|Location||2 at "British Library; 1 at "Lincoln Cathedral and "Salisbury Cathedral|
|Author(s)||"John, King of England
"Stephen Langton, "Archbishop of Canterbury
|Part of a series of articles on|
Magna Carta Libertatum ("Medieval Latin for "the Great Charter of the Liberties"), commonly called Magna Carta (also Magna Charta; "Great Charter"),[a] is a "charter agreed to by "King John of England at "Runnymede, near "Windsor, on 15 June 1215.[b] First drafted by the "Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel "barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on "feudal payments to "the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons. Neither side stood behind their commitments, and the charter was annulled by "Pope Innocent III, leading to the "First Barons' War. After John's death, the regency government of his young son, "Henry III, reissued the document in 1216, stripped of some of its more radical content, in an unsuccessful bid to build political support for their cause. At the end of the war in 1217, it formed part of the peace "treaty agreed at Lambeth, where the document acquired the name Magna Carta, to distinguish it from the smaller "Charter of the Forest which was issued at the same time. Short of funds, Henry reissued the charter again in 1225 in exchange for a grant of new taxes; his son, "Edward I, repeated the exercise in 1297, this time confirming it as part of England's "statute law.
The charter became part of English political life and was typically renewed by each monarch in turn, although as time went by and the fledgling "English Parliament passed new laws, it lost some of its practical significance. At the end of the 16th century there was an upsurge in interest in Magna Carta. Lawyers and historians at the time believed that there was an ancient English constitution, going back to the days of the "Anglo-Saxons, that protected individual English freedoms. They argued that the "Norman invasion of 1066 had overthrown these rights, and that Magna Carta had been a popular attempt to restore them, making the charter an essential foundation for the contemporary powers of Parliament and legal principles such as "habeas corpus. Although this historical account was badly flawed, jurists such as Sir "Edward Coke used Magna Carta extensively in the early 17th century, arguing against the "divine right of kings propounded by the "Stuart monarchs. Both "James I and his son "Charles I attempted to suppress the discussion of Magna Carta, until the issue was curtailed by the "English Civil War of the 1640s and the execution of Charles.
The political myth of Magna Carta and its protection of ancient personal liberties persisted after the "Glorious Revolution of 1688 until well into the 19th century. It influenced the early American colonists in the "Thirteen Colonies and the formation of the "American Constitution in 1787, which became the supreme law of the land in the new republic of the United States.[c] Research by "Victorian historians showed that the original 1215 charter had concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people, but the charter remained a powerful, iconic document, even after almost all of its content was repealed from the statute books in the 19th and 20th centuries. Magna Carta still forms an important symbol of liberty today, often cited by politicians and campaigners, and is held in great respect by the British and American legal communities, "Lord Denning describing it as "the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot".
In the 21st century, four "exemplifications of the original 1215 charter remain in existence, two at the "British Library, one at "Lincoln Cathedral and one at "Salisbury Cathedral. There are also a handful of the subsequent charters in public and private ownership, including copies of the 1297 charter in both the United States and Australia. The original charters were written on "parchment sheets using "quill pens, in "heavily abbreviated "medieval Latin, which was the convention for legal documents at that time. Each was sealed with the royal "great seal (made of "beeswax and "resin "sealing wax): very few of the seals have survived. Although scholars refer to the 63 numbered "clauses" of Magna Carta, this is a modern system of numbering, introduced by Sir "William Blackstone in 1759; the original charter formed a single, long unbroken text. The four original 1215 charters were displayed together at the British Library for one day, 3 February 2015, to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
Magna Carta originated as an unsuccessful attempt to achieve peace between royalist and rebel factions in 1215, as part of the events leading to the outbreak of the "First Barons' War. England was ruled by King "John, the third of the "Angevin kings. Although the kingdom had a robust administrative system, the nature of government under the Angevin monarchs was ill-defined and uncertain. John and his predecessors had ruled using the principle of vis et voluntas, or "force and will", taking executive and sometimes arbitrary decisions, often justified on the basis that a king was above the law. Many contemporary writers believed that monarchs should rule in accordance with the custom and the law, with the counsel of the leading members of the realm, but there was no model for what should happen if a king refused to do so.
