The Magna Carta (meaning the Great Charter) is one of the most famous political documents in the West, to this day. It was written under the threat of civil war and granted by King John on June 15, 1215.
By declaring for the first time that the sovereign, too, came under the rules of the law, it provided the major foundations for individual rights in Anglo-American societies.
The charter itself was drafted up by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, the clauses of the charter were actually formulated by three parties: the Archbishop himself, the rebel barons and the King. So in a way, it can be said that all the three parties were the original authors of the charter.
King John of England was one of the original authors of the Magna Carta. He lost the English lands in Normandy to French forces. In a bid to regain his lost possessions in western France, he imposed new taxes on his barons. After a long and protracted war, he was defeated.
The barons resented him for imposing arbitrary taxes and gaining no substantial victory in return. They rebelled against him and besieged the Tower of London, effectively forcing King John to come to terms with them. It was this event that forced the King to sign the Magna Carta.
The rebel barons were the barons who were opposed to King John’s rule. They were fed up of his arbitrary taxation policies and resented the fact that the King could wield his powers without any oversight. They believed that the King’s powers must not be absolute and should instead be limited through proper laws.
In the 12th century, King Henry I had declared the ‘Charter of Liberties’ which guaranteed the rights of the barons. The rebel barons wanted King John to confirm and implement the charter. Their efforts ultimately resulted in the creation of the Magna Carta which guaranteed a number of liberties and rights for them.
Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was the one who drafted up the Magna Carta. More than just a mediating party, Langton had played an important role during the reign of King John.
He had previously opposed King John and was later reconciled with him. However, he continued to support the rebel barons and asked the King to concede the liberties confirmed to the barons in the Charter of Liberties.
It was through his mediation that the King and the barons came to agree upon the clauses of the Magna Carta. After the charter was confirmed, the King refused to abide by it which led to the First Barons’ War.
The Pope sided with the King, forcing Langton to leave England until the war was resolved. Langton later returned to the champion the cause of the barons under Henry III.