Magna Carta

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A copy of the 1297 version of the Magna Carta, now on display in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., USA.

From Late Middle English Magna Carta, borrowed from Late Latin Magna Carta, from Latin magna (great) + carta (charter).[1]


Proper noun[edit]

Magna Carta (countable and uncountable, plural Magna Cartas or Magnae Cartae)

  1. (law, historical) A charter granted by King John to the barons at Runnymede in 1215, which is one of the bases of English constitutional tradition; a physical copy of this charter, or a later version.
    • [1680, Edward Cooke, transl., Magna Charta, Made in the Ninth Year of K. Henry the Third, and Confirmed by K. Edward the First, in the Twenty-Eighth Year of His Reign. With Some Short, but Necessary Observations From The L. Chief Just. Coke’s Comments upon It. [], London: Printed by the Assignees of Richard and Edward Atkins, Esquires, for Thomas Simmons, [], OCLC 31360645, preface, pages ii–iii:
      My Lord Coke ſayes, It had not its name of GREAT CHARTER, from the Greatneſs of it in Quantity; for there were ſeveral Voluminous Charters, longer than this: But it was ſo called, in reſpect of the Great Importance, and Weightyneſs of the Matter; as Charta de Foresta, is called, Magna Charta de Foresta, for the ſame Cauſe; and both of them are called, Magnæ Chartæ Libertatum Angliæ; i.e. The Great Charters of the Liberties of England; and upon great Reaſon too, Quia liberos faciunt, becauſe they make us Free.]
    • 1762, Danby Pickering, The Statutes at Large, from Magna Charta to the End of the Eleventh Parliament of Great Britain, Anno 1761. [], volume I (from Magna Charta to the 14th Year of K. Edward III. inclusive), Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Printed by Joseph Bentham, printer to the University; for Charles Bathurst, [], OCLC 247180908, page 1:
      MAGNA CHARTA. The GREAT CHARTER, Made in the Ninth Year of King Henry the Third, and Confirmed by King Edward the Firſt in the Five and twentieth Year of his Reign.
    • 1911, Royal Commission on Coast Erosion and Afforestation, Third (and Final) Report of the Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into and to Report on Certain Questions Affecting Coast Erosion, the Reclamation of Tidal Lands, and Afforestation in the United Kingdom (Cd. 5708), volume III, part I (Coastal Erosion), London: House of Commons?, OCLC 781394252, page 291:
      [...] there was also a Charter confirming the previous Magnae Cartae in general terms, 21 Henry III. (1236–7). [...]
    • 1974, Thomas S[tephen] Szasz, chapter 11, in The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Row, →ISBN, page 192:
      [] Significantly, only in England—where, beginning in the thirteenth century with the granting of the Magna Charta, there gradually developed an appreciation of the rights and dignities of those less powerful than the king—was the fury of witch hunting mitigated by legal safe-guards and social sensibilities.
    • 2010 August 17, “NIST to frame the Magna Carta”, in National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)[2], archived from the original on 16 September 2013:
      The Magna Carta harkens back to 1215 when King John of England was forced by an assembly of barons to write down the traditional rights of the country's free persons. By so doing, he bound himself and his heirs to grant "to all freemen of our kingdom" the rights and liberties described in the great charter, or Magna Carta. Each subsequent ruler did the same. The 1297 Magna Carta represents the transition from a brokered agreement to the foundation of English law, upon which U.S. law is based.
    • 2012, Nicholas Vincent, Magna Carta: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 107:
      During cataloguing for the 2007 sale, at least two Magna Cartas, previously listed as copies, were reidentified as 'originals', and no fewer than four new originals of the Forest Charter came to light.
    • 2013, Christopher Daniell, “Introduction”, in From Norman Conquest to Magna Carta: England 1066–1215, London: Routledge, →ISBN, page xi:
      [...] King John bowed to pressure from the rebellious barons and assented to the demands of the barons at Runnymede. For the first time in English history a king had agreed to limit his own power. As importantly, his assent was agreed in writing in the Magna Carta (which means 'Great Charter'). The physical document meant that the details could be widely distributed and remembered. The importance of the event was apparent immediately, but the long-term consequences across the centuries were unforeseen. Four hundred years later the Magna Carta was used as a crucial political weapon in the fight between Parliament and Charles I during the English Civil War.
    • 2014, Anthony Arlidge; Igor Judge, “Introduction”, in Magna Carta Uncovered, Oxford; Portland, Or.: Hart Publishing, →ISBN, page 1:
      Between 1215 and 1225 four Magna Cartas were issued. The 1215 Charter was annulled within 10 weeks. The reissues in 1216, 1217 and the final text in 1225 were all different from each other and omitted parts of or amended the original.

Usage notes[edit]

When referring to the original Magna Carta, many (though not all) usage guides advise omitting the word the before Magna Carta for two reasons: first, as the term is a proper noun; and secondly, because in Latin the term did not take an article, and early anglicizations of the term followed this pattern.[2]

Alternative forms[edit]



Magna Carta (plural Magna Cartas)

  1. (figuratively) A landmark document that sets out rights or important principles.
    • 1959 July 21, John Mammen, “Yang di-Pertuan Negara’s Speech (Debate on the Address) (Fourth Day)”, in Legislative Assembly Debates, Official Report (Legislative Assembly of Singapore), volume 11, OCLC 504451778, column 329:
      [R]egarding this new Ordinance relating to the trade union movement, we on the workers' side will consider it as the Magna Carta of the trade union movement and for the workers in Singapore.
    • 1966, William A. Hyman, Magna Carta of Space, Amherst, Wis.: Amherst Press, OCLC 876381733, page 28:
      The fundamental philosophy of The Magna Carta Of Space is predicated on the principle that a reasonable man has the obligation to guard against foreseeable conflicts which a reasonable man should anticipate.
    • 2013, Valerie M. Hudson; Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill; Mary Caprioli; Chad F. Emmett, Sex and World Peace, New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, →ISBN, page 146:
      One of the most ambitious and far-reaching recent legislative initiatives is the Philippines' Magna Carta of Women, signed into law in 2009. This Magna Carta is the instrument by which the Filipino government will bring its affairs fully into compliance with CEDAW.



  1. ^ Magna Carta, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2000; “Magna Carta, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  2. ^ Bryan A. Garner (1 January 2015), “Bryan Garner offers a Magna Carta style guide”, in ABA Journal[1], American Bar Association, archived from the original on 7 September 2015.

Further reading[edit]


Proper noun[edit]

Magna Carta f

  1. Magna Carta.