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October 17, 2016

Bristol 800 concert and events programme

The world famous Magna Carta was declared ‘null and void of all validity for ever’ by Pope Innocent III, at King John’s request. The Magna Carta was revised and reissued, in Bristol, on 12th November 1216. [*3] Only one copy of the Bristol Magna Carta is known to have survived. [*4]

The 800th anniversary of the Bristol Magna Carta will be marked at St James Priory in Bristol by the acclaimed Chandos Singers, UWE History professor Peter Fleming, and UK charity Freedom from Torture.

The venue – the oldest building in Bristol – is linked to the 1216 events and is next to Bristol bus station. Choral works from 1215 and 1216 and a few pieces composed since which relate to the Magna Carta will be sung.

The 12th November event is part of Bristol800 and of the Bristol 800 Universities Showcase weekend. All proceeds go to Freedom from Torture. This UK charity provides therapeutic and clinical services to survivors of torture who arrive in the UK, as well as striving to protect and promote their rights.

Malcolm Hill, conductor of the Chandos Singers, said today: “Choral works performed during 1200-1220 and a few pieces composed since which relate both to the original Magna Carta in 1215 under King John, the proclamation at St. Paul’s Cathedral of the future Louis VIII as King of England, and to the reissue in Bristol under the boy-king Henry III in 1216 will be sung.” [*5]

Professor Fleming added: “As a historian of medieval Bristol it’s great to be involved with this very worthwhile effort. In between the excellent renditions I’ll be saying a little about these historic documents, what they meant to Bristol, and what they continue to mean to our contemporary world

The organisers offer free tickets for carers accompanying ticket buyers: get in touch to arrange this. Seating is unreserved and on chairs, pews and benches. Some have restricted views, so please arrive early to choose your seat. Doors open 2.30pm.

BOOKING INFORMATION:

Click here to book.

Click here for further information.

NOTES:

1): ‘Foul as it is, hell itself is made fouler by the presence of King John.’ On Tuesday 18 October, 6pm–7.30pm, The National Archives (London) holds a free talk on the life and reign of King John, who died 800 years ago, in October 1216. Professor David Carpenter, Professor Stephen Church and Dr Marc Morris will discuss the man, his life, his world and his reputation, with plenty of opportunities for questions from the audience. For more details and to register, visit: nationalarchives.gov.uk/whatson.

Media enquiries only to: [email protected] or 020 8392 5277

2): The 9-year old King Henry III was crowned at Gloucester on 28 October 1216. The 800th anniversary is marked by ‘What happened at Henry III’s Coronation at Gloucester in 1216?’ – a talk on Friday 28 October, 7pm, at Gloucester Cathedral. That talk is part of Gloucester Cathedral’s King Henry III events – details from Gloucester Cathedral’s development officer, Laura Neale: T: 01452 874965; e: [email protected] Tickets for the 28 October talk: £12. Details: http://www.gloucestercathedral.org.uk/whats-on/lectures/lectures-2911.php

3): The Runnymede Magna Carta of June 1215 was “effectively dead” by late August 1215, when – at King John’s request – the then Pope issued a document (known as a papal bull) declaring Magna Carta ‘null and void of all validity for ever’. In September 1215, civil war broke out between King John and his barons. The King raised an army of mercenaries to fight his cause, while the barons renounced their allegiance to him, and invited Prince Louis (1187-1226), son of the King of France, to accept the English crown. Louis invaded England in 1216, and England was still at war when John died of dysentery on the night of 18 October 1216. Magna Carta gained new life in the early years of the reign of the next king, Henry III. Henry was just nine years old when he succeeded to the throne, and in November 1216 in Bristol a revised version of Magna Carta was issued in his name, in order to regain the support of the barons. Another version of Magna Carta was granted in the following year, after the French army had been expelled from England. Adapted from British Library account: https://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-an-introduction

4): The only known copy of the November 1216 Bristol Magna Carta is at Durham Cathedral. It contains 42 clauses (as compared to the 61 of the 1215 issue). Media enquiries to Ruth Robson, Head of Marketing & Events, Durham Cathedral. Tel: 0191 386 4266 See also: https://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/magna-carta/cathedral-collections

5): St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on King Louis (published: June 2015): https://www.stpauls.co.uk/news-press/latest-news/st-pauls-in-the-time-of-magna-carta-a-place-staunchly-opposed-to-king-john

March 1, 2016

Magna Carta Benches mark St Albans link

Councillor Annie Brewster has presented St Albans with handmade wooden benches to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the City’s association with Magna Carta.

The curved, solid oak benches were commissioned by Cllr Brewster who served as the Mayor of St Albans City and District in 2013/14.

She handed over the gift at a presentation ceremony at the War Memorial in St Peter’s Street where the benches have been sited.

Magna Carta is regarded as one of the most important documents in history as it established the Rule of Law with its human rights and obligations.

St Albans was the scene of the first meeting, on August 4 1213, held to discuss the content of the peace agreement between the Barons, the Clergy and King John.

The benches were made by Karl Barowsky of Solid Oak Hardwood Furniture, Hartlepool, which supplies benches to many Royal Parks.

Among those who attended the presentation were James Blake, St Albans City and District Council Chief Executive, The Very Reverend Dr Jeffery John, Dean of St Albans, Howard Guard, Deputy Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, Cllr Brewster, Jonathan Trower, High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, Judge Andrew Bright QC, Mr Barowsky and Lord McNally of the Magna Carta Trust.

Cllr Brewster said: “The historic meeting in St Albans Abbey led the way to the 1215 sealing of Magna Carta two years later in Runnymede.

“Similarly, in my 2013 Mayoral year, St Albans again led the way holding the inaugural events at the start of two years of national and international celebrations to commemorate the 800th anniversary of this world changing document.

“It has been a long tradition for the Mayor to give a gift to the City and, in days gone by, it was often a piece of silver.

“I received numerous requests for more benches in the City Centre and, as the District Council has just completed a project to create a circular paved garden area in front of the recently restored War Memorial, it has been the perfect opportunity to fuse heritage and function.”

The benches have six distinctive cut-outs of the St Albans saltire shield and were unveiled on Friday 26 February.

Mr Barowsky said: “I was delighted to be asked to design some benches worthy of such an important City. What we have created is a one off design. You will not find benches like this anywhere else in the Country.”

Councillor contact:
Councillor Annie Brewster, Portfolio Holder for Sport, Leisure and Heritage, St Albans City and District Council. Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01438 832255

Contact for the media:

John McJannet, Principal Communications Officer, St Albans City and District Council
Tel: 01727 296130
E-mail: [email protected]

December 21, 2015

ABA Magna Carta Memorial now Grade II Listed Monument

21st December 2015

The American Bar Association Magna Carta Memorial has been awarded a Grade II listing under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.

The reason for its designation is for its ‘special architectural or historic interest.’

List entry Number 1430723, the Memorial overlooks Runnymede, where Magna Carta was sealed in 1215. On the 15th June 2015, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the Memorial was the site of celebration and the focus of the world.

William Hubbard, President of the American Bar Association, Loretta Lynch, current US Attorney General, HRH Princess Anne, and the Rt Hon Philip Hammond, UK Foreign Secretary spoke at the Memorial on Magna Carta Day.

Pictures of this event can be viewed here.

Three reasons were provided for the Grade II designation:

The Magna Carta monument of 1957, by Edward Maufe, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Historic interest: the memorial is the only specifically designed structure to commemorate the signing of the Magna Carta, which represents a seminal moment in the history of democracy for English, and later American, citizens; * Group value: a key part of the listed Runnymede group that includes Magna Carta House, Lutyens’ lodges and commemorative urns, Air Forces Memorial, and Kennedy Memorial; * Architectural interest: as an example of the work of the nationally celebrated architect Edward Maufe, displaying his signature style of modern classicism.”

The monument was constructed by Edward Maufe, and supported by the American Bar Association. It is the only official monument to Magna Carta in Britain today.

Click here for more information

December 18, 2015

Words from the Chancellor of the Exchequer

The Rt. Hon. George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The following was read to the final meeting of the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee on the 3rd December, 2015.

I would like to congratulate Bob Worcester, Mark Gill and the Committee for their excellent stewardship of the 800th anniversary celebrations.

Ma‎gna Carta lies at the heart of British values – liberty, justice and fair play – values which this country has exported all round the world.

I am pleased that the Treasury has been able to play its part in making the anniversary a success, supporting over 100 projects and levering in a further £3 1/2 million of private and community finance on top of the £1 million Treasury grant.

But it’s the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers up and down the country – in villages, towns and cities – which have demonstrated Magna Carta’s contemporary relevance and resonance.

I very much hope members of the committee will continue to promote and nurture the legacy of Magna Carta so that our descendents will ensure that the 900th and 1000th anniversaries are as great a success as that in 2015.

Magna Carta returns from global tour

Over 25,000 people have seen Magna Carta on its global tour. The original 1217 copy has now travelled home to Hereford Cathedral in time for Christmas

Hereford Cathedral’s 1217 Magna Carta and King John’s only surviving Writ from 1215 have made history by undertaking an epic global tour to three continents, covering 37,000 miles and 25 time zones.

The GREAT Britain campaign worked in partnership with Hereford Cathedral, British Airways and venues in America, Luxembourg, China including Hong Kong, Singapore, Malta and Portugal to host special exhibitions displaying these unique artefacts.

This iconic document has now safely returned to the region which has played such a substantial role in its origins and history. One of the oldest symbols of rule of law in the UK, Magna Carta is just as relevant today in the home of world-leading law schools and a legal sector worth almost £23billion to the UK economy.

Throughout the course of the global tour which started in September, over 25,000 visitors have turned out to see the historical documents and learn about their global significance. Venues including the New York Historical Society, Sotheby’s Hong Kong and the National Library of Valletta in Malta reported that the Magna Carta exhibition was their most successful in recent memory.

