First published in September 1899, a month before the outbreak of the second Boer War, Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The Old Issue’ referred to Magna Carta when attacking Paul Kruger’s government in the Transvaal, which had consistently denied political and civic rights to British settlers in the region. Kipling (1865–1936) revised the poem for later collections to emphasise its connection with the Boer War. The poem is shown here in Kipling’s personal copy of his collected verse from 1919. The title of the poem suggests that the denial of rights by a tyrannical ruler was an ‘old issue’ that the British had resisted since Magna Carta. When first published, the poem was used to advocate British military intervention in the Transvaal; editions published after the war were justifications of empire which, to Kipling, defended liberty and the rule of law across the globe.
- Article by:
- Zoë Laidlaw
The British Empire lasted more than 300 years and spanned the globe. During this time, Magna Carta was used by imperialists to justify global ambition and by indigenous people to demand liberty and justice. Dr Zoe Laidlaw considers the significance of Magna Carta in relation to imperialism.