The Magna Carta | Study Guide

King John

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The Magna Carta | Section 1 | Summary



This charter grants that the English Church shall have liberty, especially in the matter of electing Church officials. In addition, the freedoms described in this charter apply to all free men. The king and his heirs will respect this agreement forever.


The first section of Magna Carta specifies the categories of liberties and rights it ensures. First are the rights and liberties of the Church. The king pledges to stop interfering with the appointment of Church officials. This is a provision clearly inserted in the charter by the influence of Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, whose appointment John objected to. Second are the rights and liberties of free men. These rights and liberties comprise the bulk of the provisions of the Magna Carta.

Of note is John's use of Ecclesia Anglicana—"English Church," rather than "holy church." This is an innovation in language, not reflected in the documents of John's predecessors. This suggests the idea of an English Church, somehow separate from the larger Roman Church, was already growing. The idea may have been encouraged by Stephen Langton in efforts to consolidate greater power in the office of archbishop of Canterbury rather than in the pope.

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