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The Myth of Magna Carta — Or, How a Failed Peace Treaty with French Aristocrats Was Reinvented as the Foundation of English (and American) Liberty

The Singapore Law Gazette, January 2016, 38-42

NUS Law Working Paper No. 2015/012

12 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2015 Last revised: 7 Feb 2017

Simon Chesterman

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law

Date Written: November 16, 2015

Abstract

Magna Carta bears an iconic status in legal history. Signed eight centuries ago by King John at Runnymede, near Windsor, it laid the foundations for constraints on arbitrary power — the basis for the rule of law, democracy, and human rights.

The only problem with the historical account is that almost none of it is true. The agreement at Runnymede was not a constitutional document intended to limit power but a peace treaty to preserve the King’s rule. Despite many paintings and a commemorative £2 coin showing him holding Magna Carta and a quill, King John never signed it.

Oh, and it was not called Magna Carta.

Keywords: Magna Carta, rule of law, democracy, human rights

Suggested Citation

Chesterman, Simon, The Myth of Magna Carta — Or, How a Failed Peace Treaty with French Aristocrats Was Reinvented as the Foundation of English (and American) Liberty (November 16, 2015). The Singapore Law Gazette, January 2016, 38-42; NUS Law Working Paper No. 2015/012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2691385 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2691385

Simon Chesterman (Contact Author)

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law ( email )

469G Bukit Timah Road
Eu Tong Sen Building
Singapore, 259776
Singapore

HOME PAGE: www.SimonChesterman.com

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