The tour also made history as it was the first time that Magna Carta had ever been to China, including Hong Kong. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond saw the display first hand in Lisbon and also visited it during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta, along with Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, whose constituency of Runnymede is where Magna Carta was sealed, said:

Magna Carta, one of the oldest surviving symbols of the rule of law, has returned to the UK following a successful 37,000 mile journey around the world. Thousands of people in three continents turned out to see it, showing how important democracy, individual freedoms and the rule of law are to people everywhere.

The cornerstone of the British legal system has contributed to the establishment of freedoms and laws right across the world.

Reverend Canon Chris Pullin, Chancellor from Hereford Cathedral, who accompanied Magna Carta on the global tour said:

“It has been a tremendous experience sharing such wonderful documents with people from around the world, and it is super to be back at home, sharing our tour stories and experiences with people from the diocese and surrounding counties. We will be ringing the Cathedral Bells to celebrate their safe return home.

Further information

You can visit the Magna Carta at a display in Hereford Cathedral from Friday 18 December in the Mappa Mundi & Chained Library Exhibition, where it will stay until 2 January 2016. Visit Hereford Cathedral for details.

The tour was organised in partnership with The Chapter of Hereford Cathedral, Hereford Cathedral Perpetual Trust and the GREAT Britain Campaign, supported by British Airways who flew the document in their First cabin.

Magna Carta is a cornerstone of the British legal system which has become a powerful symbol of liberty around the world. 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the charter being sealed at Runnymede. Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. It marked the first step on the UK’s journey towards parliamentary democracy and has been used as a basis for democracies around the world.

Hereford Cathedral holds the sole surviving copy of King’s Writ and the best preserved of the 4 surviving manuscripts of 1217 Magna Carta. Hereford is a key location in the history of Magna Carta, as both Hereford Bishops played a role in the creation of multiple issues, and Hereford Barons were responsible for ensuring that the King complied with its terms.

More information on the tour and photos can be found here

Follow the Foreign Secretary on Twitter @PHammondMP
Follow the Foreign Office on Twitter @foreignoffice

Media enquiries:
Email, [email protected]
News Desk, 020 7008 3100

November 24, 2015

Magna Carta and Comparative Bills of Rights in Europe

Magna Carta and Comparative Bills of Rights in Europe, Maya Hertig Randall, Professor of Constitutional Law at Geneva University, LL.M. (Cambridge)

It is an honour to be part of this celebration, commemorating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, an iconic document which has become a symbol of liberty and the rule of law on both sided of the Atlantic. Within Europe, the text of the Magna Carta has come to express a common constitutional heritage. Textbooks and treaties on civil rights and liberties throughout Europe invariably refer to the Magna Carta as a foundational document of fundamental right, showing that the Charter’s reach goes well beyond its country of origin.

The aim of this short contribution is not to trace the actual – direct or indirect – influence of the Magna Carta on the constitutions and their Bill of Rights of the various Member States of the Council of Europe. Such endeavour would be a daunting task indeed. Ideas travel across space and time; they evolve, are reinterpreted and transformed in this process. We would first need to establish the original meaning of the Charter, i.e. what it meant in the specific context of its time. We would then need to retrace the long trajectory of the ideas expressed in the Charter, their journey over the Atlantic, and the Charter’s impact on the founding fathers of the United States Constitution. We would thereafter need to explore the Magna Carta’s reception in various parts of the European continent, partly via the influence of the US constitution. This would be a task for which a constitutional lawyer may not be well equipped.

The contemporary relevance of the Magna Carta is not only dependent on its direct or indirect imprint on modern constitutions. The Magna Carta hugely matters because of its symbolic value, and because its ideas still resonates with us today. I will adopt a contemporary reading of the Magna Carta, highlighting its resonance and the principles it has come to embody. This approach treats the Magna Carta like a living tree, and not as a document the meaning of which is fixed in time. Put differently, it rejects an originalist reading, privileging a dynamic interpretation. This is an approach many domestic Courts – and most prominently the European Court of Human Rights – adopt when they are called upon to construe the meaning of fundamental rights provisions.

The clause of the Magna Carta which without doubt has had the strongest resonance is almost too well known to be cited:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”

The famous clause 39 has become the embodiment of two powerful and connected principles: Firstly, personal freedom, consisting mainly of, but not limited to, the right to liberty and security, and secondly, the rule of law and due process of law. Together, these principles form a bulwark against arbitrary rule. The limits of personal freedom can only be determined by law and not by the capricious will of the sovereign.

The idea of freedom under the law has been reasserted in the following Centuries, prominently in the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789, which is nowadays part of the French Constitution and upheld by the French Constitutional Council. Art. 7 protects specifically the right of liberty and security, holding that “[n]o person shall be accused, arrested, or imprisoned except in the cases and according to the forms prescribed by law.” Other provisions, mainly Art. 4 and 5, protect personal freedom more generally, stating that the limits to liberty can only be determined by law, and that “nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.”

Freedom under the law forms part of the common constitutional tradition reflected in Bills of Rights, in Europe and beyond. In addition to specific provisions on the right to liberty and security, constitutions require, either in specific or in general limitation clauses, that restrictions of fundamental rights need to be prescribed by law. We find this requirement also in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which can be viewed as codifiying common constitutional traditions of the EU Member States. According to Art. 52 para. 1 of the EU Charter, “[a]ny limitation on the exercise of the rights and freedoms recognised by this Charter must be provided for by law.”

Beyond the protection of individual rights, the Magna Carta contains the seed of the more general principle of the rule of law, or its German or French counterpart, the ‘Rechtsstaat’ or the ‘Etat de droit’. This more general principle can be derived from the precept reflected in clause 39 of the of the Magna Carta that the King is not above the law but bound by law.

European constitutions underscore that the rule of law is a central element of a legitimate constitutional order. Virtually all European constitutions explicitly refer to rule of law principles. A prominent example is the German Basic Law, adopted in 1949, in the aftermath of Word War. But also more recent constitutions, in particularly those adopted against the backdrop of totalitarian or authoritarian past, invariably commit to the Rule of Law. To name just one example : The Constitution of Serbia holds in Art. 1 that the Republic of Serbia is a state “based on the Rule of Law”, and Art. 3 holds that “the rule of law is a fundamental prerequisite for the Constitution which is based on inalienable human rights.”

Apart from the Rule of Law, the Magna Carta is also an evocative document for us today, because it has come to embody the very idea of a modern Constitution: it represents, in Sandra Day O’Connor’s words, the “written embodiment of fundamental laws », « the more general notion of a written statement of fundamental law binding upon the sovereign state.”

The fundamental nature of the principles enshrined in the Magna Carta, and their written form, have earned the Magna Carta the attribute of the “world’s first written constitution”. This understanding of the Magna Carta resonates in the famous judgment Marbury v. Madison, describing the constitution as “superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means”, and implying that laws clashing with the constitution are null and void. As is well-known, Marbury v. Madison founded the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review. In Europe, constitutional review is a much more recent phenomenon. The thinking of Marbury v. Madison has been steadily gaining ground since World War II and has become the dominant paradigm of upholding the rights enshrined in domestic constitutions.

Interestingly, the authors of the Magna Carta also provided for supervisory arrangements aimed at controlling the King. Based on clause 61, a supervisory body representing the Barons had the power to oversee compliance with the Magna Carta and to take in extremis retalitatory measures against the faulty King. Although this mechanism was ineffective, it can be viewed – based on a contemporary reading of the Charter – as expressing the idea of separation of powers : ambition must be made to counteract ambition. Maybe it can even be viewed as an embryonic precursor of judicial review.

The Magna Carta has not only come to embody the concept of a written constitution, of which Bills of Rights are today an essential part. Its provisions also encapsulate ideas which have grown over time into fundamental rights enshrined both in Europe’s contemporary Bill of Rights.

To illustrate this point, let me refer again to the famous clause 39. Apart from the right to personal freedom, clause 39 – together with clause 40 – expresses the idea of procedural due process, fair trial and access to justice. Individual liberty can according to clause 39 only be curtailed through lawful judgments; moreover, precepts of a fair trial and access to justice have to be respected: In the wording of clause 40: “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.” The idea that justice must be accessible also underpins clause 17, holding that “[c]ommon pleas shall not follow our court but shall be held in some fixed place”.

Clause 45 is complementary to fair trial guarantees and related to judicial independence. It lays down a requirement which has become common place and is mentioned in the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, adopted in 1985 within the framework of the UN – the requirement that judges have appropriate training or qualifications in law. Clause 45 reads: “We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or other officials, only men that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well.”

Clauses 39 and 40, and the related clauses of the Magna Carta can be viewed as the ancestors of procedural safeguards against arbitrary detention, and the right to a fair trial, enshrined in Art. 5 and 6 ECHR. Corresponding provisions in domestic constitutions have become commonplace on the European continent, mainly through the direct impact of the European Convention.

Another contemporary right which can trace its lineage to Magna Carta is the right to just and proportionate punishment. In the Magna Carta, we find it expressed in clause 20 and 21. The relevant part of clause 20 reads as follows: “for a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood.”

A contemporary expression of the right to just and proportionate punishment can be found in Art. 49 para. 3 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, holding that the The EU Charter holds that “[t]he severity of penalties must not be disproportionate to the criminal offence”.

The Constitution of Cyprus contains a similar provision. In addition to these explicit guarantees, the right not to be subject to disproportionate punishment is implied in the prohibition of inhuman and degrading penalties. The Vinter judgment of the European Court of Human Rights ruling out incompressible life sentences is a recent link in this chain of development.

Another clause of the Magna Carta which still resonates with us today is clause Clause 42: “In future it shall be lawful for any man to leave and return to our kingdom unharmed and without fear (…)”.

