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Magna Carta

Magna carta, an historic theme with, as it’s core  principle, that the King has no right to violate the law. Use the timeline and map to understand the many historical intricacies associated with the 1215 document and the life of King John and discover the implications of Magna Carta for yourself.

 

Explore the history of Magna Carta document and King John, starting a hundred years before the document itself was even written, traversing across the centuries and places it has connected with and impacted upon in British History and in relation to British colonies past and present.

"Magna Carta is the Bible of the English Constitution"
William Pitt the Elder

The King John Seal
Only three undertakings from the 1215 Magna Carta still stand but the fact they do 800 years on, is a testament to the power and strength of the British legal system. (and just in case you were wondering, they are; The English Church shall be free, London and all other cities shall enjoy their ancient liberties and customs and to no one will right or justice be sold, denied or delayed.)

Take a look at our Law and History or Government and Politics themes and timelines, to discover how other events overlap and connect with each other.

 Magna Carta & King John Timeline

Explore this interactive, fast timeline table, search for any phrase and match entries will be returned very quickly. We are adding links to related, articles, pages and resources over the coming weeks.

A number of places connected with King John are marking this anniversary year with exhibitions. Worcester Cathedral, where King John is buried and where his will is archived have a display in the cathedral and a number of events throughout the year.

Magna Carta

King John's Tomb Worcester. The oldest royal effigy in England.

