Magna Carta: Meaning and Importance

The Meaning and Relevance of Magna Carta


Magna Carta, whose name literally means “The Great Charter”, is considered to be one of the most important historical documents. This document was a result of the political crisis of 1215. King John was faced with the likelihood of a rebellion by the barons when he issued this document. Magna Carta for the first time established the principle that all people including the king were subject to the nation’s law. Actually, the document contains a set of promises made by the king to his subjects. The King was to govern people in accordance with the customs of the feudal law.  King John was faced with a difficult choice after the civil war broke out in the year 1215. He was forced to accept the demands of the barons. The barons were not very happy with the King’s attitude and were ready to rebel if it did not change. Magna Carta was the result of a successful attempt made by the barons to stop the king from further abusing his power.  However, the original document was not the final document and since it was first released, the document has undergone several amendments. Several of its clauses have been repealed and several of them either deleted or rewritten substantially. From 63 of its clauses most are related to grievances regarding the King’s rule and oppression of his subjects. It was the 39th clause that gave the freemen the right to fair trial and justice.


Magna Carta limited the King’s power by establishing that he was subject to the law and that no one was above it. However, Magna Carta was effective at doing many other things too. It regulated both the feudal system and the justice system. It recognized the Baron’s rights to be consulted as well as to advise the King in the Great Council. The document records how power was to be divided among the Kings and the barons. The document also addresses the issue of individual rights. Some parts of the document refer to individual freedom and the rights of the individuals. King John had many severe mistakes. The King had even angered the Pope and the Church. Magna Carta promised people with fair laws and justice. Apart from opening the courts to all, the document also removed barriers of money which could become impediments in the way of law and justice. Law and justice were now meant for all. The Magna Carta has become the foundation of the British and American legal systems. Its emphasis on equality of all in the court of law proved an inspiration for the legal systems of these states. The Magna Carta is considered more perfect and complete than several of the other historical feudal documents for it is more inclusive. The document does have a few shortcomings and yet when it comes to individual freedom, this document is considered the first most successful one at stressing it. It is why this document also holds an important long term relevance.