1. ITV Report

What is the Magna Carta?

The version of the Magna Carta on display at St Albans Cathedral. Photo: ITN
  • Magna Carta is Latin for 'The Great Charter'.
  • It was agreed in 1215 by King John at Runnymede in Surrey after a group of barons grew angry at the way the king was using his authority. John did not actually sign it but used his Royal Seal instead.
  • Many copies were made of the agreement but only four of the original versions survive today. Two are kept at the British Library, one in Salisbury and one in Lincoln (which has now been lent to St Albans Cathedral).
  • The charter was written in medieval Latin. As parchment was so expensive, the scribes who wrote it abbreviated some words to save space.
  • It made it clear for the first time that the monarch was subject to the law and not above it.
  • The charter contains 63 clauses of which only three are still law today. Two ensure rights to the English Church and towns and cities. But the third guarantees that no-one should be punished "except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land". It also says that everyone is entitled to justice. A century later, Parliament interpreted that clause to mean that people should be tried by jury.

You can find out more about the Magna Carta on the British Library website.