10 Things You Didn’t Know about Magna Carta
Every schoolboy (used to know) the old joke:-
Question: Where was the Magna Carta signed?
Answer: No, at the bottom!
1. Magna Carta was never actually signed by King John. At that period in history a man’s signature was not worth the paper it was written on (after all, most men couldn’t even sign their name) so a contract or binding agreement would always have been sealed. So the Magna Carta was sealed (not signed) by the sovereign’s ‘own hand’ at Runnymede on June 15, 1215.
The barons were never asked to sign nor seal the document.
2. There were originally 45 copies of Magna Carta created. But the original document commonly known as Magna Carta today is not this first 1215 charter but a later charter of 1225. Of these 1225 charters, several still exist. The Magna Carta is often quoted as being the earliest written statute and the earliest example of a written ‘bill of rights’ but the Charter was never fully accepted and it is the much altered 1332 version which remains on the statute books of England and Wales.
3. You can see a 1216 copy of Magna Carta at Durham Cathedral
4. There is no need to use the definite article ‘the’ when discussing or describing Magna Carta because the term is Latin and there is no consistent correlation with a definite article in Latin.
5. The first written term ‘Magna Carta’ was not actually used until 1218 (three years after the document was sealed). The document was later described as a concession of the certain liberties here written in our great charter of liberties; “Concesserimus libertates quasdam scriptas in magna carta nostra de libertatibus”.
6. One copy of Magna Carta can be found in Canberra, Australia at the Parliament House
7. Although several barons, bishops and abbots had to travel hundreds of miles to witness the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215, at least one witness, the Abbot of Chertsey, had just a short 30 minute ride to Runnymede Fields.
8. The Mayor of London (the City of London) was a surety for the document and the City of London, to this day, holds certain privileges that can be directly traced back to Magna Carta (the so-called “ancient liberties” of the City of London.)
9. Magna Carta was actually reissued in 1216 omitting certain clauses (including the all-important clause 61 – the clause that takes away the soveriegn’s power). It was again shortened by Henry III in 1217 to a lighter version with just 37 articles still without the all-important clause 61.
10. The Magna Carta was reputedly signed under a tree called the Ankerwyke yew …but Ankerwyke Priory was on the Staines side of the Thames opposite Runnymede Fields – so some historians think that the event in 1215 actually occurred in Staines and not Runnymede after all.