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Magna Carta

Latin title of the famous “Great Charter” in which, by the affixing of his seal at a meeting at Runnymede (near modern Windsor) on 15 June 1215, King John gave his assent to a number of legal and constitutional principles demanded by a group of barons. It was not initially a statute, was purportedly annulled by a pope, but was reintroduced by King John’s successors and eventually re-enacted in a revised version by King Edward I in 1297.

Some parts of it remain on the statute book, notably the sovereign’s promise, at clause XXIX:

“NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.” (Magna Carta (1297))

There are four original copies of the charter of 1215, inscribed on vellum, two at the British Library, one at Lincoln Cathedral and one at Salisbury Cathedral; and later editions are held in Washington DC, USA and in Canberra, Australia.

One may speak of a particular edition as “the Magna Carta” held in (say) Lincoln Cathedral, but otherwise it is not necessary, and regarded by many as a solecism, to use the definite article: instead, one speaks simply of “Magna Carta”.