The Beginning of Democracy?

the begining of democracy

King John

The Magna Carta was sealed 800 years ago, on June 15, 1215 and was seen by some in later years as the beginning of democracy.Whilst this agreement at the time was significant to England, it now has international relevance through the impact that it made.

What was it

The Baron’s of England were revolting against King John of England because of the imbalanced way by which the law seemed to be served on commoners. The document effectively served as a treaty that guaranteed the King would honour feudal privileges and rights, maintain the independence of the church and keep the nations laws. Whilst the agreement was seen as more of a peace treaty in its time, to stop a war between the King and his Barons, future generations saw it as the beginnings of democracy.

Why it matetialised

King Richard the Lionheart died in 1199 and John was crowned after this. Richard handled to monarchy but his brother John struggled with the role and the reign was known for its failure. King John had problems overseas and lost the duchy of Normandy in Northern France to the French king. He then went on to tax the nobility to England to pay for his overseas fails. If this wasn’t enough to dent his popularity he also fell out with Pope Innocent III and sold church buildings to replenish his finances. With so many upset by the Kings behaviour, the Archbishop of Canterbury called the nations barons together in 1214 to petition for a charter to protect their rights.


John could not compete with the potential force about to be unleashed from the barons so agreed to the creation of a charter in 2015. On June 15, 1215, the King and the barons met at a place called Runnymede, next to the River Thames in England. The document had some minor revisions made and was then issued as the Magna Carta.

Immediate failure

Unfortunately given the failure that was King John, he reneged on the charter within the first year before his death in 1216. However, his son King Henry III reinstated it after John’s death and made some further amendments in 1225 to re-issue it through his own free will.


Some feel that this document is credited too much in history for creating democracy. Whilst it didn’t create a parliament, it did set out that all should uphold the rule of law and this should only be tried by a jury. This in itself helped to cultivate future democratic process. If you fancy taking a look at the Charter, it can be viewed at both of Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals and there remain two copies at the British Museum. Also, there is an exhibition running at the British Library running until Sept 1, 2015.