YearEventNarrative
1100Coronation of Henry IAt his coronation King Henry I issued a Charter of liberties. The charter contains a series of promises to his barons and other parties, mostly relating to feudal custom. This charter will be used by the barons when drafting Magna Carta.
1135Death of King Henry IDeath of King Henry I in Normandy. Buried in Reading Abbey
1152Marriage of Henry Duke of Normandy andEleanor of AquitaineHenry Duke of Normandy and Eleanor of Aquitains are married in Poitiers Cathedral France. Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in western Europe during the Middle Ages.
1152Death of King StephenKing Stephen was taken ill and died at Dover Kent. By the Treaty of Winchester King Stephen had agreed to recognize Henry Duke of Normandy as his heir.
1154Coronation of Henry IIThe coronation of Henry II took place at Westminster Abbey
1162Knights Templar in Temple LondonThe Round Church in the Temple London is in use by the Knights Templar as a base for their activities. King John will spend much time in the coming years within the Temple.
1167Prince John is bornJohn was the fourth son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and would eventually be crowned King John.
1170Henry the Young King is crowned during his fathers reignYoung Henry,eldest son of King Henry II was crowned during his father's reign to rule alongside him but King Henry II gave him little real power or land, this would cause problems for the King.
1173 - 1174The Great RevoltKing Henry II had four sons, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John. Henry the younger and heir to the throne was upset by his father's decision to give some land and castles to the youngest and favourite son John. Spurred on by the support of the barons and the French royal family, Henry the younger decided to claim some lands to rule for himself. His father was alienated after the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury and his wife Eleanor was at loggerheads with him. They all joined forces and the outcome was a substantial revolt, in which up to 20 castles and towns were destroyed and hundreds of lives lost. The King was the victor and his sons returned to his side.
1183Henry the Young King diedHenry the Young king died during the course of a campaign in the Limousin against his father and his brother Richard. He caught dysentery and died within a week.
1184John 'Lackland'As 4th son it was difficult to provide land for John hence his nickname 'Lackland'. Henry II tried to remedy this by asking his other sons to release lands to John. Richard refused to hand over Aquitaine and a fight ensued. John lost and a great antipathy arose between the two brothers.
1185John sent to rule IrelandSince none of his brothers owned Ireland the king thought he had resolved the problem of finding land to give John and sent him to Ireland.John and his young entourage were out of their depth and they rapidly alienated both the native Irish and the Anglo Norman conquistadors who were carving out land for themselves. He was forced to return home.
1189John Marries Isabella of GloucesterKing Henry did a property and land deal with the Earl of Gloucester and in return Gloucester agrees that John will marry one of the Earl's daughters. The lucky daughter is Isabella.
1189King Henry threatened by son RichardKing Philip of France successfully played on Richard's fears that Henry would make John king, and a final rebellion broke out in 1189. Decisively defeated by Philip and Richard The King was stunned to learn that his favoured son John was involved in this threat. He had pushed Richard to the point of rebellion for the sake of John.
1189King Henry II diedThe king died in Chinon in France
1189King Richard I CrownedRichard was crowned King at Westminster
1189King Richard gives John landRichard I gave John vast estates in France plus the revenues of 6 English counties and the honour of Lancaster
1190King Richard leaves on CrusadeKing Richard left on Crusade naming his nephew Arthur of Brittany his heir. Arthur is only a young child but in so naming Arthur his heir, Richard places Arthur in a very dangerous situation. Prince John is very unhappy with the whole affair.
1191Archbishop sent to investigate JohnArchbishop of Rouen sent by Richard to investigate John's scheming to overthrow William Longchamp, Richard's Chancellor. Longchamp governed England while Richard was on the 3rd crusade but John eventually managed to drive him from office and out of England.
1193John attempts to divorce his wife IsabellaJohn attempts to divorce his wife Isabella in order to make a better marriage but King Richard and his mother Isabella put a stop to his actions and confiscate some of his lands
1199King Richard I names John his heirKing Richard I names John his heir. Richard's wishes are accepted in England and Normandy but not in Anjou, Maine and Touraine.
1199Death of King RichardKing Richard is mortally wounded whilst on crusade but on his death bed changed his mind and named his brother John as his heir
1199King John CrownedJohn is crowned at Westminster with support of the English barons and his mother Eleanor. The French however favour Arthur of Brittany, who is the son of John's deceased older brother Geoffrey.
