What’s the Magna Deal?

Being that I’m an incurable geek and a medievalist to boot, I felt the need to comment on the tidbit of information that my “This Day in History” script produced for me this morning: June 15th, 1215 King John sealed the Magna Carta, or the Great Charter. By no means do I wish to dispute this point, after all it’s true. What I wish to bring to light is that in the history of English politics this day, June 15th, is truly not very significant.

Yes, King John (most well know for his portrayal as the evil king in Robin Hood) did in fact sign the document which severely limited the powers of the English monarch, forcing him to be bound by the laws of the land. It is also true that many elements of this document were used in later centuries, namely the Tudor and Stuart periods. However, the Magna Carta was by no means the first document of its kind; it was heavily based on an earlier Charter of Liberties (issued by Henry I circa 1100). Secondly, although John signed the document on this date, he renounced it shortly afterwards and he was released from his obedience to it by the Pope since it sullied the dignity of the crown and was signed under duress. Thirdly, while the Magna Carta did heavily influence later legal documents, the majority of its clauses had been rewritten or repealed from English law by the 18th and 19th centuries. Yet interestingly in a recent poll conducted by the BBC History Magazine 27% of the British population declared that June 15th is the “best date to celebrate Britishness.” (One can only assume that this 27% is English as it seems highly unlikely as this date would elicit celebration from a Scot or a Welshman.)

I do not deny the fact that the limitations set upon the king through this document set a precedent for later constitutional development. What I find so interesting is that this particular date is chosen instead of the later date, November 12th 1216, when the regents of John’s son King Henry III reissued the document. Or perhaps even 1225 when Henry willingly reissued the document (albeit in a shorter form) himself. How about October 12th 1297 when Edward I, the warrior king, reconfirmed the 1225 document. Is this not much more significant, the fact that the king willingly agreed to the articles?

I’m not trying to knock anyone’s holiday, but I’m just saying that this particular date seems a rather arbitrary choice as the date in which a document that changed history was signed. It really didn’t change that much.


~ by CableGirl on Friday, June 15, 2007.

2 Responses to “What’s the Magna Deal?”

  1. Great, now my head hurts. *wink

  2. While I agree that the date is arbitrary, that’s pretty typical. Nobody thinks Jesus was actually born on December 25th, either. LOL

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