Today in History: King John Seals the Magna Carta
Runnymede is a beautiful, tranquil English meadow on the banks of the Thames between Windsor and Staines – the historic meeting place where the tyrannical, malevolent King John sealed the Magna Carta. Whether or not John of Lackland offered up shrimp to the barons at his tea table while signing the peace treaty “like a lamb” is hard to say. But we know that, in this pastoral setting, the deed was done on June 15, 1215. We also know that this significant document, written in Latin on parchment, would be re-done — revised and adapted over the centuries, and throughout the world. In fact, if you simply stroll through the bucolic setting of Runnymede, just 20 miles west of Central London, you’ll discover the rotunda erected by the American Bar Association and the John F. Kennedy memorial standing nearby on a symbolic acre donated to the United States.
The Great Charter’s arguably most famous clause, “to no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice”, is one that has come to signify the beginnings of modern democracy. Finding the spirit in popular literature, we enjoy Marriott Edgar’s poem (Magna Carta), referenced above, and old British nursery rhymes — like Mary Mary, Quite Contrary (aka, Mary Queen of Scots, 1542-1567) and Humpty Dumpty (the cannon, not the egg, of the English Civil War, 1642-49) which evoke, beyond the child, the struggles, strife, and pursuit of the values we have grown to live by today. Recalling that “big red India-rubber ball” that King John (and every child, including me!) wanted, A.A. Milne ‘s King John’s Christmas opens,
King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air —
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.
— from King John’s Christmas
Albeit told, King John would be forced, blushing or not, to respect feudal rights, freedom of the Church, and the nation’s law, by sealing the all-important document consisting of a preamble followed by 63 clauses or conditions.
On the 801st anniversary of the Magna Carta, we show how its spirit presents through journalism; insightful stories address its bearing on the founding principles of the U.S. constitution and its place in schools, so we can consider the meaning of democratic citizenship via different lenses. Nursery rhymes aside, the following articles are selected from Proquest Historical Newspapers, whose content serves to inform and inspire classroom teaching and learning.
- By William D Guthrie, AM, LLD, KCSG, KM. From the Painting by J Mortfiner. Courtesy of the Print Department, New York,Public Library. (1929, Feb 03). Our Constitution Is Rooted in Magna Carta. New York Times (1923-Current File)
- Callender, Harold. (1934, Aug 12). Magna Carta Liberties Pictures at Runnymede. New York Times (1923-Current File)
- Magna Carta Day. (1939, Jun 15). New York Times (1923-Current File)
- Special to The Christian Science Monitor. (1957, Aug 08). Memorial Dedicated to Magna Carta. The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current File)
- Kilpatrick, J. J. (1965, Jun 15). Magna Carta Still Protects Man. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File)
- By Melita Knowles, Staff Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor. (1965, Sep 04). Magna Carta Visits U.S.: Declaration of Rights. The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current File)
- Salganik, M. W. (1978, Dec 18). State May Require Course in World History in High Schools. The Sun (1837-1990)
- Copy of Magna Carta to Be Shown at Library. (1981, Apr 16). Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File)
- King John’s Bill of Rights. (1986, Jul 06). New York Times (1923-Current File)
- Mellon, J. (1987, Jun 24). Magna Carta: Liberty Goes Hand in Hand with Rule of Law.The Hartford Courant (1923-1990)
- Papenfuse, E. C. (1987, Sep 02). The Magna Carta. The Sun (1837-1990)
Read the modern English translation of the Magna Carta via E-brary, an online collection of e-books, and also check out related teaching resources in the contemporary curriculum collection, housed on the second floor of the Gottesman Libraries.
And be sure to check out the Rothman Lantern Slide Collection, a K-12 teaching resource containing several thousand mounted photographic transparencies intended for projection by a magic lantern, and from which the above image draws.
Need to keep current, look to the past, teach a topic? The Everett Cafe features daily postings of news from around the world, and also promotes awareness of historical events from an educational context.
See here for more announcements concerning special news displays in June.