Hodder History Expert Blog

Magna Carta: A new internet resource for learning about medieval England
By Matt Phillips
15 May
‘Magna Carta’ is an interactive, fully-immersive, web-based resource co-developed by The National Archives (TNA) and the Parliament Educational Service. The website helps Key Stage 3 pupils explore Magna Carta and the history of medieval England.

‘Magna Carta’ adds to TNA’s portfolio of immersive digital resources, such as the resource for the Second World War. At the core of such resources is the need to offer an engaging learning experience that make the most of the rich collection of documents held at TNA.

How it works

‘Magna Carta’ gives Key Stage 3 pupils the opportunity to explore, manipulate and analyse over 50 medieval manuscripts on screen, as well as conduct interviews with historical characters such as the rebel leader Robert FitzWalter and King John himself through videos and audio. As they work through the resource, pupils are provided with guidance and support by Matthew Paris (a famous medieval chronicler), and the historical documents themselves are translated and simplified in a way that allows pupils to explore Magna Carta, its historical context, and its lasting legacy as a symbol of justice and political freedoms.

Pupils are invited to write a medieval chronicle, giving them the opportunity to apply their historical skills and make sense of what they have read, seen, and heard about Magna Carta. The inspiration for this approach was drawn from medieval chroniclers themselves, who recorded for posterity the important events of their day. Chroniclers wrote their accounts by collecting documents, recording hearsay, and conducting interviews with people who had witnessed events first hand. It is through the survival of these chronicles that historians are able to piece together so much about our distant past. By writing their own chronicle, pupils embark on an inquiry-led activity that gives them both an understanding of medieval records, and also an appreciation of how we know what we know about medieval history.

The underlying philosophy

The philosophy underlying the creation of the resource ‘Magna Carta’ is that the events at Runnymede meadow in the summer of 1215 cannot be approached with the critical faculties for which the historical discipline is renowned, without a broader understanding of the medieval period. By providing pupils with an opportunity to explore, not just Magna Carta, but the broader historical context, pupils gain an understanding of prominent themes in medieval history, including the relationship between the king and his barons, the relationship between the king and the church, medieval warfare, taxation and the emergence of parliament.

This approach to Magna Carta has also been adopted in other digital resources at TNA, including the stand-alone, one-hour virtual classroom session – run remotely from the TNA:  and the digitally curated collection of documents aimed at Key Stage 5 students

The challenge of selection

As a research consultant with a background in late medieval political and church history, my work on the project has involved working with Education & Outreach at The National Archives to identify medieval manuscripts that help make sense of Magna Carta and place the Great Charter in context. One of the first challenges we faced in the development of the resource, was the selection of particularly pertinent and illustrative documents from a primary survey which identified some 150 manuscripts. There are so many interesting, and important medieval manuscripts held at TNA, that for me, this was one of the most difficult parts of the whole process - whittling down the body of documents into a more manageable selection of around 50 manuscripts. Happily, some of those manuscripts which didn’t make it into the ‘Magna Carta’ fully-immersive website, have now been included in the digital collection for Key Stage 5 students:


‘Magna Carta’ offers an exciting learning experience in medieval history unlike any other available on the internet, and will provide pupils with an engaging opportunity to explore our distant past and medieval heritage. Did Magna Carta provide the foundations of modern democracy and the rule of law? This resource will allow pupils to make up their own minds.

‘Magna Carta’ is a free educational resource, now available at: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/medieval/magna-carta/
Matt Phillips

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