The Magna Carta, to which King John I affixed his seal on 15 Jun 1215 at Runnymede, holds a status in England and the British Commonwealth akin to that of the 1776 U.S. Declaration of Independence. That is, both documents set forth a list of legal and other rights, liberties and democratic principles considered sacred to each of their country's citizens.
The Magna Carta (also called the Magna Charta, Latin for 'the Great Chart') represents the beginning of the end for the English monarchy, for its very existence symbolizes the ability of a collective group of regional political figures and 'warlords' to place restrictions upon the monarchy. While many consider that the most important of its precendents was that even the king would henceforth be subject to the rule of law, that precedent actually dates to about 1000 and Henry I, who issued a Charter of Liberties. To put this long accepted principle in perspective, consider that prior to the Magna Carta there were few accepted rules by which monarchs were expected to govern (this despite Henry I's 'Charter of Liberties', since Henry I's successors felt free to ignore the Charter), and few if any accepted rules by which the monarchy could be asked to share its authority and power. Abuses - if such they could be called in the absence of any clear standards of 'right' and 'wrong' - were thus frequent, especially when a monarch such as the politically inconsistent and often tyranical King John I was on the throne.
The Magna Carta changed all that by placing the rule of law in England on sound footing. While much of it was copied word for word from Henry I's earlier Charter, it set the legal precedent for British courts, and clearly granted the right of 'Habeus Corpus' - the right to claim false imprisonment and to have the courts bound to hear the claim. Magna Carta was thus the first step without which the ensuing common law rights, protections and improvements could not have followed.
Just as the signers of the Declaration of Independence are accorded great respect in the United States for having placed their lives in jeopardy by publicly rejecting the legitimacy of their government, so too are the 25 Barons who signed the Magna Carta therefore held in great respect in England. Known as sureties (for having 'guaranteed' that the document's provisions respecting the Barons would be implemented), they - like the signers of the Declaration of Independence - were publicly rejecting the prior power and authority of their government. But the Baron's rejection took a less drastic form, because they did not outright reject their existing form of government (i.e. the King). They instead retained it while at the same time greatly modifying it by placing significant new restrictions on the government of the King. King John's acceptance of the restrictions meant both that he need not vacate or otherwise resign the monarchy, but that the Rule of Law in England would henceforth apply to everyone - even Kings.
The Magna Carta is thus not a document intended to replace an existing form of government with a totally new one, but one intended to force a change in the existing government (itself established just 150 years earlier with William the Conqueror's 1066 invasion). The changes wrought assured both greater public (i.e. baronial) participation in the government and - most importantly - a mechanism for protecting the rights and liberties of English citizens by establishing an independent judiciary. While it was the monarchy (King John I at the time, but quickly followed by Henry III in 1216) who agreed to the changes, the agreement would prove empty without the administrative mechanisms contained within it - including the Barons' guarantee that their side of the agreement would be honored - to implement and police it.
The 25 sureties - and their successors - provided a portion of that mechanism, with the King also appointing an equal number of his own advisors to act in the same manner. The role of the sureties and the King's advisors were essentially the same - each was there to assure that their side of the agreement would be implemented.
The King had his own advisors in the matter, so in addition to the 25 Barons who signed it on behalf of themselves and the English public, there were an equal number of Advisors of the King who agreed to take the King's side in any disputes. Since roughly half of those advisors were bishops and other clergy, clearly there was little separation of Church and State at the time. Indeed, the Church respresented a powerful force for spreading the views and policies of the King, and thus were part of the prevailing establishment which the 25 Barons had demanded be changed.
Because of the importance of the Magna Carta, most genealogies seek to establish proven links to as many of the 25 Barons as possible, since they essentially represent the first 'freedom fighters' and proponents of democracy in the English speaking world.
Noone can claim a direct or even indirect link with all 25 Barons simply because one of the original 25 - William de Hardell, then Mayor of London - has ever since been lost to history. Both his ancestry as well as his posterity - if indeed he had any - is therefore unknown. Another seven sureties either had no surviving children, or had their line of direct descent ended early when the last of their children, grandchildren or great-granchildren died. In total, historians and genealogists therefore agree that only 17 of the original 25 Barons left descendants to perpetuate their family lines past the 4th generation.
Although George WASHINGTON is not a direct descendant of the tyranical King John or later English sovereigns, he nevertheless had a great many ancestors amongst the early landed gentry of England - most especially among many of the Yorkshire area families where a large number of the original Barons or their relations lived. Amazingly, 14 of the original Barons are his direct ancestors, another 5 are first or second cousins, and another 4 are 'great grand uncles' (all of them signers who died without later descendants - a grand uncle or 1st cousin being as close a relationship as one can have if there are no later descendants). He is nothing less than a 4th cousin to ALL of the 24 sureties whose ancestries are known.
For those interested in learning more about the Magna Carta and the 25 Barons who took the responsibility for assuring its implementation and enforcement, there are many fine books and other reference materials. Click WIKIPEDIA to go to their entry about it. Click MAGNA CARTA TEXT for a full transcription of the text. Click SURETY BIOGRAPHIES to find links to short biographies of each of the sureties on the National Society Magna Charta Dames and Barons website.
The names of all 25 of the original Barons - and Washington's relationship to them, are shown below. Since all of them except the now forgotten William de Hardell appear somewhere in his genealogy, a link to the page they appear on is also included.
How the 25 Magna Carta Sureties are Related to George WASHINGTON|