Clause 43 also refers to free movement, reflecting economic rationales: “All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water, for purposes of trade, free from all illegal exactions, in accordance with ancient and lawful customs.” Clause 43 evokes to contemporary readers economic liberties, enshrined in many European constitutions under different names (‘occupational freedom’ in Germany, ‘economic freedom’ in Switzerland, ‘liberté d’entreprendre’ » in France). For the EU-Member States, it evokes the four fundamental market freedoms.
Moreover, the Magna Carta contains clauses which regulate the taking of horses, carts, wood, issues of inheritance and guardianship, or the remarriage of widows. These clauses respond to concrete grievances against the King. Abstracted from their specific context, they aim at safeguarding interests protected nowadays by the fundamental rights to property, and the prohibition of forced marriage.

Contemporary Bills of Rights are worded in a more abstract and principled way than the Magna Carta, expressing atemporal and universal principles. Nevertheless, like the many detailed provisions of the Magna Carta, fundamental rights have emerged from history, from grievances against the concrete experience of injustice.

This is clearly expressed in the UDHR, referred to by Eleanor Roosevelt as “the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.” According to its preamble, the UDHR has been declared, as a reaction to “barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”.

Put differently, fundamental rights and freedoms are “Rights from Wrongs” (Alan Dershowitz). They are concrete answers to centuries’ old experience of injustice and human suffering which have shaped our understanding and the meaning of human dignity. The insight that human rights are deeply rooted in our history makes them fixed stars to navigate by at difficult times. The star of the Magna Carta has been shining, for instance, in the context of the “war against terror”: It has been invoked as a ‘fixed star’, reminding us to remain eternally vigilant when human rights come under pressure and are set aside for security concerns. In the United States, the Magna Carta was referred to in the major cases involving the indefinite detention of enemy combatants, Padilla v. Rumsfeld, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, and Boumediene v. Bush. In the Boumediene decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, referred to Article 39 of the Magna Carta. He held:

“Magna Carta decreed that no man would be imprisoned contrary to the law of the land…Important as the principle was, the Barons at Runnymede prescribed no specific legal process to enforce it…gradually the writ of habeas corpus became the means by which the promise of Magna Carta was fulfilled.”

Kennedy’s understanding of Magna Carta is to view it as a document whose principles have grown over time. He traces the United States Constitution, and habeas corpus, back to the Magna Carta, establishing a link between the ancient guarantee of Art. 39 with 21 Century guarantees through historical progression.

In a similar vein, In the United Kingdom, Lord Bingham’s opinion referred to the Magna Carta in the famous judgment A. and others v. The Secretary of Home Department, handed down on 16 December 2004. This judgment concerned indefinite detention of foreign nationals suspected of terrorism under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001.

Lord Bingham held:

“In urging the fundamental importance of the right to personal freedom (…), the appellants were able to draw on the long libertarian tradition of English law, dating back to chapter 39 of Magna Carta 1215, given effect in the ancient remedy of habeas corpus, declared in the Petition of Right 1628, upheld in a series of landmark decisions down the centuries and embodied in the substance and procedure of the law to our own day. In its treatment of article 5 of the European Convention, the European Court also has recognised the prime importance of personal freedom.”

In referring to Magna Carta and linking it to the subsequent developments in the 17th Century and contemporary law, Lord Bingham emphasises continuity. The long liberal tradition and the constitutional values traced back to Magna Carta embody stability at times of crisis; they offer reassurance at times of turmoil. They provide the normative, lasting framework which cannot be set aside by current majorities.

The legacy of Magna Carta is not confined to the United Kingdom. Lord Bingham implies this by referring to Art. 5 of the European Convention, which – like the Magna Carta – recognizes the prime importance of personal freedom. Through the of liberty and security, and the right to a fair trial, enshrined in the European Convention, the spirit of Magna Carta has been spread in the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe.

In my home country, Switzerland, we celebrated last year the 40th Anniversary of Switzerland’s membership of the Convention. Looking back four decades, legal scholars concluded that Art. 5 and 6 of the Convention are the provisions which have left the most profound imprint on the Swiss legal and constitutional order. It was thanks to the ECHR, for instance, that Switzerland revised its legal framework to put an end to the practise of so-called administrative detention: Between the 1930s and the 1980s, thousands of people were detained on vague grounds and without access to a court.

Administrative authorities locked up people for years without a trial, on the grounds including being “work-shy” or “immoral”. The Swiss Government apologised to the victims of administrative detention in 2010 and acknowledged the injustice suffered. The process of rehabilitation and dealing with this dark chapter of our history is still ongoing.

Unfortunately, these debates do not occur in a context celebrating the spirit of Magna Carta as part of our common constitutional heritage. They occur in a context where it has become commonplace to invoke another foundational document, the Swiss Federal Charter of 1291, which is considered the first building block of what was to become the Swiss Federal State. Designed to free Switzerland from Habsburg rule, the Swiss Federal Charter of 1291 expresses opposition to “foreign judges”, e.g. judges imposed by the Habsburg rulers. Fears of foreign rule are mobilised today to reject the European Convention – inaptly labelled as foreign law – and the judges of the European Court of Human Rights – decried as “foreign judges”.

This example shows that symbols and myths matter. Human rights and constitutionalism need powerful symbols like the Magna as an expression of a long lasting and transnational tradition.The importance of anchoring human rights in history and tracing them back to a foundational document has also been recognised outside Europe. On the African continent, a document dating back to the same period as the Magna Carta receives increasing attention. The so-called Manden-Charter was declared by the founder of the Mandingo Empire and the assembly of his wise men in a region located today in Mali. The content of the Charter has been orally handed down from generation to generation. It has been annually celebrated at commemorative ceremonies to keep its content alive. In 2009, it was inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In the same year, the Magna Carta was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

Like the Magna Carta, the Manden Charter can be read as expressing fundamental values underlying human rights and constitutionalism. In simple language, the Manden Charter underscores freedom and equality, with a universalist aspiration. Based on a contemporary reading, we can find the seeds of essential human rights, including the right to life, the prohibition of slavery, the right to food, the right to bodily integrity and freedom of expression. The Manden Charter reads:

1.The hunters declare:
Every human life is a life.
It is true that a life comes into existence before another life
But no life is more ‘ancient’, more respectable than any other
In the same way no one life is superior to any other

2. The hunters declare:
As each life is a life,
Any wrong done unto a life requires reparation.
Consequently,
No one should gratuitously attack his neighbour
No one should wrong his neighbour
No one should torment his fellow man

(…)

5. The hunters declare:
Hunger is not a good thing
There is nothing worse than this on this earth
As long as we hold the quiver and the bow
Hunger will no longer kill anyone in the Manden
If by chance hunger were to arrive,
War will no longer destroy any village for the acquiring of slaves
That is to say that no one will from now on place the bit in the mouth of his fellow man
In order to sell him.
Furthermore no one will be beaten
And all the more so put to death because he is the son of a slave

6. The hunters declare
The essence of slavery is today extinguished
‘from one wall to the other’ from one border to the other of the Manden
Raids are banned from this day onwards in the Manden
The torments born of these horrors have ended from this day onwards in the Manden
What an ordeal this torment is!
Especially when the oppressed has no recourse
The slave does not benefit from any consideration
Anywhere in the world.

7. People from the old days tell us:
‘Man as an individual
Made of flesh and bone
Of marrow and nerves
Of skin covered in hair
Eats food and drink
But his ‘soul’, his spirit lives on three things:
He must see what he wishes to see
He must say what he wishes to say
And do what he wishes to do
If one of these things were to miss from the human soul
It would suffer and would surely become sick
In consequence the hunters declare:
Each person from now on is free to dispose of his own person
Each person is free to act in the way he wishes
Each person disposes of the fruit of his labour from now on
This is the oath of the Manden
For the ears of the whole world.

It is up to us to ensure that the Manden Charter and the Magna Carta will continue to resonate on their respective continents and beyond – for the ears of the whole world.

October 22, 2015

English – Speaking Union: My Magna Carta winners announced

Wednesday, 21st October
The English – Speaking Union. Click here to read this article as it originally appeared.

The English-Speaking Union is delighted to announce the overall winners of the My Magna Carta international creative writing competition, following the grand final at Dartmouth House on Thursday 15 October 2015.

13 finalists from all corners of the globe presented their entries to an invited audience, leaving the judging panel with a very tough decision. Judges and audience members alike were overwhelmed by the quality of each presentation.

Jane Josefowicz
, from the USA, won the overall Junior prize and Mfundo Radebe, from South Africa, won the overall Senior prize. Jane and Mfundo each received a certificate and a manuscript of their winning entry, published on parchment thanks to William Cowley. Marie Georgette Spiteri, from Malta, was awarded a special commendation in the junior category, and Sofija Jovanovic, from Serbia, won a special commendation in the senior category. Mfundo’s and Jane’s essays can be read here, along with all of the other finalists’ entries.

All of the finalists enjoyed a full week in London, with cultural activities, public speaking training and opportunities to exchange ideas and make new friends.

“My favourite thing about being involved with the My Magna Carta Competition…was meeting a lot of new people – we clicked right away”

Sofija Jovanovic, Serbia, My Magna Carta Finalist (Special Commendation)

The judging panel consisted of [Chair] Professor Kate Williams (author, historian, broadcaster and lecturer at Royal Holloway), Professor Sir Robert Worcester (Chair of Magna Carta 800th Committee and former ESU Governor), Professor Justin Champion (Professor of the History of Ideas, President of the Historical Association and advisor to the 2015 Magna Carta Exhibition) and Professor James Raven (Deputy Chairman of the ESU, Fellow of Magdalene College University of Cambridge and Professor of Modern History The University of Essex and author).

“I believe that young people are still inspired by the Magna Carta because they want to make a better world…they want to increase equality and diversity”

Professor Kate Williams (Chair)

My Magna Carta was run in partnership with Royal Holloway, University of London. The ESU is grateful to the Magna Carta 800th Committee for its funding.

October 14, 2015

Magna Carta not welcome at Beijing university

The Financial Times, 14th October 2015.
By Lucy Hornby in Beijing.
Click here to read the article as it appeared on the FT website.

