From the New York Times bestselling author of The Plantagenets, a lively, action-packed history of how the Magna Carta came to be. Read more...
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From the New York Timesbestsellingauthor ofThe Plantagenets, a lively, action-packed history of how the Magna Carta came to be.
The Magna Carta is revered around the world as the founding document of Western liberty. Its principles even its language can be found in our Bill of Rights and in the Constitution. But what was this strange document and how did it gain such legendary status?
Dan Jones takes us back to the turbulent year of 1215, when, beset by foreign crises and cornered by a growing domestic rebellion, King John reluctantly agreed to fix his seal to a document that would change the course of history. At the time of its creation the Magna Carta was just a peace treaty drafted by a group of rebel barons who were tired of the king's high taxes, arbitrary justice, and endless foreign wars. The fragile peace it established would last only two months, but its principles have reverberated over the centuries.
Jones's riveting narrative follows the story of the Magna Carta's creation, its failure, and the war that subsequently engulfed England, and charts the high points in its unexpected afterlife. Reissued by King John's successors it protected the Church, banned unlawful imprisonment, and set limits to the exercise of royal power. It established the principle that taxation must be tied to representation and paved the way for the creation of Parliament.
In 1776 American patriots, inspired by that long-ago defiance, dared to pick up arms against another English king and to demand even more far-reaching rights. We think of the Declaration of Independence as our founding document but those who drafted it had their eye on the Magna Carta."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-11-02
- Reviewer: Staff
In this richly detailed history, Jones (The Plantagenets) explores the origins and rationale of the Magna Carta by looking at the cultural and social landscape of the era in which it was created. By studying the years leading up to 1215, Jones is able to show how England was changing and growing, in part due to the absentee reign of King Richard I (the Lionheart) and the subsequent excesses and unpopularity of King John. The Magna Carta, created as a peace treaty designed to rein in the king by making him answerable to his barons, was both a success and failure in its time. "Dry, technical, difficult to decipher, and constitutionally obsolete," it was supposed to "pin down a king who had been greatly vexing a small number of his wealthy and violent subjects." Instead, it survived and gained a legendary status far out of line with its original scope and intent. Jones claims that this is because of its symbolisma cry for freedom, in opposition to tyrannyand by showing the full context in which it became necessary, he demonstrates that the Magna Carta served its purpose well enough during a time of chaos. The writing style is accessible, if dry, and the text will serve as a useful academic resource. Agent: Georgina Capel, Georgina Capel Associates (U.K.). (Nov.)