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Magna Carta

English historical document (1215)

The Magna Carta, or Great Charter, has influenced history far beyond its actual importance. On June 15, 1215, King John of England agreed to a list of civil liberties pressed upon him by his rebellious barons at a meeting at Runnymede. Having made this agreement under duress, he immediately renounced the document, plunging the country into civil war. Although this was not the first document setting limits on royal authority, over the centuries it caught the popular imagination and influenced not only British law, but also the laws of other countries, including the U.S. Constitution.

Contrary to popular myth, King John did not sign the document, but instead put his royal seal to it. An unknown number of copies were made by scribes and distributed to officials throughout the land. The original document is lost, and only four of the original copies remain. A larger number of copies exist of later versions issued by King John's son, Henry III.


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