1199King John enters negotiations with the French kingIn Normandy and England John is accepted as Richard's successor. Philip Augustus’s interest is to weaken John’s grip on the Plantagenet empire and when he and John met to negotiate in August, Philip demanded Anjou and Maine for Arthur. John declined, but diplomatically made peace with Constance and Arthur, and then signed an agreement with Philip, whom he acknowledged as his overlord for his French possessions.
1199Anullment of King John's MarriageJohn asks the Pope to annull the marriage between himself and Isabella. The Pope is not happy with the arrangement but annulls the marriage anyway. Isabella does not contest the action and the divorce goes ahead.
1200King John marries Isabella of AngoulêmeThe age of Isabella of Angoulême, is unclear but she was very young, estimates place her between at most 15 and more probably towards nine years old at the time of her marriage.
1202Philip invades Normandy and Arthur of Brittany is murderedThere was trouble for John in Poitou where he had offended the powerful Lusignan family, who rebelled and appealed to Philip Augustus. King Philip announced that John had forfeited the Plantagenet fiefs in France. He knighted Arthur and declared him John’s successor in Anjou, Maine and Poitou. Arthur invaded Poitou while Philip attacked Normandy. They trapped Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the castle keep. John’s men stormed the castle at daybreak, rescued Eleanor and captured Arthur and two of the Lusignans.Arthur was seized and taken to Normandy and imprisoned at Falaise, where he disappeared from view. Almost certainly, John had him murdered
1204King John loses Normandy, Anjou and Poitou to King Philip of France.King John was finally driven out of Normandy when Chateau Gaillard fell to the French. After John killed Arthur of Brittany, the Bretons also attacked him from the West. Philip of France began to mould a French consciousness, and in England the Anglo-Norman Barons were forced to choose between the new France and their estates in England. Most chose England. From now on John's main aim is to recover the lost territories and much of his groundwork is done in England. John arranged a truce with Philip and managed to retain these lands and the rest of the Angevin lands. Not since 1066 had an English king spent so much time in England. The weight of his presence is felt by the lords, used to running things their way. Taxes go ever higher in his attempts to recover the territories lost.
1204Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine diedQueen Eleanor had retreated to Fontevraud Abbey as a nun where she died.
1204The Scots attack the fort at TweedmouthThe Scots attack the newly built English fort at Tweedmouth, overlooking the key Scots port of Berwick Upon Tweed.
1205The Archbishop of Canterbury, Hubert Walter, died.The Archbishop of Canterbury,Hubert Walter, died. John now quarrelled with the Pope over his successor. The Pope rejects John's choice and that of a breakaway group of monks and demands that Stephen Langton become Archbishop. The real issue was the old one of the boundaries of power between Church and King.
1206 - 1215Mounting tension amongst the lords and barons as taxation increases.Taxation is forced higher and higher. The Forest Laws were tightened up and all of this at a time of economic and social uncertainty, prices rising at an alarming rate.Many families and religious houses were in deep financial trouble and they found it easier to blame the king than to understand the underlying economic forces.
1208Pope Innocent laid an interdict on England and WalesKing John would not make terms with Pope Innocent III over the Canterbury issue and the Pope laid an interdict on England and Wales. Neither John nor lay society seem to have been very worried this state of affairs. John's response to the interdict was to confiscate the estates of the church.
1209Treaty of NorhamThe Treaty of Norham between William I of Scotland and King John of England stops the building of the English Tweedmouth fort but at the cost of a £10,000 payment to the English and William's two oldest daughters, who John has taken hostage and then later marries to English nobles.
1209King John excommunicatedKing John is excommunicated but this has little impact upon him. The English Barons had supported King John against the Pope, although he had to suppress the Scots, Welsh and Irish who did not. As John was concentrating on home matters he spent a lot of time on the affairs of the kingdom. The Barons particularly in the North, saw this as interference as for many years John, and Richard before him, had concentrated their efforts abroad.
1210The pursuit of William de BriouzeKing John leads military campaign in Ireland in pursuit of William de Briouze a Royal Debtor. John's savage brutality rears its ugly head De Briouze's wife and son atempt to negotiate and are starved to death in prison.
1211King John invades WalesKing John invades Wales forcing acknowledgement of Overlodship. LLywelyn ap Iorworth submits to John and William de Bririouze dies in exile in France
1212Barons plot to murder King JohnTwo barons plot to murder John flee abroad and become outlaws. .At court, his lecherous behaviour led to rumours and accusations that John was a serial seducer of barons’ wives and daughters. Two of the rebellion’s leaders, Robert fi tz Walter and Eustace de Vesci, offered this as a major reason for their revolt. John aborts an attempt raise an army to regain his lost european empire