Eight centuries after the Magna Carta was issued, it is still making waves — this time in Beijing, where nervous authorities have blocked an exhibition of a rare parchment copy of the “foundation of freedom” charter. Far from cementing a touted “golden era” of Sino-British relations, authorities apparently worried that the Magna Carta, which threw medieval England into a spin by curbing the monarchy’s powers, would sow unwelcome ideas into the minds of Chinese students.

The exhibit, which was to have helped kick off next week’s visit by President Xi Jinping to the UK, is now nestling in the quieter halls of the British ambassador’s residence rather than Beijing’s Renmin university campus.

China’s view of the rule of law chafes somewhat with that espoused by the Magna Carta, described by the late English barrister Lord Denning as “the greatest constitutional document of all times — the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”.
China is promoting its own rule of law while in the throes of a political consolidation under Mr Xi that has led to tighter controls over civil society, the media and academics.

Observers quip that China’s vision is closer to “rule by law”, where an authoritarian state exerts its own power through laws and courts rather than itself being subject to those laws, as enshrined in the Magna Carta.

The charter itself, signed by England’s unpopular King John in 1215 and handing justice and the right to a free trial to all, contains provisions also found in China’s constitution. Indeed, the Magna Carta is called “Da xian zhang” or “Great Constitution Charter” in Chinese.

However, the term “Constitution” is sensitive in modern days, after the ruling Communist party squelched progressive lawyers’ efforts to force it to adhere to China’s own laws, a movement known as “Constitutionalism”.

A leading figure in that movement, lawyer Xu Zhiyong, is serving a prison sentence on charges of “disturbing public order” after he tried to organise a public campaign for officials to reveal their wealth.

The eleventh-hour switch of venue for the Magna Carta, on loan from Hereford Cathedral, was forced after Beijing’s approvals failed to materialise. “There are some formalities they needed to go through if we wanted to display it,” said a scholar affiliated to Renmin university.

Some Chinese students in the long line outside the residence said they had skipped class to see the document. But for history graduate student Liu Yongxi the change of venue was welcome.

“I think its even better to see it here,” she said. “You have a stronger sense of tradition, of Britishness.”

Earlier in September Renmin university did manage to hold a seminar on the Magna Carta and rule of law, attended by more than 100 Chinese and foreign scholars including the former president of China’s Supreme Court.

Additional reporting by Owen Guo.

Chinese activists urge Xi Jinping to learn from Magna Carta

The Guardian
Tuesday 13th October. Tom Phillips in Beijing.
Click here to read the original article as it appeared on the Guardian website.

Civil rights campaigners hope arrival of ‘Great Charter’ of 1215 will act as reminder to president about abuses of state power.

Chinese activists have urged President Xi Jinping to visit a rare exhibition of Magna Carta in Beijing, after the text, which some celebrate as a cornerstone of modern democracy, went on display as part of commemorations of its 800th anniversary.

A 1217 version held by Hereford Cathedral, one of only 17 surviving 13th century texts of the “Great Charter”, was put on show at the British ambassador’s residence on Tuesday. It will head to Shanghai and Guangzhou later in the week.

British officials have hailed Magna Carta’s arrival as the latest milestone in a “golden era” of UK-China relations during which Xi will pay a state visit to Britain next week.

Mark Gill, the head of the Magna Carta 800th anniversary committee, said he hoped to boost awareness and understanding of the text, which was issued in 1215 by King John of England and is held up as symbol of governmental accountability and individual freedoms. Fewer than one in five people in China had even heard of it, Gill claimed.

As the Magna Carta went on show, Chinese activists called on Xi – who has been accused of launching an unforgiving crackdown on dissent – to go to see a text the British Library has called “a potent, international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of power”.

“I very much hope that Xi can go and see [the exhibition],” said Yu Wensheng, an outspoken attorney who was among those targeted during a continuing roundup of civil rights lawyers.

Yu said Magna Carta’s presence in China “should serve as a reminder to [Xi] and the leadership that cracking down on lawyers is wrong and futile”.

Liu Shihui, another civil rights lawyer, noted Xi often name-checked famous pieces of writing including Hemingway and Dostoyevsky. “I hope he can spend some time reading Magna Carta,” Liu said.

Sir Martin Davidson, the chairman of the Great Britain China Centre in Beijing for the exhibition’s launch, recognised King John’s text was arriving at a sensitive time. A political chill has descended on Beijing since Xi came to power in 2012 and a severe crackdown is under way.

“One wouldn’t be surprised that it is slightly uncomfortable because I think China is struggling with some of those very big issues about what is the relationship between the state and the law, what comprises the state,” he said.

Many Chinese were interested in Magna Carta because it symbolised the moment at which “the king became subject to the rule of law and the king’s power was, if you like, constrained by the nature of the rule of law”, Davidson said.

But he denied bringing the document to China was an attempt to preach to Beijing. “I don’t think there is any point in saying: ‘We’ve got a system, just copy it.’ That’s not going to happen.”

During a speech in June marking Magna Carta’s 800th birthday, the UK prime minister, David Cameron, celebrated the text as a symbol of “liberty, justice, democracy [and] the rule of law”.

“All over the world, people are still struggling to live by the rule of law and to see their governments subject to that law. The countries that have these things tend to be the long-term successes. Those who don’t tend to be the long-term failures,” he said.

Experts say such ideas will be low on the agenda when Xi’s state visit begins next Tuesday. The British chancellor, George Osborne, recently vowed to make Britain China’s ”best partner in the west” and activists accuse London of falling silent on Beijing’s human rights record to avoid damaging business ties.

Kerry Brown, a former British diplomat in China and the author of a forthcoming book on Xi, said Britain’s China policy was clearly being dictated by the Treasury, with thorny issues such as human rights pushed to one side.

“[Xi Jinping’s visit] is going to be remorseless and relentlessly about parting the Chinese and their money. That is really what we are interested in,” Brown said, pointing to plans for Chinese investment in British nuclear power plants and infrastructure.

China expects Britain to roll out the red carpet during Xi’s visit next week, which involves events in London and Manchester.

But it is unclear how welcome Magna Carta is in Beijing. Plans to put the text on show at the capital’s prestigious Renmin University were unexpectedly scrapped. Asked if Chinese authorities had prevented it from being publicly displayed there, Sir Martin said: “Not that I’m aware of. There simply wasn’t the time to put in place the right mechanisms,” he said.

Additional reporting by Luna Lin

October 6, 2015

Third Beaney Baron set for restoration

Tuesday 6th October 2015
THIRD BEANEY BARON SET FOR RESTORATION

The Beaney has been awarded funding of £4,500 to restore a life-sized plaster sculpture depicting one of the barons that guaranteed the Magna Carta.

The grant from the Magna Carta 800th Committee will allow the restoration of Saher de Quincy, the Earl of Winchester. Quincy was a leading rebel during the civil war of 1215-17.

Once conservation work is completed by next April, Quincy will take his place in the Beaney alongside sculptures of two other Magna Carta barons, Stephen Langton and Robert de Fitzwalter. They were restored earlier this year and form the centrepiece of a current exhibition marking the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

The funding will also be used to create a new permanent display of the sculptures in one of the Beaney’s permanent galleries, including a selection of learning activities linked to the Earl of Winchester.

Chairman of Canterbury City Council’s Communities Committee, Cllr Neil Baker, said: “We are very pleased to have secured this generous funding from the Magna Carta 800th Committee. These figures have a strong presence that connects Canterbury and our collections to the watershed event of 1215 and the individuals responsible for it.

“Our planned programme of restoration and a new permanent display will secure these sculptures for future generations and support our ethos of using our collections to inspire, learn, participate and create.”

For more information about this funded project, click here.

September 25, 2015

My Magna Carta Continental Winners Announced

The English-Speaking Union announces the winners of the My Magna Carta Competition and launches its legacy project, inviting a new audience to consider the important constitutional issues of the 21st Century.

In November 2014, the ESU, in partnership with Royal Holloway, University of London, launched My Magna Carta, an international creative writing competition for secondary school students all over the world. Young people were invited to submit their own modern constitutional document that safeguarded the rights, privileges and liberties that matter to them.

Following national and continent judging stages, we are proud to be able to announce the continent winners of both the junior and senior age categories:

Africa
Junior – Kayseka Geerjanan (Mauritius)
Senior – Mfundo Radebe (South Africa)

Asia
Junior – Xue-Ern Neo (Malaysia)
Senior – Fathima Nifra (Sri Lanka)

Australasia
Junior – Ella McEvoy (Australia)
Senior – Jack Donnelly (Australia)

Europe
Junior – Marie Georgette Spiteri (Malta)
Senior – Sofija Jovanovic (Serbia)

South America
Junior – Valentina Errazuriz (Chile)
Senior – Rocio Lopez (Chile)

North America
Junior – Jane Josefowicz (USA)
Senior – Isabelle McMullen (USA)

UK*
Junior – Laura White (Uxbridge)
Senior – Alice Wilson (Herefordshire)

*The UK was treated as a separate continent for the purposes of the competition.

Click here for more information on this project.

The judges were extremely impressed by the quality of the winning entries, with all of the young participants engaging with issues of rights, liberties and privileges. The continent winners have been invited to attend a finals week in October, culminating in a grand final on 15 October 2015, when an international junior and senior winner will be chosen.

The ESU would like to thank The Magna Carta Trust’s 800th Anniversary Committee for its funding of My Magna Carta; enabling the competition and its resources to reach millions of people all over the world. Thanks to a further grant of £3000 from the Committee, we are now pleased to announce a legacy project entitled My Magna Carta: The Constitutional Voice of Tomorrow, which will give the winning entries a further international platform. Utilising the existing My Magna Carta website we will reproduce some of the very best submissions together with short clips from the final event itself, as a way of highlighting key themes discussed by entrants around the globe. Through digital distribution we will allow more young people to access these resources, and develop and discuss their own ideas about some of the most important issues of the 21st Century.

The Magna Carta Trust’s 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee is charged by the Magna Carta Trust to co-ordinate activities, raise the profile of the anniversary and deliver a number of key national and international aspirations.

