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The Magna Carta | Summary



The Magna Carta of 1215 is made up of 63 sections, with no real organizational principle. Some of the sections seem loosely grouped together by association, while others cycle back to topics previously discussed. The document is a response to specific complaints of the barons. It reads as a list of promises King John agrees to abide by to satisfy his barons.


The Magna Carta begins with a preamble in which King John introduces himself. He states the purpose of the charter and names the main advisors who helped negotiate it.

Section 1

This section begins the list of promises. It declares the freedom of the English Church and states that the freedoms and liberties in the document apply to all free men.

Sections 2–8

These sections tackle specific situations involving the inheritance, widows, and heirs of a deceased person. They ensure the fair and humane treatment of heirs and widows.

Sections 9–11

These sections set out guidelines for dealing fairly with people who owe debts, both before they have died and afterward, when their debts pass on to their heirs.

Sections 12–16

They set out limitations on the amounts of various kinds of payments the king can demand of his barons and barons of their own tenants.

Sections 17–22

These provide provisions for an accessible and orderly justice system.

Sections 23–32 and Sections 34–37

These sections set forth a number of very specific limitations placed on the king and on local officials. These are meant to curtail abusive practices that were problematic at the time.

Sections 38–40

These provide additional regulations about the administration of justice. They focus on the rights of those accused of crimes.

Section 33 and Sections 41–42

They ensure ease and freedom of movement throughout England as well as across its borders. This allows for easier trade and travel outside the kingdom.

Section 43

This section returns to the topic of heirs. It specifies fair treatment of an heir who inherits land that has reverted to the possession of the king.

Section 44 and Sections 47–48

These specifically apply to the enforcement of laws in the royal forests. These were large areas of land that were subject to a different, more restrictive set of laws in order to maintain them as prime hunting grounds for the king.

Section 45

This section states the king will only appoint judges and court officers who know the law and can be trusted to keep it.

Section 46

This section has some specific instructions for the guardianship of abbeys founded by barons. This ensures the baron who founded an abbey keeps guardianship of it even when it does not have an abbot.

Sections 49–53

These sections include ways the king will reverse the harm he caused while in conflict with the barons, including returning hostages and lands.

Sections 54–55

These set additional limits and regulations on the justice system.

Sections 56–59

These sections list more ways the king will repair harm he has caused.

Section 60

This section specifies the rights and liberties in the charter are for all the king's subjects.

Section 61

This section gives procedures for the enforcement of the charter, including ways the barons can force the king to abide by its limitations.

Section 62

This section pardons all the clergy and laymen who have been at odds with the king.

Section 63

This section reiterates the freedom of the English Church. It states that the rights and liberties in this document will be honored by the king and his heirs forever.

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