800 years of Magna Carta

A timeline of the legacy of the Great Charter 1215 – 2015

This year parliaments around the world are celebrating Magna Carta. First written in 1215, Magna Carta has enjoyed many incarnations over the past 800 years and has influenced legal systems around the world with the core message that no one in society is above the law.

Australian Parliament House is home to an issue of the 1297 Magna Carta, one of the few places outside of the United Kingdom an original Magna Carta can be seen. In 2015 About the House will be investigating Magna Carta in a series of articles explaining what Magna Carta is all about, what’s so special about Australia’s Magna Carta and how the legacy of the great charter continues.

What is Magna Carta?

Magna Carta, meaning ‘The Great Charter’, is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John of England as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215, Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Although nearly a third of the text was deleted or substantially rewritten within ten years, and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta is a foundation stone of constitutional and parliamentary government for Britain and Commonwealth countries globally.

Most of the 63 clauses granted by King John dealt with specific grievances relating to his rule. However, buried within them were a number of fundamental values that both challenged the autocracy of the king and proved highly adaptable in future centuries. Most famously, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of Magna Carta’s core principles are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791) and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).

Explore the timeline to find out more about Magna Carta

Norman conquest

The Norman Conquest is completed when William Duke of Normandy is crowned King William I of England following his victory over King Harold at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066.


Doomsday book

Domesday Book is compiled. It establishes land ownership across England and provides the King with evidence about which Barons need to provide Knights for military service.


King Henry I

Henry I issues a charter of liberties at his coronation. The charter contains a series of promises to his barons and other parties, mostly relating to feudal custom.




King John

John is crowned King of England following the death of his older brother Richard I in France on 6 April 1199.




Pope Innocent III places a papal interdict on England, which bans priests from administering most of the sacraments and forbids Christian burial.

King John finally accepts Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. Langton subsequently absolves John of his excommunication from the Church.

Pope Innocent III accepts overlordship of England. This displaces King John from the pinnacle of the feudal hierarchy but in return secures much needed papal support for the king.

Tower of London

The rebel barons capture the Tower of London, greatly strengthening their position in their struggle with King John.


Meeting at Runnymede

The barons assemble at Runnymede by the River Thames to negotiate with King John. The concessions made by John to his barons were outlined in a document known as the 'Articles of the Barons', to which the King's great seal was attached. Meanwhile the royal chancery produced a formal royal grant, based on the agreements reached at Runnymede, which became known as Magna Carta.


King John I

King John grants Magna Carta.




The barons make formal peace with King John by renewing their oaths of allegiance to him.

Magna Carta

The first seven copies of Magna Carta are delivered for distribution.



Pope Innocent III issues a papal bull declaring Magna Carta null and void

Pope Innocent III issues a papal bull declaring Magna Carta null and void.




Prince Louis of France invades England

Prince Louis of France invades England and attracts substantial baronial support.




King John loses his royal treasure in the quicksands of the Wash, East Anglia.

Death of King John

King John dies suddenly at Newark having failed to recover from an attack of dysentery. He is buried, according to his wishes, in Worcester Cathedral and his nine-year-old son becomes King Henry III.



First revision of Magna Carta

Less than a month after King John's death, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, issues a revised version of Magna Carta in his capacity as Regent.


Second revision of Magna Carta

The Regent, William Marshal, issues a second revision of Magna Carta. The clauses dealing with the royal forests are expanded and issued as a separate charter – the Charter of the Forest.

The Charter of the Forest re-established rights of access to the forest for free men that had been eroded by a succession of kings. Many of its provisions were in force for centuries afterwards.


Henry III issues revised Magna Carta

Henry III, who has come of age, issues a substantially revised version of Magna Carta under his own great seal.

The 1225 version of Magna Carta, freely issued by Henry III in return for a tax granted to him by the whole kingdom, became the definitive version of the text.


1297 version of Magna Carta

Edward I confirms Henry III's 1225 version of Magna Carta: this text is subsequently placed on the first statute roll. As a statute of the realm from 1297, Magna Carta officially became part of British law, to be referred to, interpreted and quoted in the courts and in parliaments of Britain and of countries that have adopted British law, including Australia.

The manuscript held by the Australian Parliament is one of four surviving originals of the 1297 Inspeximus issue of Magna Carta.

Edward Coke

Sir Edward Coke initiates the Petition of Right, a statement of civil liberties sent by Parliament to Charles I and conceded by the King in return for a grant of taxation.

Written in the late 1620s, Sir Edward Coke’s Institutes was a pioneering four-volume treatise on English common law. While the first volume was published in 1628, the final three volumes appeared only posthumously, because the manuscripts in question had been confiscated on the orders of Charles I. The confiscation of these documents was prompted by Coke’s Second Institute, which included an extensive clause-by-clause analysis of Magna Carta. As stated in the Proeme, this book eulogised the Great Charter, explaining that, ‘It is called Magna Charta, not that it is great in quantity … but in respect of the great importance and weightinesse of the matter.’ King Charles I’s efforts to suppress the work proved short-lived. Recognising its potential for propaganda, Parliament ordered in 1640 that Coke’s papers be recovered and published. Coke’s Second Institute was finally printed in 1642 on the eve of the English Civil Wars.

Parliament passes the Habeas Corpus Act, strengthening the ancient writ of habeas corpus which protects people from being detained without legal authority.

The Bill of Rights is passed by Parliament. It sets out the civil and political rights of the people at the time of the accession of William and Mary.

Bill of Human Rights

The United Nations adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


The Great Verandah at Australia's Parliament House illuminated for the Enlightened Festival

A series of events will take place throughout 2015 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the granting of Magna Carta.