Note to Editors: The English-Speaking Union, Patron HM Queen Elizabeth II and President HRH The Princess Royal, was formed out of the Great War with a vision to foster understanding between peoples and communities through the use of the English language. It is both a uniquely qualified and truly contemporary operator in debate training and persuasive speech outreach work in the UK, and beyond. This work is coupled with a worldwide programme of cross-generational education scholarships which places the English-Speaking Union in the vanguard of thinkers, deliverers and facilitators in creating life-changing educational opportunities for people whatever their age and social background.
More information: Michael Pryke [[email protected] telephone +44 (0) 207 529 1550]

August 3, 2015

Magna Carta Barons found Not Guilty of Treason

Friday 31st July, 2015
The UK Supreme Court.

Three of the world’s top judges this evening found representatives of the Magna Carta barons not guilty of treason, in a special event organised by the UK Supreme Court and the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee.

The Mock Trial saw two senior barristers debating whether King John’s actions in the run-up to 1215 justified the terms the barons forced him to agree in the form of Magna Carta, and the extent to which rebellion against the King can be acceptable in the eyes of the law.

The event was witnessed by 800 people in the surroundings of Westminster Hall, in the Palace of Westminster.

The three judges – Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer of the US Supreme Court, and Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand – left the stage to confer after hearing argument from James Eadie QC for the prosecution and Nathalie Lieven QC for the defence.

Historic witnesses including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton (played by Lord Lisvane) and intermediary William Marshal (played by Lord Judge) also assisted the court with evidence.

Historians suggest there are three types of treason: lèse-majesté, unjustified threatening the King’s life or the betrayal of the realm or the army; proditio, unjustified default of duty which injured the King or any unjustified plotting against the King; and infidelitas, unjustified violation of an oath of fidelity to the King.

Lord Neuberger concluded two concurring judgments by Justice Breyer and Dame Sian sparing the barons from a terrible fate. He said: “In relation to each type of treason, it is necessary to show that the action complained of was ‘unjustified’. For the reasons given so eloquently and clearly by my two colleagues, I would hold that, in all the circumstances, the prosecution has failed to show that the defendants’ actions were unjustified. Accordingly, I, too, would acquit Baron Fitzwalter and the other 24 defendants of the charge of the treason.”

Commenting on the decision, Sir Robert Worcester, Chairman of the Magna Carta Anniversary Committee, said: “This decision was far from inevitable, but just goes to show how the bravery and determination of those barons eight hundred years ago rings down the centuries as a justified act of rebellion. Those of us living today in democracies which take the Rule of Law seriously are reaping the benefits of the barons’ bold demonstration against King John.

“This was a thrilling event and I am so pleased that the judges have vindicated the men who took considerable risks to secure freedoms we still enjoy today.”

Professor David Carpenter, who played Baron FitzWalter and served as a historical advisor for the event, said: “It was a close run thing. We saw two excellent advocates pitted against each other over a series of fundamental questions which still have resonance today. I agree that the barons should have treated John with more respect. Had they not humiliated him after Runnymede, the country might have been spared the subsequent civil war. On the other hand, I think the verdict broadly supporting Magna Carta is absolutely right. It would have been right then and it is right now.”

Clive Anderson, who played King John, said: “I am sure King John would have been astonished and possibly enraged by this verdict, and would be considering what further steps he could take to deal with the Judges and the Barons who defied his authority”.

A video of the proceedings will be freely available to view on the UK Supreme Court website from early next week.

This project was funded by the 800th Committee. Click here to find out more.

July 29, 2015

John Major: Inaugural Edward Heath Lecture

Inaugural Edward Heath Lecture’, The Guildhall, Salisbury. Wednesday 17th June 2015. The Rt Hon. Sir John Major KG CH, Speaker.

It is a great pleasure to be here this evening in this magnificent Guildhall, to deliver the first Edward Heath Lecture.

Nearby, in the Cathedral Close in Salisbury, is Arundells; the first home that Ted Heath could truly call his own. Ted spent his last two decades living there and it was evident to everyone who knew him how profoundly he loved the house, with its subtle architectural balance, tranquil gardens and stunning view of our greatest Gothic cathedral. It appealed to the inner artist in Ted – and it never lost that appeal.

Next year, Ted would have been a hundred years old. I think he would have been delighted that funds are to be raised – not just for the historic delights of Arundells – but for discussion of international affairs, education and the arts. Ted knew that a rounded life extended far beyond domestic politics, and his own life reflected that understanding: it is a privilege to deliver this inaugural Lecture and Ted would, I think, have approved of the subject.

But – first – if one delivers a Memorial Lecture to Edward Heath, one cannot ignore his great achievement of taking Britain into Europe. This is not the occasion for detailed arguments about the merits and de merits of the present-day European Union: that must await a later occasion when I, for one, will argue that we are far better off working with our partners than in splendid isolation.

But Ted was born during a war that began in Europe, and served through a later one, both of which engulfed the world. It was imprinted on his mind – and that of his contemporaries – that working with our European neighbours would prevent conflict with them: in this, Ted was surely right. It was a view he held to – sometimes in the face of vituperative criticism – for the rest of his life.

And he saw, too, that only a Europe that worked together could ever look the giants of America and China in the eye – as equals. In this, too, he was right.

Our history might cry out that we can survive alone – and I have no doubt we can: but logic suggests we are more likely to thrive in partnership. This, too, Ted understood.

* * * * *

My interest in Magna Carta – the Great Charter – goes back a long way.

As a boy, of course, I was taught about it in that long-ago time when learning about our history was thought to be essential to an education.

Many years later, I came across Magna Carta in a much more personal way. I was in my early thirties, and a young Banker with Standard Chartered. It was 1975 and – because the Bank had interests in California – they wished to contribute in some way to the American bicentenary celebrations the following year.

The then Chairman, Tony Barber – Chancellor of the Exchequer in Ted Heath’s Government – invited me into his inner sanctum one evening, poured a generous drink, and began tossing around ideas of what we might do. Out of that discussion came the notion of borrowing a copy of Magna Carta to display in our branches across California. Whether that was my idea, or the Chairman’s, is lost in the mists of time – or in the afterglow of his generous hospitality – but I was duly tasked with exploring possibilities.

I soon learned there were four remaining copies of Magna Carta: two at the British Library, and one at both Salisbury and Lincoln Cathedrals. The Chairman decided to approach the Dean of Lincoln, the Very Reverend Oliver Twistleton-Wykeham-Fiennes and, upon doing so, we learned that God and Mammon had a far closer relationship than we had imagined: when he heard of the Bank’s interest, the Dean welcomed the money changers into the Temple – or, at any rate, the Cathedral.

Although the Dean was fiercely protective of the Charter, after much to-ing and fro-ing he finally agreed that Lincoln’s Magna Carta could be flown to California – but with conditions. The precious document was to be housed in a fire-proof, water-proof, bomb-proof, bullet-proof, humidity-controlled exhibition box costing £12,000 – over £100,000 in today’s money – and transported in a Vulcan aircraft from RAF Waddington. A second Vulcan was to follow close behind so that – if the first one crashed – we would know where the Magna Carta lay. Thus – even if it rested beneath the waves for decades – the Charter would still be intact when it was rediscovered.

There were some memorable vignettes.

I was told – and I do wish I had seen it – that the box was attacked with flame throwers, flood water and rifle fire to test its protective qualities. As for insurance – no-one was sure of its value – for how can you put a price on such a document?

The Dean knew how. He looked around the Cathedral, at its historic majesty, and speculated aloud about how much it cost to protect and repair its ancient fabric.

We insured Magna Carta for that sum – in the millions – which led Tony Barber to ponder whether the Dean and Chapter might actually be praying secretly for us to lose it.

Inevitably, there were hiccups. The Dean was set to fly to California, and the Bank’s travel section duly booked first-class tickets for Messrs Twistleton, Wykeham, and Fiennes. Fortunately, this was noticed ….

Although I was originally due to accompany the Magna Carta to California, the Chairman decided he needed me to travel with him instead – to an IMF Conference in Manila. So I parted company with the project. It was, however, a huge success, and the Great Charter was returned safely to Lincoln – together with Twistleton, Wykeham and Fiennes ….

*****

Magna Carta, although undeniably English at birth, has become an essential component in the laws of English-speaking nations around the world. In the UK, it underpins our system of law, and was an inspiration to the Chartists and the Suffragettes as they sought the right to vote. In America, its influence is evident in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. So it is instructive to examine its origins.

In 1215, the Plantagenet King John was on the throne. His father, Henry II – arguably our greatest King – inherited a Kingdom exhausted by war and anarchy, and initiated a judicial system that evolved into our common law. John’s elder brother, Richard the Lionheart, was a leader of the crusades, and is immortalised outside the House of Lords on horseback, with sword raised aloft. Richard is the quintessential English hero, which is odd, since he was French and spoke little or no English. He spent less than one year of his reign in the country he ruled for ten – but a ransom to save him from prison did nearly bankrupt it.

I digress for a moment to note that St George – he who slayed the dragons and freed maidens – was a Syrian. He, too, spoke no English – and never visited our country. Nor did he slay dragons or free maidens. Of such virtues are English heroes made!

Let me revert to Magna Carta.

On his brother Richard’s death, John became King. Contemporary chronicles pre-date history’s verdict that he was a very bad King indeed. One wrote that “hell itself is defiled by the foulness of John.” Others were less kind. Many expressed sentiments that made today’s tabloid press seem positively tame.

By 1215, John had been on the throne for 16 years. Vicious, lecherous, arbitrary in dispensing justice, untruthful and greedy, he had done little to endear himself to his subjects.

In particular, John’s relationship with his unruly Barons had deteriorated to the point of civil war. This was no accident. He had over-taxed them to fund a war with France that he lost ignominiously. He had a propensity for – I put this delicately – the wives and daughters of the Barons. Angry and rebellious, the Barons demanded the restoration of “ancient liberties” – as enshrined in a Charter of Henry I, one hundred years earlier. But John had no intention of appeasing the Barons, and when he met them in early 1215, he rejected their appeals, and demanded even greater allegiance.

