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The Magna Carta and its legacy

Module information>

Academic Direction
Royal Holloway, University of London
Modes of Study

This course will cover how the Magna Carta was established, why it was radical in its day, how it has been reinvented over the centuries and why the 800th anniversary of its sealing is being celebrated in the present. The course will also look at the international significance of Magna Carta and of Runnymede.


15 credits

Learning outcomes

Students successfully completing this course will:

  • understand the historical context for studying the Magna Carta; the political landscape of early 13th century England, and how the Magna Carta became embedded in practice in England.
  • perceive how the significance of the Magna Carta was reinvented in the context of the conflict between monarchy and parliament.
  • understand how the 'event' of Magna Carta became used by conservative and radical political groups.
  • understand the export of the tradition of Magna Carta into the American colonies.
  • perceive how the Magna Carta was depicted in political cartoons from the period.
  • acquire knowledge about the roots of constitutional developments in America, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.
  • understand the significance of Magna Carta and its ideals in the establishment of conditions and bills of human rights over the past two centuries.
  • analyse the Great Charter and understand whether the Magna Carta enhanced the status of women; including its the impact on the history of women's rights movements.
  • investigate the use of Magna Carta by both imperialists to justify colonialist ambitions and by indigenous people to demand liberation from occupying powers.
  • understand the Magna Carta's imperial legacy and its role in the anti-colonialist struggle.
  • understand some of the current debates by contemporary scholarship; and the variety of approaches to the history of Magna Carta and the debates between them.
  • examine the purposes of commemoration in modern society.
  • analyse the role and contested nature of history in contemporary society and to reflect on the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta by looking at some of the current debates about its ongoing relevance/irrelevance to Western society today.
  • appreciate the complex and contested uses of Magna Carta in contemporary debates about human rights and the rule of law.


  • Exam (80%)
  • Essay (10%)
  • Reflective journal and forum posts (10%)

Essential reading

  • Magna Carta by David Carpenter, Kindle Edition, 2015.
  • Magna Carta: A Very Short Introduction by Nicholas Vincent, Kindle Edition, 2012.
  • Magna Carta: The True Story Behind the Charter by David Starkey, Kindle Edition, 2015.
  • Sir James C. Holt (1965) Magna Carta
  • Jocelynne A. Scutt (2016) Women and the Magna Carta: A treaty for control or freedom?
  • Carolyn Harris (2015) Magna Carta and its gift to Canada: democracy, law and human rights
  • Magna Carta: an introduction by: Claire Breay, Julian Harrison British Library - Magna Carta
  • Magna Carta - UK Parliament
  • Magna Carta - The National Archives