Magna Carta

Desiree Desierto, George Mason University
Jacob Hall, George Mason University
Mark Koyama, George Mason University

Magna Carta was a critical juncture in the history of constitutional government. Issued in 1215 and later incorporated into law, it laid the foundations for the rise of Parliament and through this to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the American Declaration of Independence in 1775. We investigate the origins of Magna Carta from a political economy perspective. While the Magna Carta has been widely studied by historians and legal scholars (e.g., Holt (1992)), with the exceptions discussed below, it has received much less attention from social scientists. We ask two questions. First, what made an agreement like Magna Carta feasible? That is, why in 1215 did the barons propose an agreement that sought to limit the king’s future actions and why did John accede to it? Second, we ask why, despite John reneging on the initial agreement, did an amended version of Magna Carta become a focal point in the subsequent decades and became law. To address these questions, we compile a unique dataset of all members of England’s political elite from 1199 to 1272. This data allows us to identify the relevant members of England’s ruling coalition and to assess why they sought to limit monarchical power. To develop testable predictions, we develop a formal model of medieval political economy.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 131. Constitutions and Representation