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What is the Magna Carta? - A Super Easy Peasy Guide

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

The Magna Carta. SO. MANY. WORDS.

June 15th marks the 807th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Whoop-do-doo you may well be thinking. And maybe you are thinking: "Just what is the Magna Carta anyway? Does it sound like a Marvel superhero or a Star Wars character or something? Though it would be a bit weird for people to be signing them...

King John. Not exactly the best at Kinging.

Unless they sign their faces? I mean, that could be a thing?" Or maybe you aren’t thinking that at all. Maybe you’re just thinking, what in the blue heck is the Magna Carta?

If either of those thoughts belongs to you, then don’t worry, because we’ve got you covered. Here is our exceptionally speedy guide to the Magna Carta.

Way back in England in the 1200s, King John was King. You may think you’ve heard of King John, wasn’t he one of the baddies in the story of Robin Hood? Yes, yes he was. And he was considered a baddie for good reason too, as King John was a truly pants monarch. During his reign, John had managed to lose pretty much all of the lands he owned in France. They had all been conquered and taken from him by King Philip II. Well, not by Philip himself, he, being a King and all, likely did very little conquering directly, it was his soldiers and army who did all the hard work.

The French defeated the English at the battle of Bouvines.

Anyway, in an effort to get his land back, King John heavily taxed his people (notably his rich countrymen, the barons) to build up a new army by hiring a bunch of expensive mercenaries. Problem was, that his supposedly glorious invasion of France spectacularly failed.

Not only did he not get his land back but John’s army was thoroughly thrashed at the hands of King Philip II. Again, I’m not suggesting that King Philip II did any of the thrashing personally, it’s very doubtful that he took a cane to any English knight’s exposed bottoms.

I mean, how would you even expose their bottoms in the first place with all the armour they wore?

The English Barons were thoroughly miffed with all the high taxes and the King taking all their money. So, they revolted. I’m not suggesting they stuck out their tongues, blew raspberries, and told King John that he was a poopy head. No, that would be revolting. Instead, they revolted, got an army together, and took over a bunch of English towns. Most importantly, they took and held London.

King John signs the Magna Carta

Despite several conniving plans to win over the Pope (the most powerful person in Europe at the time), King John had so little clout left that, in 1215, he had to sign a document that would limit his power and force him to abide by the rules of the land. This was the Magna Carta. It dealt mostly with protecting barons and church-related stuff, but it also offered some rights to the regular person too. The Magna Carta stated that free men should have protection from illegal imprisonment, access to justice, and a limit on their taxes.

The 1225 version of the Magna Carta because we can't get enough of them!

Unfortunately, and here’s something your teacher might not tell you, the Magna Carta was an absolute failure. It totally and absolutely sucked. Fact.

The King and the Barons promptly ignored everything written in it and went to war against each other in 1216.

All that being said though, the Magna Carta is considered the first attempt to establish a bill of human rights. Since then, many nations have used it as inspiration to establish their own rules and laws. To try and be fair and just to all of their citizens. To try to set personal rights and freedoms in a written law. Sure, it doesn't always work but it's got to be better than having no laws at all.

So, there you have it, Magna Carta achievement unlocked.



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