John had lost most of his ancestral lands in France to King "Philip II in 1204 and had struggled to regain them for many years, raising extensive taxes on the barons to accumulate money to fight a war which ended in expensive failure in 1214. Following the defeat of his allies at the "Battle of Bouvines, John had to sue for peace and pay compensation. John was already personally unpopular with many of the barons, many of whom owed money to the Crown, and little trust existed between the two sides. A triumph would have strengthened his position, but in the face of his defeat, within a few months after his return from France John found that rebel barons in the north and east of England were organising resistance to his rule.
The rebels took an oath that they would "stand fast for the liberty of the church and the realm", and demanded that the King confirm the "Charter of Liberties that had been declared by King "Henry I in the previous century, and which was perceived by the barons to protect their rights. The rebel leadership was unimpressive by the standards of the time, even disreputable, but were united by their hatred of John; "Robert FitzWalter, later elected leader of the rebel barons, claimed publicly that John had attempted to rape his daughter, and was implicated in a plot to assassinate John in 1212.
John held a council in London in January 1215 to discuss potential reforms, and sponsored discussions in "Oxford between his agents and the rebels during the spring. Both sides appealed to "Pope Innocent III for assistance in the dispute. During the negotiations, the rebellious barons produced an initial document, which historians have termed "the Unknown Charter of Liberties", which drew on Henry I's Charter of Liberties for much of its language; seven articles from that document later appeared in the "Articles of the Barons" and the subsequent charter.
It was John's hope that the Pope would give him valuable legal and moral support, and accordingly John played for time; the King had declared himself to be a papal vassal in 1213 and correctly believed he could count on the Pope for help. John also began recruiting mercenary forces from France, although some were later sent back to avoid giving the impression that the King was escalating the conflict. In a further move to shore up his support, John took an oath to become a "crusader, a move which gave him additional political protection under church law, even though many felt the promise was insincere.
Letters backing John arrived from the Pope in April, but by then the rebel barons had organised into a military faction. They congregated at "Northampton in May and renounced their feudal ties to John, marching on "London, "Lincoln, and "Exeter. John's efforts to appear moderate and conciliatory had been largely successful, but once the rebels held London, they attracted a fresh wave of defectors from the royalists. The King offered to submit the problem to a committee of arbitration with the Pope as the supreme arbiter, but this was not attractive to the rebels. "Stephen Langton, the "Archbishop of Canterbury, had been working with the rebel barons on their demands, and after the suggestion of papal arbitration failed, John instructed Langton to organise peace talks.
John met the rebel leaders at "Runnymede, a "water-meadow on the south bank of the "River Thames, on 10 June 1215. Runnymede was a traditional place for assemblies, but it was also located on neutral ground between the royal fortress of "Windsor Castle and the rebel base at "Staines, and offered both sides the security of a rendezvous where they were unlikely to find themselves at a military disadvantage. Here the rebels presented John with their draft demands for reform, the 'Articles of the Barons'. Stephen Langton's pragmatic efforts at mediation over the next ten days turned these incomplete demands into a charter capturing the proposed peace agreement; a few years later, this agreement was renamed Magna Carta, meaning "Great Charter". By 15 June, general agreement had been made on a text, and on 19 June, the rebels renewed their oaths of loyalty to John and copies of the charter were formally issued.
Although, as the historian "David Carpenter has noted, the charter "wasted no time on political theory", it went beyond simply addressing individual baronial complaints, and formed a wider proposal for political reform. It promised the protection of church rights, protection from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and, most importantly, limitations on taxation and other feudal payments to the Crown, with certain forms of feudal taxation requiring baronial consent. It focused on the rights of free men—in particular the barons. However, the rights of serfs were included in articles 16, 20, and 28.[d] Its style and content reflected Henry I's Charter of Liberties, as well as a wider body of legal traditions, including the royal charters issued to towns, the operations of the Church and baronial courts and European charters such as the Statute of Pamiers.
Under what historians later labelled "clause 61", or the "security clause", a council of 25 barons would be created to monitor and ensure John's future adherence to the charter. If John did not conform to the charter within 40 days of being notified of a transgression by the council, the 25 barons were empowered by clause 61 to seize John's castles and lands until, in their judgement, amends had been made. Men were to be compelled to swear an oath to assist the council in controlling the King, but once redress had been made for any breaches, the King would continue to rule as before. In one sense this was not unprecedented; other kings had previously conceded the right of individual resistance to their subjects if the King did not uphold his obligations. Magna Carta was however novel in that it set up a formally recognised means of collectively coercing the King. The historian "Wilfred Warren argues that it was almost inevitable that the clause would result in civil war, as it "was crude in its methods and disturbing in its implications". The barons were trying to force John to keep to the charter, but clause 61 was so heavily weighted against the King that this version of the charter could not survive.
