Magna Carta - A Very English Tax Revolt


The English have a proud tradition of standing up to greedy, tax-consuming rulers. We have consistently reasserted our belief in individual rights and government under the rule of law. No event in English history highlights this national trait more than King John affixing his Great Seal to Magna Carta—the Great Charter—over 800 years ago at Runnymede.

Magna Carta may have been a pragmatic document to redress the grievances of the barons who drafted it, but the document had a lasting impact on the story of the nation. As Professor Nicholas Vincent put it:

"Above all, by insisting that there were rights and customs that stood above the authority of any particular king, Magna Carta, in its many reissues and confirmations, embedded the sense that England was a land of liberties. Even the most powerful of tyrants, the charter suggested, would now have to answer to the rule of law."

But are the principles that Magna Carta enshrined still relevant today? With young people being captured by parties of big government, it seems more important than ever to ensure the next generation of taxpayers are informed about the significance of this important document. After all, in many ways today’s bureaucrats represent the new King Johns. That is why the Adam Smith Institute has launched our Secrets of the Magna Carta project, supported by the John Templeton Foundation.

We’ve teamed up with award-winning documentary makers WAG TV to produce two 50-minute documentaries on the charter and its relevance today, narrated by Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville. They feature world experts: lawyers like US and UK supreme court justices, distinguished historians, librarians in charge of conserving the documents themselves, and policy commentators from both sides of the Atlantic. And they are made to be engaging and entertaining as well as challenging and informative. They’ve already received a top award at the Anthem Film Festival 2017.

We’ve also produced teaching materials (including video clips from our documentaries) for GCSE and A-Level students, in order to help teachers introduce the key historical and citizenship questions raised by Magna Carta.

If you’re interested in helping us to educate young people on the history of Magna Carta and how its principles relate to contemporary society, please get in touch by emailing If you’re in the education sector yourself or know someone who’d be interested in our teaching materials or holding screenings of the documentaries, we’d love to hear from you!

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