Magna Carta Discussion Questions

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Would you like to teach your middle school and high school students about the Magna Carta? Please refer to the following helpful discussion questions, as they analyze the document and its all-embracing influence.

The Magna Carta

Winston Churchill once declared about the Magna Carta 'Here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break.' The Great Charter of the Liberties, or the Magna Carta Libertatum, is a renowned document from 1215 that is still revered by legal scholars to this day. Your middle schoolers and high schoolers will scrutinize the Magna Carta and its subtleties, as they arrive at a percipience of why leaders such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison modeled their own documents after its ideals.

Questions About Precursors to the Magna Carta

  • Prior to the Magna Carta, how would you evaluate the concept of 'divine right' that determined how the kings would rule their countries?
  • Before the Magna Carta, how could the king deny a citizen's marriage rights, property rights, or inheritance rights?
  • How was the Charter of Liberties of 1100 sort of a precursor to the Magna Carta?
  • How did the fact that King John was levying heavy taxes to finance foreign wars impact the barons' decision to revolt?
  • What happened to King John in 1214 at the Battle of Bouvines?
    • How did this battle lead to the barons forming a rebel group against King John?
  • How do you visualize the circumstances of Robert Fitzwalter becoming the leader of the baron revolt against King John?
    • What is the relationship that some historians have made between Robert Fitzwalter and Robin Hood?
    • What is the legend of Matilda, who was supposedly a daughter of Robert Fitzwalter?
  • What were the Articles of the Barons?
  • How were many of the historical figures that were tied to the Magna Carta also tied to the Crusades?
    • How did the Crusades actually influence the writing of the document?

Questions About the Signing of the Magna Carta

  • Why is the water-meadow of Runnymede considered such an important region in Surrey, England, as it pertains to the Magna Carta?
  • What was the pivotal role Pope Innocent III played when he annulled the famous document?
  • What role did the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton play in the signing of the famous document?
  • Analyze the way the signing of the Magna Carta immediately led to a civil war.
  • How do you break down why the document was reissued in 1216, 1217, 1225, and 1297?
  • What rights did the Magna Carta give to the peasants and the serfs? (basically none) What was the difference between the two groups of people?
  • How is the document an exemplarity of the right of human liberty?
  • How does the Magna Carta detail basic individual rights?
  • How did certain clauses of the Magna Carta (six through eight, 11, 54, and 59) deal with women's rights?
  • Why do you think only three of the 63 clauses mention the lowly serfs, while the other 60 mostly concerned the barons, lords, and wealthier citizens?
  • Why is Clause 61, the 'Security Clause', considered by many experts to be the most important clause in the document?

Questions About the Aftermath of the Magna Carta

  • How did the signing of the Magna Carta directly lead to the First Baron's War?
    • How was the Treaty of Lambeth of 1217 (The Treaty of Kingston) affiliated with this war?
  • How is the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution related to the document?
  • How is the 'suspension clause' and its idea of the writ of habeas corpus in the Constitution taken almost directly from Clause 39 of the Magna Carta?
    • What do both documents suggest about a person being judged by peers and a right to a fair trial?
  • How did the Magna Carta influence the thinking of John Locke, William Blackstone, and other thinkers during the Enlightenment?
  • Of the 63 clauses, how many are still in law today, (one, thirteen, thirty-nine, and forty)
    • What issues do these remaining clauses entail?

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