It was a foolhardy gesture and the Barons reacted with force. In May 1215, they captured London and compelled John to meet them again – this time at Runnymede, midway between the King’s army at Windsor and the Barons’ men at Staines. After several meetings – and what today we would call “a free and frank exchange of views”– an embryo Charter was drawn up: “The Articles of the Barons”.

On 15 June a binding agreement was reached: the King would issue what became known as Magna Carta and, in return, the Barons would swear fealty to him. Magna Carta was not signed – there is no evidence John could write – but the 4,000 word document, written on sheepskin parchment in Medieval Latin, was duly stamped with the King’s Seal. Copies were made by monks in the Royal Chancellery, and despatched for public proclamation to towns and cities across England. Magna Carta was born.

What did the Great Charter say? The first thing to understand is that it was a contemporary document drafted for the wellbeing of the Barons. It was time, common practice, subsequent events and re-interpretation of the text by great lawyers that elevated the Charter to its unique status.

The original Charter had 63 clauses, or chapters – many of them trivial. But the two great Chapters were Numbers 39 and 40. They are central to the enduring fame and eternal relevance of Magna Carta today.

Chapter 39:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

In other words – the Barons told the King – don’t think you can act arbitrarily against us.

And

Chapter 40:

To no-one will we sell, to no-one deny or delay right or justice.”

This is a fundamental principle of our law. No-one can be sure who drafted it, but it seems likely that the guiding hand may have been Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury. If so, this would have infuriated the King since – in modern parlance, the Archbishop and the King had “previous”.

A decade earlier, when Archbishop Hubert Walter had died, King John had nominated his own candidate, only to find him opposed by a faction in the Church. The Pope, Innocent III, intervened and Langton was consecrated Archbishop without John’s approval. It did not make for a good relationship.

John accepted the Charter under duress and, no doubt, with ill grace. But within weeks, he saw his opportunity to destroy it.

Chapter 61 proposed a Committee of twenty five Barons to enforce Magna Carta, and hold the King to his word. This was anathema to an hereditary Monarch who believed he was above the law. More important, it was anathema to an autocratic Pope who saw here a principle that could threaten his own authority.

When John appealed to him, Pope Innocent quashed Magna Carta in a Papal Bull. It was, he announced, “unjust, shameful – and illegal”. In the Catholic England of 1215, the Pope’s writ was all powerful . But while John rejoiced, the Barons prepared for civil war.

This time, they were serious. They no longer sought concessions. Their plan was to depose John and offer the Crown to Prince Louis of France who – while John was fighting the Barons in the North – had invaded with 7,000 troops . A bloody conflict seemed inevitable when John, at last, did something that would save Magna Carta for posterity: he died at Newark Castle.

John was succeeded by his infant son, nine-year-old Henry, and William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, became Regent. William Marshall was a genuine hero of the age – and pre-eminent in reputation among the Barons. He re-issued Magna Carta in Henry’s name – but without the contentious Chapter 61 that had so upset the Pope.

Most Barons accepted this – and those that did not were swiftly defeated at the Battle of Lincoln Fair. Louis fled to France, and Magna Carta became more deeply embedded in both the law and folklore of the English.

In 1225, when Henry III was old enough to assume power without a Regent, Magna Carta was re-issued again – in the form we recognise today and in an abbreviated 37 Chapters – but with one key difference.

This definitive text had Henry III’s “full and free consent”. Its acceptance placed the King himself under the law.

It was a good principle, but could only become reality if there were a body in place to enforce it and, three decades later, an embryo Parliament lifted the veil on what that body would ultimately be. However, true Parliamentary control of the Monarchy was still far off.

“Words mean”, said Humpty Dumpty to Alice, “just what I choose them to mean”. That is relevant to Magna Carta because it was the interpretation of the Charter that made it so powerful. The “free men” in King John’s Charter were freeholders of land, not the free and independent men and women of later ages.

As the late Law Lord, Tom Bingham put it: “the significance of Magna Carta lay, not only in what it actually said, but in what later generations claimed and believed it had said.”

Throughout the 14th and 16th Centuries, Magna Carta slumbered. Henry VIII ignored it completely when he made himself Head of the English Church.

But it was re-awoken in the early 17th Century, when Stuart Kings clashed with Parliament. When James VI of Scotland succeeded Queen Elizabeth I as James I of England, he held the view that “Monarchy is the supremest thing on earth … Kings exercise a manner of divine power on Earth”.

This was neither the first – nor the last – time that a Scottish leader expressed views that were alien to the English, and the great lawyer, Sir Edward Coke, was soon in conflict with James – who dismissed him as a Law Officer. Undeterred, Coke entered Parliament and, in 1628, infuriated James’s successor, Charles I, by invoking Magna Carta to bridle the power of the King. “Magna Carta owns no Sovereign” Coke argued, in provocatively chosen language, as he urged the supremacy of Common Law over the Royal Prerogative.

The stage was set for political confrontation. For some years, Charles attempted to rule without Parliament, but ran out of money. When he recalled Parliament – to raise funds to fight the Scots – Parliament refused to comply until the King reaffirmed Magna Carta and the Petition of Right. The stand-off deteriorated into a Civil War, begun by Charles but won by the Parliamentary Forces under Cromwell. It was followed by the trial and execution of the King.

Nearly forty years later, another Stuart King, James II, was deposed in the bloodless coup of the Glorious Revolution, and William and Mary of Orange were offered the throne – but with conditions. They were required to affirm a Bill of Rights that granted far greater power to Parliament.

This was the effective beginning of a constitutional Monarchy, and the end of absolute rule. From that moment, Parliament was supreme. And the justification cited was Magna Carta. It would be nice to believe that Stephen Langton foresaw this triumph 470 years earlier – but, sadly, I doubt it.

*****

Although Magna Carta was undeniably English by birth, its principles travelled the length and breadth of the English-speaking world – to India, Canada, New Zealand, Australia – and, of course, that great democracy – the United States.

When the first Colony was established in Virginia in 1606, James I granted the new settlers the same rights as were available in England, and the colonists embraced these liberties in their own domestic laws. In 1638, Maryland passed a Bill to recognise Magna Carta as part of the law of the Province.

Three years later, Massachusetts framed their “Bill of Liberties” in “resemblance to Magna Carta”. In 1668, the Carolinas legislated to regulate the grants of land in a Bill they characterised as “a species of Magna Carta”.

Thus, over a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence (1776), the colonial Legislatures had firmly embedded the principles of Magna Carta into American law.

These principles were enhanced after Independence. The Federal Constitution of 1789 embodied declarations on the rights of men that were variants of English law. As Lord Bryce observed a hundred years later: “there is little in the Constitution that is absolutely new. There is much that is as old as Magna Carta.” That holds true today.

As you enter the bronze doors of the US Supreme Court, you will see a depiction of King John signing Magna Carta; and, in the courtroom itself, a marble frieze commemorating the great lawmakers, where John is shown hugging Magna Carta, in the company of Napoleon and Justinian.

The men who drafted the US Bill of Rights deliberately echoed the language of Magna Carta. In 2003, Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman ever to serve as a US Supreme Court Justice, paid tribute to its lasting influence – noting that:

In the last forty years the Court has cited Magna Carta in more than fifty written opinions. It has looked to concepts embodied in Magna Carta in important decisions that concern, for example, the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, the requirement that trial by jury be afforded in state criminal prosecutions, and the access of indigents to review of criminal convictions.”

* * * * *

How relevant is the Magna Carta today? It is rarely cited in legal action, although its derived law remains potent. And there are areas where its absence is striking and its writ has not run: extraordinary rendition, for example, and detention without trial in Guantanamo Bay. American courts ruled that normal circumstances could not apply in wartime – a contentious decision that many would question – myself included. Whatever crimes these prisoners may have committed, they deserve to be brought to trial and, if found guilty, punished: but to be imprisoned without trial cannot be acceptable.

Many, too, might be concerned at the modern level of surveillance which has grown dramatically to counter terrorist threats unforeseen by earlier generations. Much is justified by legitimate security concerns, but it is a trend that Parliaments should watch with care.

But I would argue that the Charter’s impact today goes far beyond the law. It can be seen in the attitudes and expectations of the English-speaking nations.

This evening, my focus is the UK and the US. As children of Magna Carta, we instinctively dislike over-mighty power – not least in our Governments. I lost an election in 1997 for many reasons, but one – repeatedly cited – is that we had been in Government for too long and the UK wasn’t a one-Party State. I agree with the sentiment – although I would have preferred for its implementation to have been deferred. Our two nations are suspicious of monopoly power. We have an affinity for the under-dog, for the plucky loser. Magna Carta is in our DNA – it is who we are.

And our expectations show a symbiotic relationship with the Charter. We require and expect our Laws to be fair. Our Courts to be impartial. We take for granted that we can mock and criticise the mightiest in the land without fear of reprisal. We believe we have ancient rights – freedom of speech, the right to own and pass on our assets, protection against the State. We assume all this as an ancient right, whilst acknowledging that such liberties are still not available in many other parts of the world.

Alexander the Great believed that Asians became slaves because they could not pronounce the word “No”. But we can and do: to Monarchs; to Presidents; to Governments; to Jacks-in-Office; to hostile armies – and so have we throughout our history.

Of course, the UK and US are not identical. Let me speak for a moment of my own country. As a nation we British are understated – until roused by threats or injustice – and we rarely speak of freedom, perhaps because we take it for granted.

Maybe we should speak of it more. Freedom – liberty – is essential to the individual if he is not to be crushed. It is enshrined in our every attitude. We know that – without the rule of law and free speech –despotism can reign. But, even in our own country which is, I believe, as free as any in the world, freedom is not universal. There is no freedom – no liberty of action – in poverty. There is little freedom in unemployment. They are both a blot on a free society and, if we do not seek to eliminate them, they become a blot on our conscience too.

