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Magna Carta
Cover of Magna Carta
Magna Carta
The Birth of Liberty
by Dan Jones
Borrow Borrow
"Dan Jones has an enviable gift for telling a dramatic story while at the same time inviting us to consider serious topics like liberty and the seeds of representative government."
—Antonia Frasier

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Plantagenets, a lively, action-packed history of how the Magna Carta came to be.


The Magna Carta is revered around the world as the founding document of Western liberty. Its principles—even its language—can be found in our Bill of Rights and in the Constitution. But what was this strange document and how did it gain such legendary status?
Dan Jones takes us back to the turbulent year of 1215, when, beset by foreign crises and cornered by a growing domestic rebellion, King John reluctantly agree to fix his seal to a document that would change the course of history. At the time of its creation the Magna Carta was just a peace treaty drafted by a group of rebel barons who were tired of the king's high taxes, arbitrary justice, and endless foreign wars. The fragile peace it established would last only two months, but its principles have reverberated over the centuries.
Jones's riveting narrative follows the story of the Magna Carta's creation, its failure, and the war that subsequently engulfed England, and charts the high points in its unespected afterlife. Reissued by King John's successors it protected the Church, banned unlawful imprisonment, and set limits to the exercise of royal power. It established the principle that taxation must be tied to representation and paved the way for the creation of Parliament.
In 1776 American patriots, inspired by that long-ago defiance, dared to pick up arms against another English king and to demand even more far-reaching rights. We think of the Declaration of Independence as our founding document but those who drafted it had their eye on the Magna Carta.
From the Hardcover edition.
"Dan Jones has an enviable gift for telling a dramatic story while at the same time inviting us to consider serious topics like liberty and the seeds of representative government."
—Antonia Frasier

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Plantagenets, a lively, action-packed history of how the Magna Carta came to be.


The Magna Carta is revered around the world as the founding document of Western liberty. Its principles—even its language—can be found in our Bill of Rights and in the Constitution. But what was this strange document and how did it gain such legendary status?
Dan Jones takes us back to the turbulent year of 1215, when, beset by foreign crises and cornered by a growing domestic rebellion, King John reluctantly agree to fix his seal to a document that would change the course of history. At the time of its creation the Magna Carta was just a peace treaty drafted by a group of rebel barons who were tired of the king's high taxes, arbitrary justice, and endless foreign wars. The fragile peace it established would last only two months, but its principles have reverberated over the centuries.
Jones's riveting narrative follows the story of the Magna Carta's creation, its failure, and the war that subsequently engulfed England, and charts the high points in its unespected afterlife. Reissued by King John's successors it protected the Church, banned unlawful imprisonment, and set limits to the exercise of royal power. It established the principle that taxation must be tied to representation and paved the way for the creation of Parliament.
In 1776 American patriots, inspired by that long-ago defiance, dared to pick up arms against another English king and to demand even more far-reaching rights. We think of the Declaration of Independence as our founding document but those who drafted it had their eye on the Magna Carta.
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • ATOS:
  • Lexile:
    1370
  • Interest Level:
  • Text Difficulty:
    11 - 12

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Excerpts-
  • From the cover

    Introduction

    Eight hundred years after it was first granted beneath the trees of Runnymede, by the fertile green banks of the river Thames, the Magna Carta is more famous than ever. This is strange. In its surviving forms—there are four known original charters dating from June 1215—the Magna Carta is something of a muddle, a collection of promises extracted in bad faith from a reluctant king, most of which concern matters of arcane thirteenth-century legal principle. A few of these promises concern themselves with high ideals, but they are few and far between, vague and idealistic statements slipped between longer and more perplexing sentences describing the "customary fee" that a baron ought to pay a king on the occasion of coming into an inheritance, or the protocols for dealing with debt to the Crown, or the regulation of fish traps along the rivers Thames and Medway.

    For the most part the Magna Carta is dry, technical, difficult to decipher, and constitutionally obsolete. Those parts that are still frequently quoted—clauses about the right to justice before one's peers, the freedom from being unlawfully imprisoned, and the freedom of the Church—did not mean in 1215 what we often wish they would mean today. They are part of a document drawn up not to defend in perpetuity the interests of national citizens but rather to pin down a king who had been greatly vexing a small number of his wealthy and violent subjects. The Magna Carta ought to be dead, defunct, and of interest only to serious scholars of the thirteenth century.

    Yet it is very much alive, one of the most hallowed documents in the constitutions of numerous countries, and admired as a foundation stone in the Western traditions of liberty, democracy, and the rule of law. How did that happen?

    The Magna Carta was a peace treaty born of a serious collapse in relations between King John and his barons. The reasons for that collapse will be discussed in this book, but the basic thrust of events was simple. A large party of John's barons, with the assistance of church-men guided by the impressive archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, demanded that the king confirm in writing (and certify with his Great Seal) a long list of rights and royal obligations that they felt he and his predecessors had neglected, ignored, and abused for too long. These rights and obligations were conceived in part as a return to some semi imaginary "ancient" law code that had governed a better, older England, which lay in the historical memory somewhere between the days of the last Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, and the more recent times of John's great grandfather, Henry I.

    The Magna Carta touched on matters of religion, tax, justice, military service, feudal payments, weights and measures, trading privileges, and urban government. Occasionally it reached for grand principle: Famously, John was forced to promise that "no free man is to be arrested, or imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any other way ruined, nor will we go or send against him, except by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land" and no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice." But for the most part what was at issue in 1215 was a tight-knit, technical, and often quite dull shopping list of feudal demands that was mainly of interest to (and in the interests of) a tiny handful of England's richest and most powerful men. The Magna Carta's terms applied only to "free men," who were then at best 10 percent or 20 percent of England's adult population.

    The main novelty of the Magna Carta, often overlooked, was the fact that it proposed a...

About the Author-
  • Dan Jones is the author of The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queen Who Made England, a #1 international bestseller and New York Times bestseller, and Wars of the Roses, which charts the story of the fall of the Plantagenet dynasty and the improbable rise of the Tudors. He writes and presents the popular Netflix series Secrets of Great British Castles and appeared alongside George R.R. Martin in the official HBO film exploring the real history behind Game of Thrones. He was closely involved in the British Library's landmark unification of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta to mark the charter's eight hundredth anniversary. He is also the author of Summer of Blood: England's First Revolution and is currently working on a history of the Knights Templar due out in September 2017.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Dan Jones gives a succinct history of King John's reign, centering on the Magna Carta of 1215, and then a sketch of the document's subsequent history. Jones is in many ways a fine reader of his own work. His voice and strong British accent are likable, his manner amiable, his diction clear, and his pacing naturally good. However, he often tries too hard to imbue his words with significance and feeling and to vary his expression widely, perhaps to avoid monotony, leading to an exaggerated tone. The history is intrinsically interesting, the writing efficient, and Jones, when not straining, is a capable narrator. Happily, the flaw doesn't overwhelm this worthwhile program. W.M. © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine
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