1213The French plan an invasionKing Philip Augustus and his son Prince Louis plan to invade England
1213King John builds up the navyJohn had built up the navy to prevent invaders aiming to conquer the excommunicated England, which was fair game under the international (i.e., Papal) law of the time.
1213King John submits to the Pope
6 July
King John submits to the Pope. He is worried by the threat of a French invasion and publically submits to the Pope who then calls off the French invasion. Archbishop Langton arrives in England
1213King John's confirmation of the Pope as feudal lord. 3 OctKing John is at the Temple London to confirm at St Paul's Cathedral that the Pope is now the feudal lord of the King and kingdom
1213King John reorganizes the tax systemJohn reorganised the tax system, introduced a property tax and encouraged civic life, granting charters to many English towns. He was aiming to raise revenue but in the process extended the power of the state.
1214King Johns Grand French CampaignKing John is planning a major French campaign and has exacted a record scutage. Scutage was a feudal relief by which barons paid money in lieu of military service to the crown. John had levied it so often (eleven times compared to Richard’s three) that it now resembled a regular tax. It was the last straw. John had poured his huge resources into the campaign only to meet with complete failure in the summer.
1214Battle of Bouvines. 27 JulJohn attacked France to regain the lost parts of his Empire. He loses at the Battle of Bouvines. With this defeat John loses all prospect of the recovery of his French possessions. If John had won this battle, the Magna Carta would almost certainly not have been written.
1214Discontent grows amongst the BaronsThe Barons resented the King's Chief Justiciar, Peter Des Roches, because he was from Poitu, and the Barons decided to see him as a foreigner. But what they really resented was the increased scutage money the king demanded to pay for the war and many barons simply refused to pay. No one believed that John’s military endeavours were worth investing in, a feeling readily expressed by the king’s revealing contemporary nickname of ‘Softsword’. In John’s absence the barons had  conspired to resist the king. John returned to England in October to face the greatest threat  of his reign. Inconclusive talks between king and barons ran alongside militarypreparations. War was imminent. John met with the northern barons again in November in an attempt to gain support for his european exploits.
1214Draft Charter drawn up by the BaronsIn the winter of 1214-1215 scribes were set to work to copy out the Coronation charters of previous English kings probably in the Temple London. They used the charter of King Henry I, the charter of King Stephen issued in 1135 and a charter of King Henry II. They wanted to establish the affirmation of existing rights and good practices and not to appear new or revolutionary.
1214Baronial unrest continuesHe continues to battle wih baronial unrest and it is reaching boiling point particulalrly with the northern barons.
1214Free Elections Granted to the church. 21 NovKing John issues the charter granting free elections to cathedral and conventual churches
1214Grant to St Pauls Cathedral. 22 NovKing John issues grant to St Paul's Cathedral
1214 - 1215The Unknown CharterThe Barons are drawing up the 'Unknown Charter' demanding reform.
1215Failed negotiations of the Unknown Charter. 1 JanThe Barons and King John meet at the Temple London to negotiate the charter, they are demanding the reinstatement of King Hnery I's charter but the negotiations are a failure.
1215King John takes the cross. 4 MarKing John takes the cross to gain crusader status,hoping to raise his status in the eyes of the pope.
1215King John fails to meet the Barons. 25 AprKing John fails to meet barons at Northampton. By not attending he loses his negotiating position and theycontinue their muster, growing stronger by the day.
1215The Army of God muster at Northampton. 1 MayThe rebels, under the title of ‘the Army of God’, mustered at Northampton and formally defied the king by breaking their homage and fealty. Of nearly 200 baronies in England, only some 40 declared for the rebels. However, only a similar number sided openly with the king; the majority simply stepped aside, not wishing to become embroiled in the confl ict. Families were split in their loyalties: William Marshal, soon to be regent of England, stood by the king, while his eldest son opted for the rebels. John’s main advantage was his string of some 150 royal castles across the country. King John fails to meet the Barons at Northampton. Across the country, Lincoln, Northampton and Exeter also fell to them as they gained momentum and the political initiative.
1215Barons renounce their feudal loyalty. 5 MayRebelling barons formally renounce their feudal loyalty to the King
1215City of London given Charter to elect own mayor. 7 MayKing John issues a charter giving the City of London the right to elect it's own Lord Mayor
1215Rebel Castles Seized. 12 MayKing John orders he besieging of rebel castles. The country is on the brink of major civil war.