And, on a lower level, we should beware lest independence and freedom is eaten away by pettifogging rules and too much control: we should look critically at regulation if we wish to ensure a free nation does not live in a Nanny State.

Are these sentiments due to Magna Carta? Or did Magna Carta come about because this is the unshakeable conviction of our people? We will never know the answer. But what I do know is that we should be proud we gave our laws and our concept of freedom to a large part of the world – and prouder still that they have adopted it.

These days I travel widely to every corner of the world. Many might be surprised at the respect and affection there is for our country based on our language, our democracy, our system of law and the perception that we are a fair and tolerant nation.

There is one current controversy which has faint echoes of the principal dispute over Magna Carta. That dispute – as I have set out – was between absolute Monarchy and Parliamentary supremacy. Today’s more minor dispute is between British Law and the rulings of the ECHR. It is a much misunderstood issue.

There is a strand of opinion in the UK that disowns logic and abandons consensus once the words “European Union” are mentioned: it is as though a red mist has descended, robbing intelligent minds of the ancient British genius for compromise.

So let me make clear that the ECHR has absolutely nothing to do with the European Union. This Court was established by a Convention on Human Rights, agreed in 1950, the drafting of which was guided by a Conservative lawyer and politician. Yet, I think it fair to say that, over recent years, the rulings of this Court have widened to an extent that has often upset Parliament, politicians, press and public in equal measure.

The Convention was designed to protect civil and political liberties, at a time when wartime violations were fresh in the memory and Communism – with its disregard for individual freedom – was a growing threat across much of Europe. It was signed by 47 European nations and reflected the terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – itself described by Eleanor Roosevelt as a “Magna Carta for all mankind”.

The Convention was drafted in broad terms to cover such issues as the right to life and liberty; to fair trial; to freedom of expression; to the end of torture – and many rights long familiar to our own way of life. It was incorporated into British Law in the Human Rights Act agreed by Parliament in 1998.

The Government wishes to replace the Human Rights Act with a “British Bill of Rights” that would replicate all the safeguards of the Convention, but leave its interpretation in the hands of British Courts. As a result, a clamour has arisen that the intention is to infringe existing human rights. If I thought that were so, I would be a strong opponent of the change. But it is not.

Human rights and liberties were protected in this country long before the Human Rights Act, and I have no doubt that will remain the position when the legislation is updated. The land that gave us Magna Carta will not turn its back on fundamental liberties. And the land that gave us a democratic Parliament is surely right to ensure that the will of Parliament is not misinterpreted.

The ECHR is a symbol; a potent symbol of the post-war settlement in Europe. In the world of politics, such symbols matter and we respect their power and significance. I expect consultation and compromise to settle this issue.

Let me give the final word to an Englishman, among the greatest we have known, born of an American mother.

Sir Winston Churchill wrote of Magna Carta:

“The underlying idea of the sovereignty of law, long existent in feudal custom, was raised by it into a doctrine for the national State. And when in subsequent ages the State, swollen with its own authority, has attempted to ride roughshod over the rights or liberties of the subject, it is to this doctrine that appeal has again and again been made, and never, as yet, without success.”

Ted Heath began his career as a Whip in Churchill’s last Government. He would have agreed with Churchill’s analysis. He understood that Magna Carta framed our law, our Parliament, our history and our nature.

For that, Britain, America and much of the world can all be grateful.

July 28, 2015

Programme revealed for star-studded Lincoln Magna Carta Festival 800

The Lincolnite, Tuesday 28th July 2015.
Click here to read the article as it originally appeared.

With just one month to go until a Magna Carta festival featuring a host of celebrities, international artists and human rights activists kicks off in Lincoln, a full programme has been revealed.

Festival 800 runs from August 28 until September 6, demonstrating how Magna Carta’s focus on liberty, justice and freedom of speech have shaped today’s society.

The festival will be launched with the unveiling of a giant Magna Carta inspired sand sculpture by artists Remy and Paul Hoggard at Lincoln Castle.

A packed programme of events features a range of world-rennowned artists including Billy Bragg, David Starkey, the Levellers, Shappi Khorsandi, YouTube sensation Alfie Deyes, musician James Rhodes and Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy, DBE, FRSL.

Information on the full lineup is now available on the Festival 800 website and in a special booklet from venues and shops across the region.

Set to be held in venues across Lincoln, including Lincoln Castle, The Collection, Lincoln Drill Hall and LPAC, events are set to be exciting, personal and fit for all the family.

People will have the chance to hear inspirational stories of personal strength and courage.

The family of Rosa Parks is making the trip from Detroit to talk about their ‘Auntie Rosa’ who is seen as the ‘mother’ of the US civil rights movement.

Eva Clarke, one of the youngest survivors of the Holocaust will also be sharing her amazing story of survival.

Also ‘Listen to the Banned’ will bring together musicians from across the world who have faced censorship to share their stories and music freely.

One of the hottest acts on the bill, Youtube sensation Alfie Deyes’ book signing at the Drill Hall.

Tickets are now on sale and are expected to sell out fast. Alfie’s Pointless Blog is followed 4 million people.

As well as its main programme of events, Festival 800 will also be partnering with the annual Steam Punk Festival, the Children’s Festival of History and Hartsholme Country Park Magna Carta Trail, all of which take place at the end of August and beginning of September.

Festival 800 has been organised by cultural solutions UK on behalf of Lincolnshire County Council and supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

David Lambert, festival director, said: “Festival 800 will examine, celebrate and at times challenge freedom of speech and expression within a 21st century context.

“The diverse programme is a true credit to everyone that has been working hard behind the scenes and there is something for everyone to enjoy on the programme and we can’t wait to see what public reaction will be now that all the events have been announced.”

Executive Member for Culture and Heritage at Lincolnshire County Council, Councillor Nick Worth added: “Thousands of people have already taken part in this year’s Magna Carta 800 celebrations, creating a real buzz around the city.

“Festival 800 is another chance to join in, and, with such an eclectic line-up, there’s something for all tastes. Make sure you’re a part of this historic moment.”

July 21, 2015

Mock trial to mark 800th anniversary of Magna Carta

The Telegraph,
Monday 20th July
Click here to read the full article.

A mock trial of barons and bishops will be held in the Palace of Westminster to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.
TV presenter and comedy writer Clive Anderson will play a leading role alongside a number of top legal figures.

The “trial” will be held in front of Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer of the US Supreme Court, and Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand.

Lord Neuberger said: “Judges never usually comment before a case, but in this instance I think I can safely make an exception.

“We will be deciding whether, setting aside the global impact of some of the ideas embedded in Magna Carta, the barons’ actions in 1215 could be justified in law.

“We can’t promise a polished theatrical performance, but we do hope to offer a creative and interesting way of retelling the great Magna Carta story that encourages people to think about the battle of wills and principles that lay behind this world famous treaty.”

The event has been organised by the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee and the UK Supreme Court.

It will take place on Friday July 31 at Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster.

The “verdict” will be published on the Supreme Court website.

June 17, 2015

Magna Carta changed the world, David Cameron tells anniversary event

BBC News, Monday 15th June, 2015
Click here to read the original article.

Magna Carta went on to change the world, Prime Minister David Cameron has said, at an ceremony in Surrey marking the 800th anniversary of the document that heralded modern democracy.

The event at Runnymede, where King John sealed the original accord in 1215, was attended by the Queen and other royals.
The Duke of Cambridge unveiled a commemorative art work at the site.

The Charter first protected the rights and freedoms of society and established that the king was subject to the law.

The Duke of Edinburgh and the Princess Royal also attended the ceremony, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, senior judges, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and members of the American Bar Association, which erected a memorial to the charter at Runnymede in the 1950s.

Magna Carta originated as a peace treaty between King John and a group of rebellious barons.

Its influence can be seen in other documents across the world including the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Speaking at the Magna Carta Memorial, Mr Cameron said the document had inspired different generations and countries.
He said it had had altered forever “the balance of power between the governed and the government”.

“Why do people set such store by Magna Carta? Because they look to history. They see how the great charter shaped the world, for the best part of a millennium, helping to promote arguments for justice and for freedom.”

He also alluded to the government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British bill of rights, amid its concerns about rulings by the European Court of Human Rights and their application to the UK.

Mr Cameron said in his speech: “It falls to us in this generation to restore the reputation of those rights… It is our duty to safeguard the legacy, the idea, the momentous achievement of those barons.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, said the document had “set the bar high for all of us today”.

In his address, he reminded the audience how his medieval predecessor Archbishop Stephen Langton played an important role as a mediator in the writing of the Magna Carta.

He also said the Church had failed to support the fight for social justice in the past.

“From the support for enclosures to the opposition to the Great Reform Act, to the toleration of all sorts of abuse, with humility, we recognise these failings,” he said.

Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls and chairman of the Magna Carta Trust, said the Magna Carta was “a symbol of democracy, justice, human rights and perhaps above all the rule of law for the whole world”.

Lord Dyson, the second most senior judge in England and Wales, said: “A few clauses of Magna Carta are still part of our law, including famously the provision that no free man shall be taken or imprisoned except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land; and to no-one will we sell, to no-one will we deny or delay right or justice.”

The art installation unveiled by Prince William, called The Jurors, is inspired by the 39th clause of Magna Carta, which gives the right to a jury trial. Artist Hew Locke said it was a “great honour” to be chosen to produce the piece.

Princess Anne rededicated the US memorial, saying Magna Carta “provides us with one of our most basic doctrines – that no person is above the law.

“In recent history and even today we see in many parts of the world that power without the rule of law can lead to human suffering of terrible proportions. But it takes all of us to stand up for these principles.”

A replica of Magna Carta began its journey down the Thames on Saturday as part of the commemorations. The Royal Barge Gloriana led 200 boats from Hurley in Berkshire to Runnymede.

There are just four known copies of the original Magna Carta in existence today, from an estimated 13 that were made. Two are held by the British Library, with Salisbury Cathedral and Lincoln Cathedral holding the others.

This article was originally published with images and further analysis. Click here to read the article as it originally appeared in full.