John and the rebel barons did not trust each other, and neither side seriously attempted to implement the peace accord. The 25 barons selected for the new council were all rebels, chosen by the more extremist barons, and many among the rebels found excuses to keep their forces mobilised. Disputes began to emerge between those rebels who had expected the charter to return lands that had been confiscated and the royalist faction.
Clause 61 of Magna Carta contained a commitment from John that he would "seek to obtain nothing from anyone, in our own person or through someone else, whereby any of these grants or liberties may be revoked or diminished". Despite this, the King appealed to Pope Innocent for help in July, arguing that the charter compromised the Pope's rights as John's feudal lord. As part of the June peace deal, the barons were supposed to surrender London by 15 August, but this they refused to do. Meanwhile, instructions from the Pope arrived in August, written before the peace accord, with the result that papal commissioners excommunicated the rebel barons and suspended Langton from office in early September. Once aware of the charter, the Pope responded in detail: in a letter dated 24 August and arriving in late September, he declared the charter to be "not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust" since John had been "forced to accept" it, and accordingly the charter was "null, and void of all validity for ever"; under threat of excommunication, the King was not to observe the charter, nor the barons try to enforce it.
By then, violence had broken out between the two sides; less than three months after it had been agreed, John and the loyalist barons firmly repudiated the failed charter: the First Barons' War erupted. The rebel barons concluded that peace with John was impossible, and turned to Philip II's son, the future "Louis VIII, for help, offering him the English throne.[e] The war soon settled into a stalemate. The King became ill and died on the night of 18 October, leaving the nine-year-old "Henry III as his heir.
Although the Charter of 1215 was a failure as a peace treaty, it was resurrected under the new government of the young Henry III as a way of drawing support away from the rebel faction. On his deathbed, King John appointed a council of thirteen executors to help Henry reclaim the kingdom, and requested that his son be placed into the guardianship of "William Marshal, one of the most famous knights in England. William knighted the boy, and Cardinal "Guala Bicchieri, the "papal legate to England, then oversaw his coronation at "Gloucester Cathedral on 28 October.
The young King inherited a difficult situation, with over half of England occupied by the rebels. He had substantial support though from Guala, who intended to win the civil war for Henry and punish the rebels. Guala set about strengthening the ties between England and the Papacy, starting with the coronation itself, during which Henry gave "homage to the Papacy, recognising the Pope as his feudal lord. "Pope Honorius III declared that Henry was the Pope's "vassal and "ward, and that the legate had complete authority to protect Henry and his kingdom. As an additional measure, Henry took the cross, declaring himself a crusader and thereby entitled to special protection from Rome.
The war was not going well for the loyalists, but Prince Louis and the rebel barons were also finding it difficult to make further progress. John's death had defused some of the rebel concerns, and the royal castles were still holding out in the occupied parts of the country. Henry's government encouraged the rebel barons to come back to his cause in exchange for the return of their lands, and reissued a version of the 1215 Charter, albeit having first removed some of the clauses, including those unfavourable to the Papacy and clause 61, which had set up the council of barons. The move was not successful, and opposition to Henry's new government hardened.
In February 1217, Louis set sail for France to gather reinforcements. In his absence, arguments broke out between Louis' French and English followers, and Cardinal Guala declared that Henry's war against the rebels was the equivalent of a religious crusade. This declaration resulted in a series of defections from the rebel movement, and the tide of the conflict swung in Henry's favour. Louis returned at the end of April, but his northern forces were defeated by William Marshal at the "Battle of Lincoln in May.
Meanwhile, support for Louis' campaign was diminishing in France, and he concluded that the war in England was lost. He negotiated terms with Cardinal Guala, under which Louis would renounce his claim to the English throne; in return, his followers would be given back their lands, any sentences of "excommunication would be lifted, and Henry's government would promise to enforce the charter of the previous year. The proposed agreement soon began to unravel amid claims from some loyalists that it was too generous towards the rebels, particularly the clergy who had joined the rebellion.