1215London Captured. 17 MayBaron Robert FitzWalter along with other rebel barons captures London. FitzWalter styles himself Marshal of the Army of God. The balance of power now lies against the King, he must negotiate. A meeting at Runnymede is arranged
1215Stephen Langton MediatesThe Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, mediated between the barons and King John. He worked hard to make the 63 clauses contained in the charter acceptable to both sides whilst ensuring that the Church's interests were fully safeguarded. Last minute amendments were made, such as that made it applicable not to 'any baron' but 'any freeman'. King John still refused to except these clauses.
1215Articles of the Barons Draft is drawnDraft of the charter known as the 'Articles of the Barons' is drawn up. This was probably finally drawn up at Runnymede a few days before the meeting. This is the document which King John will seal.
1215The Imperial Regalia is released to King John. 28 MayKing John receives the imperial regalia of his grandmother the Empress Matilda from the custody of the Master of the Temple. King John probably wants to assert his full majesty at Runnymede.
1215King John arrives at Runneymede. 10 JuneKing John arrives at Runneymede and further negotiations take place.
1215King John seals the Charter. 15 JuneThis takes place at Runnymede contains royal promises which if breached are enforceable by the 25 Barons named in the charter. Formal acceptance by the barons does not take place that day.
1215Formal acceptance of the charter by the barons. 19 JuneFormal acceptance of Magna Carta by the barons. The Barons renew their homage to the King
1215King John seeks an annulment to the charter. 1 SepJohn turns to his new friend the Pope, seeking an annulment to the charter from the Pope and the excommunication of the Barons. The Pope, who, after John's submission in 1213, is favourable to his plea. The charter is annulled, the Barons are furious and civil war breaks out. The overlordship of the Pope over the King has been manipulated to work in his favour.
1215Civil WarKing John lays siege to Rochester Castle. The Castle is held by Archbishop Langton, the Pope's representative in England. The barons seek the help of Prince Louis, inviting French invasion.
1215Barons pay homage to King of Scotland. 1OctThe barons look to the north for help from the Scotts and invite the Alexandra II of Scotland to invade England. Alexandra takes advantage of King John's weakness after the signing of the Magna Carta to try to capture Northumberland. He is beaten back and a period of cross border warfare follows until John's death in 1216.
1215Rochester Castle Falls. 1 NovRebels Siezed Rochester and control of Rochester bridge,On hearing this King John came from Dover where he had been staying.the King's men managed to gain control of the Bridge and then they had to Siege the Castle.It took about 2 months to capture the Castle.
1215Louis of France sends Knights to protect London. 1 DecLouis of France sent the barons a contingent of knights to protect London
1216Prince Louis invades England. 22 MayThe barons pleas to the French prince have been answered when Louis lands trrops in Kent. John flees for Winchester leaving the door open for Louis to march on London.
1216Louis of France admitted to City of London. 1 JuneLouis is admitted to City of London his army besieges Dover, Lincoln and Windsor and the Scots enter England beieging royal castles.
1216King John marches on Kings Lyn. 10 OctJohn marched on Kings Lynn but he catches a fever in Norfolk and becomes increasingly ill.
1216King John loses his baggage train in the Wash. 12 OctWhile crossing the Wellstream which flowed into the Wash, his baggage train got lost in the mists and swallowed by quicksand. His royal jewels and treasures were lost.
1216Death of King John. 19 OctJohn died very quickly having caught a fever in Norfolk. Realizing he was dying he hurriedly made his will.The country was in chaos, with about two thirds of the Barons up in arms, and Louis of France claiming the throne.The King's council names William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, the guardian of the young King Henry III and the realm. He was buried in Worcester Cathedral.
1216King Henry III Crowned
28 Oct
King John's heir was only 9 years old when crowned Henry III. The life of the young king was far from safe. William Marshal holds the coronation at Gloucester out of the reach of London and then takes control of the government with a council of 13.
1216Magna Carta reissued. 12 NovThe Earl of Pembroke reissues the Charter under his own seal and with the consent of the papal legate. The charter was reissued in an interim form of 42 clauses but matters are far from settled and the war continues.
1217Battle of Lincoln. 20 MayWilliam Marshal secures victory against Prince Louis and the rebel barons at Lincoln.
1217Battle of Sandwich. 24 AugHubert de Burgh secures victory against the French at sea near Sandwich with the royalist forces. William Marshal slowly managed to get most barons to switch sides from Louis to Henry and attack Louis.
1217Treaty of Lambeth. 20 SepThe Treaty of Lambeth is agreed negotiating peace between Henry and the French and rebels. The principal provisions of the treaties were an amnesty for English rebels and restored the Channel Islands to King Henry.
