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Magna Carta


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Magna Carta, forced on King John in 1215 by rebellion, is one of the most famous documents in world history. It asserts a fundamental principle- that the ruler is subject to the law.

About the Author

David Carpenter is Professor of Medieval History at King's College, London and a foremost authority on the Magna Carta period. He is the author of The Struggle for Mastery in Britain, 1066-1284, a volume in the Penguin History of Britain series.


Lively and detailed, Carpenter's elucidations confirm the commonly held view of King John ("mockery...cruelty...arrogance...fearful suspicions"), while probing the background to Runnymede. From June 1215, Magna Carta "asserted the rule of law" and laid the basis for the tax-based parliamentary state. Yet it also buttressed existing hierarchy - not good news for women or unfree peasants -- Christopher Hirst The Independent An invaluable new commentary -- Jill Lepore New Yorker Of all the books that commemorated the octingentenary of the signing of Magna Carta, the one that stands out for me is David Carpenter's new Penguin Classics edition. Not only does Carpenter vividly re-create the vicious civil war that precipitated the intense drama at Runnymede, he reminds us of the equally vicious civil war that followed, leading to the extraordinary invitation from the rebel barons to Prince Louis of France to replace John on the throne. No less important, Carpenter settles the Great Charter into the social and economic life of a growing nation in which the feudal structures were beginning to erode and a country of free citizens was soon to emerge. David Carpenter deserves to replace Sir James Holt as the standard authority, and an unfailingly readable one too. -- Ferdinand Mount TLS

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