What’s the big deal about the signing of Magna Carta on June 15th, 1215?
Well, from the earliest of recorded times, and for thousands of years, mankind was largely ruled by kings, military leaders, and oligarchies — all of them with essentially unlimited power. Early societies had laws and legal processes, of course, but at the end of the day those at the apex of power could generally do what they liked, including exempt themselves from their own rules. All that changed on June 15th, 1215, in England. For the first time, a king was forced to sign a legal document that ceded specific rights to his subjects, establishing unprecedented legal principles such as equality before the law, no taxation without representation, and the whole idea that the king was not a law unto himself.
The full story of Magna Carta is brilliantly told in the documentary David Starkey’s Magna Carta, which can be viewed in full here. For some shorter explanations of its significance, here are several short films on the subject. The 2010 film Robin Hood also celebrates the document.