In the absence of a settlement, Louis remained in London with his remaining forces, hoping for the arrival of reinforcements from France. When the expected fleet did arrive in August, it was intercepted and defeated by loyalists at the "Battle of Sandwich. Louis entered into fresh peace negotiations, and the factions came to agreement on the final "Treaty of Lambeth, also known as the Treaty of Kingston, on 12 and 13 September 1217. The treaty was similar to the first peace offer, but excluded the rebel clergy, whose lands and appointments remained forfeit; it included a promise, however, that Louis' followers would be allowed to enjoy their traditional liberties and customs, referring back to the Charter of 1216. Louis left England as agreed and joined the "Albigensian Crusade in the south of France, bringing the war to an end.
A "great council was called in October and November to take stock of the post-war situation; this council is thought to have formulated and issued the Charter of 1217. The charter resembled that of 1216, although some additional clauses were added to protect the rights of the barons over their feudal subjects, and the restrictions on the Crown's ability to levy taxation were watered down. There remained a range of disagreements about the management of the royal forests, which involved a special legal system that had resulted in a source of considerable royal revenue; complaints existed over both the implementation of these courts, and the geographic boundaries of the royal forests. A complementary charter, the "Charter of the Forest, was created, pardoning existing forest offences, imposing new controls over the forest courts, and establishing a review of the forest boundaries. To distinguish the two charters, the term magna carta libertatum, "the great charter of liberties", was used by the scribes to refer to the larger document, which in time became known simply as Magna Carta.
Magna Carta became increasingly embedded into English political life during Henry III's "minority. As the King grew older, his government slowly began to recover from the civil war, regaining control of the counties and beginning to raise revenue once again, taking care not to overstep the terms of the charters. Henry remained a minor and his government's legal ability to make permanently binding decisions on his behalf was limited. In 1223, the tensions over the status of the charters became clear in the "royal court, when Henry's government attempted to reassert its rights over its properties and revenues in the counties, facing resistance from many communities that argued—if sometimes incorrectly—that the charters protected the new arrangements. This resistance resulted in an argument between Archbishop Langton and "William Brewer over whether the King had any duty to fulfil the terms of the charters, given that he had been forced to agree to them. On this occasion, Henry gave oral assurances that he considered himself bound by the charters, enabling a royal inquiry into the situation in the counties to progress.
Two years later, the question of Henry's commitment to the charters re-emerged, when Louis VIII of France invaded Henry's remaining provinces in France, "Poitou and "Gascony. Henry's army in Poitou was under-resourced, and the province quickly fell. It became clear that Gascony would also fall unless reinforcements were sent from England. In early 1225, a great council approved a tax of £40,000 to dispatch an army, which quickly retook Gascony. In exchange for agreeing to support Henry, the barons demanded that the King reissue Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest. The content was almost identical to the 1217 versions, but in the new versions, the King declared that the charters were issued of his own "spontaneous and free will" and confirmed them with the royal seal, giving the new Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest of 1225 much more authority than the previous versions.
The barons anticipated that the King would act in accordance with these charters, subject to the law and moderated by the advice of the nobility. Uncertainty continued, and in 1227, when he was declared of age and able to rule independently, Henry announced that future charters had to be issued under his own seal. This brought into question the validity of the previous charters issued during his minority, and Henry actively threatened to overturn the Charter of the Forest unless the taxes promised in return for it were actually paid. In 1253, Henry confirmed the charters once again in exchange for taxation.
Henry placed a symbolic emphasis on rebuilding royal authority, but his rule was relatively circumscribed by Magna Carta. He generally acted within the terms of the charters, which prevented the Crown from taking extrajudicial action against the barons, including the fines and expropriations that had been common under his father, John. The charters did not address the sensitive issues of the appointment of royal advisers and the distribution of patronage, and they lacked any means of enforcement if the King chose to ignore them. The inconsistency with which he applied the charters over the course of his rule alienated many barons, even those within his own faction.
Despite the various charters, the provision of royal justice was inconsistent and driven by the needs of immediate politics: sometimes action would be taken to address a legitimate baronial complaint, while on other occasions the problem would simply be ignored. The royal courts, which toured the country to provide justice at the local level, typically for lesser barons and the gentry claiming grievances against major lords, had little power, allowing the major barons to dominate the local justice system. Henry's rule became lax and careless, resulting in a reduction in royal authority in the provinces and, ultimately, the collapse of his authority at court.
