In 1215 England was a kingdom in turmoil. The highly effective Henry II and his popular son Richard the Lionhearted were long since dead and the youngest of five brothers, John, had been on the throne for 16 years. John was a widely despised and incompetent ruler who lost most of the Crown’s lands in France and resorted to excessive and indiscriminate tax levies both to pay for his mercenary fighters and to sustain his wealth. The agreement named originally as the ‘Articles of the Barons’ and subsequently, the Magna Carta, was designed to rectify this. The rebellious Barons wanted to see peace and justice throughout the Kingdom. They wanted the same rule of law applied to every free man, including King John himself, and they wanted the Church, the City of London, Scotland, Wales, the disadvantaged, the indebted, widows, and every free man to be free from royal interference and undue, unreasonable taxation.
The Magna Carta forms the true constitutional bedrock of Britain and resonates across the English-speaking world as the first document of its type guaranteeing English liberties. It signifies the first real departure from the divine rights and despotism of ruling monarchs, and the earliest beginnings of parliamentary democracy. The charter was a bold and radical statement so significant that there are strong echoes of it in the wording and aims of the US Constitution, written over 500 years later.