King John and the Making of Magna Carta

King John and the Making of Magna Carta

Lecture by Carolyn Harris

Given at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, on October 8, 2014

Introduction: Here on our first slide, we have John reluctantly ratifying the Magna Carta. He is surrounded by his barons and senior clergymen, and they are all gathered at Runnymede meadow, neutral ground between Windsor Castle and the lands of his barons. But on this image, which dates from centuries after the Magna Carta there is a small historical inaccuracy…King John is holding a quill signing the Magna Carta in this image, when in fact he engrossed the Magna Carta with his seal…Little thing like that may not seem particularly important, but its indicative of how the Magna Carta passed into mythology. All sorts of myths and legends grew up around King John and the Magna Carta – this is a part of history that passed into popular culture. So the way we see King John and the Magna Carta today was not necessarily the way John and his barons saw the document in 1215, nearly 800 years ago.

Carolyn Harris’ new book Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights, will be published in 2015. You can see more about Carolyn on her website or follow her on Twitter @royalhistorian

King John Magna Carta

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!