Good old Scott Rasmussen’s Number of the Day observes that King John signed the venerable Magna Carta 805 years ago today. The beleaguered king signed the great charter essentially at sword point, as his barons had him cornered at Runnymede on 15 June 1215.
The Magna Carta’s history is a fascinating one. King John challenged the document’s legitimacy almost immediately, but his son reaffirmed it. Essentially, the Magna Carta was not a sweeping guarantee of the rights of all Englishmen; rather, it was a guarantee of the rights of a narrow band of English nobility (the aforementioned barons), and that the king was subject to his own laws. No taxes could be levied on the nobility without their consent.
It took another four hundred-odd years, during the events leading up to and following the English Civil War, for the Magna Carta to be applied more broadly. The Stuart monarchs sought to aggrandize the monarchy, turning it into a form of absolute monarchy in the mode of the French kings. Parliament—jealous of its prerogatives—dug up the Magna Carta and used it in its legal case against absolute monarchy.