal cases in the following centuries. Later, it played a part in conflicts such as the English Civil War and the US Wars of Independence. Echoes of Magna Carta are to be found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. It continues to be cited today as a touchstone of fundamental universal freedoms.
This book tells the story of the birth and development of Magna Carta from its origins to the modern day. It also reproduces and describes, for the very first time, every surviving copy of the Great Charter, as well as related charters of the period, including various new discoveries. It addresses the previously unanswered question of how the charter was published and disseminated to the shires of England and includes a chapter on the charter's scribes and sealing, supplying a truly unique insight into both the creation and afterlife of the most fundamental legal document in British history.
Nicholas Vincent is Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia and a Fellow of the British Academy. He is Director of the Arts and Humanities Research Council's Magna Carta Project.