Today is Magna Carta Day as the great document was signed on June 15, 1215, though there is a slight problem with it all as dates before September 14, 1752 were in the Julian Calendar, the ones after, in the Gregorian Calendar. The Wikipedia entry gives a reasonable background and explanation of its importance at the time and even greater importance since (though, as we know, the document was not unique in the thirteenth century).
This might be of interest to this blog's readers: only three of the clauses have remained in English law but they are of great importance:
I. FIRST, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the Freemen of our Realm, for Us and our Heirs for ever, these Liberties under-written, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of Us and our Heirs for ever.Some useful (or more or less useful) links on the subject:
IX. THE City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have. Moreover We will and grant, that all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns, and the Barons of the Five Ports, as with all other Ports, shall have all their Liberties and free Customs.
XXIX. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.
The British Library, though it is hosting the biggest and most important exhibition on the Magna Carta, has recently adopted a rather jocular style on its website, which I find rather irritating. Nor do I think someone from the Monty Python team is the best person to narrate the story but that is what the powers that be at the BL have decided. For those of greater tolerance than the author of this posting, here is the link.
A better summary on the BBC History Magazine website. The best collection of articles are in two very different publications: spiked-online and the latest issue of History Today. In particular, here is a selection of the most important and interesting books on the subject, chosen by Nigel Saul.
Of course, what really matters today of all days is the actual text of the document. without it we cannot even begin to discuss what influence it has had in various countries and centuries and whether any of the clauses can or should be revived for our own use. Here is the English translation of the 1215 text.