1217Louis leaves England. 28 SepLouis had departed England following the settlement of peace at Lambeth in September, which had allowed his English supporters to enter Henry’s allegiance.
1217Earl of Pembroke Reissues the Charter. 6 NovEngland was still in disarray and this reissue of the charter played a role in bringing onside supporters.The Earl of Pembroke reissues the the Charter under his own seal, this is the 2nd version along with the Charter of the Forest.The reissue was agreed in return for the grant of a tax on movables.
1219Earl of Pembroke Died. 14 MayThe Earl of Pembroke died but who will rise to protect the young King?
1224William Marshal marriesWilliam Marshal the Younger, 2nd Earl of Pembroke marries Eleanor sister of King Henry III.
1225King Henry III reissues the Magna CartaKing Henry III reissues the Great Charter, in order to secure a grant of taxation. This is the final version which has become so important today, with only minor changes in 1297
1237First time the term Parliament is usedThe meeting of the Great Council is described as a Parliament, the words first use in the vocabulary of our constitution. The divisions are deepening between the King and the barons.
1253Magna Carta reissuedMagna Carta is reissued in return for taxation. It is supported by the threat of excommunication if breached by any party.
1258Provisions of OxfordThe Provisions of Oxford was a document outlining reforms to English Common Law. The reforms reinforced and refined many of the principles laid down in the Magna Carta, paving the way for greater rights and freedoms for free men under the laws of the realm. Under the Provisions, royal authority was curtailed, foreign advisors expelled, corrupt officials exposed, and a system of advisors set in place to 'assist' the king in governing the realm. King Henry III is unhappy with the provisions but was forced into accepting them.
1259King Henry III and Barons meetHenry III
1272King Edward I crowned
1265Simon de Montfort calls ParliamentParliament called by rebel Simon de Montfort. The parliament reissues Magna Carta and the charter of the Forest whicha re reconfirmed by Henry III
1297King Edward I reissues the Great CharterKing Edward I reissues the Great Charter. An official copy of the Great Charter is for the first time enrolled by the Chancery and copied into the earliest of the Chancery's Statute Rolls as an official enactment of the text.This version included additional articles of reform following political disputes Edward had had with the leading barons.
1300King Edward I his final confirmation of Magna CartaKing Edward I made his final confirmation of Magna Carta
1508Magna Carta PrintedPrinted by Richard Pynson one of the first printers of English books who, at one time, worked for William Caxton.
1619Edward Coke Cites Magna CartaBarrister and Parliametarian Sir Edward Coke condemns James I's royal abuse. Edward Coke cites Mangna Carta and tells the House of Commons they contravene Magna Carta
1628Petition of RightsSir Edward Coke introduced his bill of liberties known as the Petition of Rights in the House of Commons He refers to the charter thus;"Magna Carta is such a fellow, that he will have no sovereign." The bill led to the Petition of Rights.The bill seeks to build on Magna Carta in an attempt to bing the next King Charles I to specific principles of governement. Needless to say tht for Charles 1st this does not end well.
1679Habeas Corpus ActThe Habeas Corpus Act looked directly back to Clause 39 of the Charter "No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions or outlawed or exiled or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land."
1689Bill of Rights passedThe Bill of Rights is passed by parliament as a fundamental statement of English law
1775Magna Carta adopted as symbol in AmericaMagna Carta would be enshrined in the American Common and constitutional law. Massachuseatts adopts symbol of Sword in one hand and Magna Carta in the othe
1791Ratification of American Bill of RightsAmerican Bill of Rights ratified. Designed to limit the power of the nation state as a newly independent country over its citizens.
1863Statute Law Revision ActStatute Law Revision act deletes many clauses from Magna Carta on the British Statute Book
1911Parliament ActIn 1909 a constitutional crisis occurred when the House of Lords refused to pass the People's Budget. The Barons were revolting and this statute would make sure that this would not happen in the future. The Lords could not block legislation approved in the Commons.
1948United Nations produces Universal Declaration of Human RightsUnited Nations produces Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Lady Eleanor Roosevelt would characterise it as ' the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere.
1957Magna Carta Trust formedThe Magna Carta Trust was formed and the American Bar Association erects a permannent monumment to Magna Carta at Runnymede. Formed under the patronage of distinguished leaders of Church and State
1970New British legislationNew British legislation strike all but 4 clauses fom the Statute Book
2007Sale of a copy of Magna CartaA 1297 copy of Magna Carta (COPY) sells at auction for $21.3 million.
2015800th Anniversary of Magna Carta800th Anniversary of Magna Carta and people from all over the world take time to reflect on the impact of Magna Carta on world Governments and politics.