In 1258, a group of barons seized power from Henry in a "coup d'état, citing the need to strictly enforce Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest, creating a new baronial-led government to advance reform through the "Provisions of Oxford. The barons were not militarily powerful enough to win a decisive victory, and instead appealed to "Louis IX of France in 1263–1264 to arbitrate on their proposed reforms. The reformist barons argued their case based on Magna Carta, suggesting that it was inviolable under English law and that the King had broken its terms.
Louis came down firmly in favour of Henry, but the French arbitration failed to achieve peace as the rebellious barons refused to accept the verdict. England slipped back into the "Second Barons' War, which was won by Henry's son, "Prince Edward. Edward also invoked Magna Carta in advancing his cause, arguing that the reformers had taken matters too far and were themselves acting against Magna Carta. In a conciliatory gesture after the barons had been defeated, in 1267 Henry issued the "Statute of Marlborough, which included a fresh commitment to observe the terms of Magna Carta.
The Confirmatio Cartarum (Confirmation of Charters) was issued in "Norman French by Edward I in 1297. Edward, needing money, had taxed the nobility, and they had armed themselves against him, forcing Edward to issue his confirmation of Magna Carta and the Forest Charter to avoid civil war. The nobles had sought to add another document, the De Tallagio, to Magna Carta. Edward I's government was not prepared to concede this, they agreed to the issuing of the Confirmatio, confirming the previous charters and confirming the principle that taxation should be by consent, although the precise manner of that consent was not laid down.
A passage mandates that copies shall be distributed in "cathedral churches throughout our realm, there to remain, and shall be read before the people two times by the year", hence the permanent installation of a copy in "Salisbury Cathedral. In the Confirmation's second article, it is confirmed that
if any judgement be given from henceforth contrary to the points of the charters aforesaid by the justices, or by any other our ministers that hold plea before them against the points of the charters, it shall be undone, and holden for nought.
With the reconfirmation of the Charters in 1300, an additional document was granted, the Articuli super Cartas (The Articles upon the Charters). It was composed of 17 articles and sought in part to deal with the problem of enforcing the Charters. Magna Carta and the Forest Charter were to be issued to the "sheriff of each county, and should be read four times a year at the meetings of the county courts. Each county should have a committee of three men who could hear complaints about violations of the Charters.
"Pope Clement V continued the papal policy of supporting monarchs (who ruled by divine grace) against any claims in Magna Carta which challenged the King's rights, and annulled the Confirmatio Cartarum in 1305. Edward I interpreted Clement V's "papal bull annulling the Confirmatio Cartarum as effectively applying to the Articuli super Cartas, although the latter was not specifically mentioned. In 1306 Edward I took the opportunity given by the Pope's backing to reassert forest law over large areas which had been "disafforested". Both Edward and the Pope were accused by some contemporary chroniclers of "perjury", and it was suggested by Robert McNair Scott that "Robert the Bruce refused to make peace with Edward I's son, "Edward II, in 1312 with the justification: "How shall the king of England keep faith with me, since he does not observe the sworn promises made to his liege men..."
The Great Charter was referred to in legal cases throughout the medieval period. For example, in 1226, the knights of "Lincolnshire argued that their local sheriff was changing customary practice regarding the local courts, "contrary to their liberty which they ought to have by the charter of the lord king". In practice, cases were not brought against the King for breach of Magna Carta and the Forest Charter, but it was possible to bring a case against the King's officers, such as his sheriffs, using the argument that the King's officers were acting contrary to liberties granted by the King in the charters.
In addition, medieval cases referred to the clauses in Magna Carta which dealt with specific issues such as wardship and dower, debt collection, and keeping rivers free for navigation. Even in the 13th century, some clauses of Magna Carta rarely appeared in legal cases, either because the issues concerned were no longer relevant, or because Magna Carta had been superseded by more relevant legislation. By 1350 half the clauses of Magna Carta were no longer actively used.
During the reign of King "Edward III six measures, later known as the Six Statutes, were passed between 1331 and 1369. They sought to clarify certain parts of the Charters. In particular the third statute, in 1354, redefined clause 29, with "free man" becoming "no man, of whatever "estate or condition he may be", and introduced the phrase ""due process of law" for "lawful judgement of his peers or the law of the land".
