Magna Carta did not emerge from a vacuum. The concept of justice was long established in England; indeed, the first surviving evidence of the codification of Anglo-Saxon laws dates from around the year 600, some six centuries before King John granted Magna Carta to his barons. This 11th-century manuscript of the Hexateuch (the first six books of the Bible) illustrates the administration of Anglo-Saxon justice. The text on this page, in Old English, is taken from Genesis (40. 21–22) and describes the hanging of Pharaoh’s baker. The 11th-century artist dressed the figures in the costumes of his own time: the king in the centre, holding a sword and a sceptre or rod, is surrounded by his counsellors; the condemned man, on the right, is being strung from the gallows. The Hexateuch includes two accounts of the granting of the Ten Commandments which, together with the law codes, provided a framework for early English law.
- Article by:
- Nicholas Vincent
- Medieval origins
Professor Nicholas Vincent explores the medieval context in which the historic agreement at Runnymede was created, examining King John’s Plantagenet heritage, his loss of French territory and his relationship with the Church and the barons.