Magna Carta 2015: Timeline of the last 800 years from King John and the barons to Magna Farta and horsetrading in World War II

Magna Carta
Magna Carta: One of four versions known to be in existence today (Source: Getty)

Today marks the 800th anniversary since King John put his seal to Magna Carta, the document traditionally seen as enshrining rights to a fair trial, of property and ownership and that the monarch is not above the law. 

 

But while celebrations will commemorate one document, as this timeline shows, the road to the foundations of democracy was not as smooth – or as straightforward – as this neat birthday would suggest. 

 

There are, for example, several versions that were drafted and redrafted after that momentous day in Runnymede.  

 

And it has been in and out of favour. It was declared null and void by the Pope just a few weeks after being signed, while the UK's own leaders held it in disregard. In fact, while Charles I and Oliver Cromwell would have agreed on very few things, this appeared to be one area where they were united. 

 

While it languished in the UK, the founding fathers of the United States lapped it up and it became so popular that during World War II the British government tried to use it as a way to tempt Washington to join the Allies in fighting Nazi Germany. 

 

Check out our timeline to see the real history of Magna Carta – and decide for yourself whether it's really as important as is being made out, or whether in the words of Cromwell, it's more “Magna Farta”. 

 

1212
A group of rebel barons are discovered to be plotting to kill the highly unpopular King John. The rebel leader Robert FitzWalter had previously claimed John had tried to rape his daughter.
July 1214
King John is defeated at the Battle of Bouvines. He attempts to raise cash from the barons, prompting rebel barons to organise again. They demand he confirm an older Charta of Liberties, declared by Henry I a century before.
January 1215
King John calls a council to discuss possible reforms. An initial document is produced by the barons.
May 1215
Rebel barons renounce feudal ties to John
June 1215
King John meets rebels at Runnymede, near Windsor, where he is presented with a series of demands called the Articles of the Barons. The agreement, renamed Magna Carter and approved on 15, promised protection of church rights, protection from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice and limitatons on tax and other payments to the crown.
July 1215
John appeals to Pope Innocent III claiming Magna Carter compromises his rights as a feudal lord. The pope excommunicates the barons and later declares the charta “null and void of validity forever”.
Autumn 1215
First Barons' War erupts, although settles into a stalemate with the rebels supported by the future French King Louis VIII.
October 1215
King John dies, and is succeeded by nine-year-old Henry III.
November 1216
Henry III's government wins over rebel barons by promising to return their lands; issues the Great Charta of 1216.
1223
Henry III's government attempts to reassert authority over properties and revenues in the counties. Henry claims he is bound by the chartas.
1225
Louis VIII invades Henry's French territory. Barons agree to support Henry in exchange for a new charta, declaring they were issued of his own “spontaneous and free will”, and confirming them with the royal seal, giving the new Great Charta more authority than previous versions.
1258
Barons seize power from Henry citing the need to strictly enforce Magna Carter, claiming the king had broken its terms. After Louis backs Henry the Second Barons War begins.
1267
Henry issues Statute of Marlborough, including a fresh commitment to observe the terms of Magna Carta
14-15th centuries
Magna Carta is reaffirmed as many as 45 times, but gradually drops out of English political importance. It remains an important text for lawyers, particularly for property rights.
1621
Bill is presented to parliament to renew Magna Carta. Charles I failes to confirm this claiming it would reduce his independence as king. MPs increasingly scour Magna Carter for ammunition against him.
1642
English Civil War begins
1649
Charles I is executed. Oliver Cromwell heads up the Protectorate. Although he famously dismisses the charta as the "Magna Farta" he accepts some limits on his powers, agreeing to rule with the advice of his council
1679
The Habeas Corpus Act – Latin for “you may have the body” is passed, strengthening the Magna Carta's stance on individual liberty.
1688-89
Glorious Revolution, in which William of Orange and Queen Mary stage a coup against Mary's father James II. Declaration of Rights is included as part of their accession, which is enacted by parliament as a new Magna Carta.
1775
Revolutionary Massachusetts adopts an image of an American patriot holding a sword in one hand and Magna Carta in the other as its state seal.
1791
Bill of Rights includes an article promising that no person shall be ‘deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law’, paraphrasing the Charta’s 39th chapter.
1863
17 of the 1225 Charta's chapters are stricken from the statute book, a process that is repeated in 1880.
1940
UK offers US an original copy of Magna Carta to persuade America to enter World War II. Britain had to riscind the offer because the government did not own the document. The US joined after the bombing of Pearl Harbor some months later.
1957
A memorial, created and paid for by the American Bar Association, is unveiled at Runnymede.
1970
Only four chapters left intact in legislation
2015
800-year anniversary of Magna Carta
 

 

 

Related articles