Between the 13th and 15th centuries Magna Carta was reconfirmed 32 times according to Sir "Edward Coke, and possibly as many as 45 times. Often the first item of parliamentary business was a public reading and reaffirmation of the Charter, and, as in the previous century, parliaments often exacted confirmation of it from the monarch. The Charter was confirmed in 1423 by King "Henry VI.
By the mid-15th century, Magna Carta ceased to occupy a central role in English political life, as monarchs reasserted authority and powers which had been challenged in the 100 years after Edward I's reign. The Great Charter remained a text for lawyers, particularly as a protector of property rights, and became more widely read than ever as printed versions circulated and levels of literacy increased.
During the 16th century, the interpretation of Magna Carta and the First Barons' War shifted. "Henry VII took power at the end of the turbulent "Wars of the Roses, followed by "Henry VIII, and extensive propaganda under both rulers promoted the legitimacy of the regime, the illegitimacy of any sort of rebellion against royal power, and the priority of supporting the Crown in its arguments with the Papacy.
Tudor historians rediscovered the "Barnwell chronicler, who was more favourable to King John than other 13th-century texts, and, as historian Ralph Turner describes, they "viewed King John in a positive light as a hero struggling against the papacy", showing "little sympathy for the Great Charter or the rebel barons". Pro-Catholic demonstrations during the "1536 uprising cited Magna Carta, accusing the King of not giving it sufficient respect.
The first mechanically printed edition of Magna Carta was probably the Magna Carta cum aliis Antiquis Statutis of 1508 by "Richard Pynson, although the early printed versions of the 16th century incorrectly attributed the origins of Magna Carta to Henry III and 1225, rather than to John and 1215, and accordingly worked from the later text. An abridged English-language edition was published by "John Rastell in 1527. "Thomas Berthelet, Pynson's successor as the royal printer during 1530–1547, printed an edition of the text along with other "ancient statutes" in 1531 and 1540. In 1534, "George Ferrers published the first unabridged English-language edition of Magna Carta, dividing the Charter into 37 numbered clauses.
At the end of the 16th century, there was an upsurge in antiquarian interest in England. This work concluded that there was a set of ancient English customs and laws, temporarily overthrown by the "Norman invasion of 1066, which had then been recovered in 1215 and recorded in Magna Carta, which in turn gave authority to important 16th century legal principles. Modern historians note that although this narrative was fundamentally incorrect—many refer to it as a ""myth"—it took on great importance among the legal historians of the time.[g]
The antiquarian "William Lambarde, for example, published what he believed were the Anglo-Saxon and Norman law codes, tracing the origins of the 16th-century English Parliament back to this period, albeit misinterpreting the dates of many documents concerned. "Francis Bacon argued that clause 39 of Magna Carta was the basis of the 16th-century jury system and judicial processes. Antiquarians "Robert Beale, "James Morice, and "Richard Cosin argued that Magna Carta was a statement of liberty and a fundamental, supreme law empowering English government. Those who questioned these conclusions, including the Member of Parliament "Arthur Hall, faced sanctions.
In the early 17th century, Magna Carta became increasingly important as a political document in arguments over the authority of the English monarchy. "James I and "Charles I both propounded greater authority for the Crown, justified by the doctrine of the "divine right of kings, and Magna Carta was cited extensively by their opponents to challenge the monarchy.
Magna Carta, it was argued, recognised and protected the liberty of individual Englishmen, made the King subject to the common law of the land, formed the origin of the trial by jury system, and acknowledged the ancient origins of Parliament: because of Magna Carta and this "ancient constitution, an English monarch was unable to alter these long-standing English customs. Although the arguments based on Magna Carta were historically inaccurate, they nonetheless carried symbolic power, as the charter had immense significance during this period; antiquarians such as Sir "Henry Spelman described it as "the most majestic and a sacrosanct anchor to English Liberties".
Sir Edward Coke was a leader in using Magna Carta as a political tool during this period. Still working from the 1225 version of the text—the first printed copy of the 1215 charter only emerged in 1610—Coke spoke and wrote about Magna Carta repeatedly. His work was challenged at the time by "Lord Ellesmere, and modern historians such as Ralph Turner and Claire Breay have critiqued Coke as "misconstruing" the original charter "anachronistically and uncritically", and taking a "very selective" approach to his analysis. More sympathetically, "J. C. Holt noted that the history of the charters had already become "distorted" by the time Coke was carrying out his work.