In Pictures: Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary – BBC News

BBC News, Monday 15th June, 2015
Click here to view the original article.

The BBC featured a series of excellent photos of events at Magna Carta Day, which took place on 15th June, 2015 at Runnymede.

Click here to view these images.

June 14, 2015

British royals return to Runnymede where Magna Carta sealed 800 years ago

Reuters UK, 12th June 2015.
By Michael Holden.
Click here to read the original article.

Queen Elizabeth will return on Monday to the setting where 800 years ago one of her predecessors accepted the Magna Carta, the English document that put limits on the power of the crown for the first time and laid the foundation for modern freedoms.

The Magna Carta, Latin for “Great Charter”, was ratified by King John of England in June 1215, at Runnymede, about 20 miles west of London, after an uprising by his barons. It established certain rights of the English people and placed the monarch under the rule of law.

Not only does it form the bedrock of Britain’s constitutional freedoms, it was the basis for the U.S. Bill of Rights, the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Three of its 63 clauses remain on Britain’s statute book.

“The relevance of the Magna Carta in the 21st century is that it is the foundation of liberty,” said Robert Worcester, chairman of the Magna Carta 800th Committee.

The queen, who is Patron of the Magna Carta Trust, will attend an official ceremony at Runnymede on Monday to commemorate the anniversary. So will other members of the royal family, including her grandson, Prince William, who is second in line for the throne.

A new art installation will be opened and the American Bar Association’s Magna Carta Memorial, which was erected in 1957, will be re-dedicated.

The Magna Carta came into being during a period of great political upheaval in England. Conflict had erupted among King John, his nobles and the English church.

In essence a peace deal, it was sealed by John on June 19, 1215, following five days of negotiation with his barons. The most famous and significant of its clauses were 39 and 40, which stated that not even the monarch was above the law.

They read: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

“To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

Originally known as “the charter of Runnymede”, it was declared invalid shortly afterwards by the Pope. Civil war broke out between the barons and John, who has a reputation as one of England’s nastiest and cruellest kings, portrayed as the villain in numerous films about legendary outlaw Robin Hood.

It only became known as the Magna Carta two years later, when it was reissued by John’s son Henry III. Versions of the charter were then re-released regularly by or on behalf of succeeding English monarchs.

Four original copies of the document, written on a single sheet of parchment about the size of A3 paper, still exist.

An original copy from 1297 sold for more than $21 million eight years ago in New York, when auction house Sotheby’s described it as “the most important document in the world”.

But historians say the long-term impact of Magna Carta was far from the intention of the barons who forced the document on John, and it was by accident that it became so significant.

Researchers who have carried out a three-year study said it appeared that the church, rather than royal officials, was responsible for its publication and preservation.

“Bizarrely enough, Magna Carta is the product of a situation far closer to that which elsewhere in today’s world we might associate with the enemies of modern liberal democracy, with Sharia law, or with those systems in which church and state are indistinguishable,” said Professor Nicholas Vincent.

“It is often said to be about democracy, about ‘freedom’ or liberal values. It says nothing whatsoever of these. But it does assert a principle, due process under law, that is absolutely crucial in distinguishing tyranny from those parts of the world where there is hope of justice and fair trial.”

(Editing by Larry King)

King John: the most evil monarch in Britain’s history

The Telegraph, Sunday 14th June
By Marc Morris.
Click here to read the original article.

Tomorrow, you can hardly have failed to notice, marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the document famously issued by King John at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. Most people are understandably a little hazy about the charter’s contents (it runs to 63 clauses and over 4,000 words). But they are aware that it was a “good thing” – a significant step in the direction of the liberties we enjoy today.

At the same time, most people think of John himself as a “bad king”, not least because he crops up as the villain in the tales of Robin Hood. One academic recently described him on Radio 4 as “an absolute rotter”; another, less constrained, has summed him up as “a s—”.

How was it, then, that the bad king left us something so remarkably good in Magna Carta? Is it the case, some historians have asked, that we have King John all wrong? That he was actually not as bad as legend makes out?

The answer to this is an emphatic “No!” John was one of the worst kings – arguably the worst king – ever to sit on England’s throne. “A very bad man,” in the words of one contemporary chronicler, “brim-full of evil qualities.” Despite occasional attempts to rehabilitate him, his reputation among academics remains extremely poor.

John’s offences are almost too numerous to list. In the first place, he was treacherous: when his older brother, Richard the Lionheart, was away on crusade, John attempted to seize the throne by plotting with the king of France, Philip Augustus, prompting contemporaries to damn him as “a mad-headed youth” and “nature’s enemy”. He was also lecherous: several nobles are reported to have taken up arms against him because he had forced himself on their wives and daughters.

Most of all, John was shockingly cruel. In a chivalrous age, when aristocrats spared their enemies, capturing them rather than killing them, John preferred to do away with people by grisly means. On one occasion, for example, he ordered 22 captive knights to be taken to Corfe Castle in Dorset and starved to death. Another time he starved to death the wife and son of his former friend, William de Briouze. In 1203 he arranged the murder of his own nephew and rival for power, Arthur of Brittany.

John might have got away with such nefarious acts had he not also been politically incompetent. At the start of his reign in 1199, he inherited the greatest dominion in Europe — not just England and large parts of Wales and Ireland, but also the whole western half of France: Normandy, Brittany, Anjou and Aquitaine. Yet within five years, he had lost almost all these continental territories to Philip Augustus. Contemporaries put this down to a lack of boldness on John’s part, calling him “Soft-sword”, and he did indeed lack the necessary martial skill that his brother Richard had possessed in spades. “No man may trust him,” sang the troubadour poet Bertran de Born, “for his heart is soft and cowardly.”

King John’s loss of his continental inheritance was deeply shameful, and he was determined to win it back. To raise the massive armies and fleets this enterprise would require, he wrung unprecedented sums of money from England. Taxes were suddenly demanded on an almost annual basis. Nobles were charged gargantuan sums to inherit their lands. Royal justices imposed exorbitant fines for trifling offences. The lands of the Church were seized, and the Jews were imprisoned and tortured until they agreed to pay up. John’s reign saw the greatest financial exploitation of England since the Norman Conquest.

But it was all for nothing. When the king finally launched his long-planned continental campaign in 1214, it was a disaster. John, true to form, shied away from battle when challenged by French forces, and his allies in the north were defeated in a decisive clash with Philip Augustus. He returned to England that autumn with his treasury empty and his dreams of re-conquest in tatters.

With their tyrannical ruler over a barrel, his subjects demanded reform. John dodged their demands for six months, until in May 1215 they came out in open rebellion and seized London. With his capital held against him, the king was forced to negotiate, and obliged to make concessions when he met his critics the following month at Runnymede.

Such is the general background that led to Magna Carta, a charge-sheet aimed squarely at King John and his many acts of misgovernment. The king did not issue it willingly, but under pressure from his opponents and in the hope of buying time. As soon as the meeting at Runnymede had broken up, John wrote to the pope complaining that the charter had been exacted under duress, and the Pope obligingly declared it invalid. Within a few weeks both sides were again at war.

King John did not survive for much longer. Worn out by the exhaustion of fighting a losing war, he contracted dysentery in October 1216 and died a few days later at Newark Castle. Magna Carta, however, was unexpectedly resurrected, reissued by John’s supporters in the name of his nine-year-old son, the newly crowned Henry III. Its most contentious clauses, that allowed the barons to make war on the king should he transgress, were removed, but the bulk of the detail remained.

Today the detail is no longer relevant. What we now celebrate is the famous sentiment in the middle of the charter, which declares that a free man shall not be imprisoned, exiled, deprived of his property or otherwise destroyed simply because it is the king’s will. King John had indulged in precisely that sort of unjust behaviour, and his subjects had called him to account for it. This is how the “bad king” ended up leaving us something so good.

Marc Morris is the author of King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta

Magna Carta’s 800th Anniversary Is Celebrated

Sky News, 14th June 2015.
By Ian Woods, Sky News Correspondent
Click here to read the original article.

Two days of national celebrations are under way to commemorate Magna Carta – the failed treaty between a tyrannical king and his rebellious barons which turned into a decisive moment for English democracy and justice.

Also known as the Great Charter, it was agreed in June 1215, but within weeks it was torn up and the country was plunged into civil war.

Despite this, many of the principles in the charter survived and became law – with the language adopted in democracies around the world.

Today, a statue of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth will be unveiled on the site of the treaty negotiations at Runnymede on the banks of the River Thames. And tomorrow, the Queen, members of her family and the Prime Minister will attend an event on the site.

Her predecessor, King John, is regarded as one of Britain’s worst monarchs, and it was his dispute with the landowning aristocracy which formed the background to the creation of Magna Carta. The barons forced him to accept new laws and a limitation on his power.

There are four copies of the charter still in existence – one each in Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals, and two in the British Library.

The curator of the Library’s exhibit, Dr Claire Breay, told Sky News: “The most important thing about Magna Carta is that it established the principle of the rule of law.

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights, or outlawed or exiled, except by the judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. And that clause is really at the heart of Magna Carta’s fame today.”

Those who negotiated the treaty would be astonished at how its reputation has survived eight centuries, because it was annulled after only 10 weeks.

The Pope ruled that King John had been forced to sign it under duress. Yet in the years afterwards, the language in the charter was revised and reintroduced and became part of the cornerstone of English law.

“If the barons looked at how we were celebrating it they’d be quite amused,” says human rights barrister John Cooper QC.

He equates Magna Carta to scoring an early goal in a football match. It wasn’t decisive, but it shaped what followed. And he argues that some of the rights envisaged by the charter, such as trial by jury, are under threat.

While David Cameron will take part in the anniversary events, he’s also advocated the abolition of the modern Human Rights Act, and withdrawing Britain from the obligations of the European Convention on Human Rights.

His former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who’s been heavily involved in Magna Carta events, disagrees with him.

“There is something that we need to learn from the charter, which is that if you want other people to respect rights, you yourself have got to respect those rights,” he said.

“I happen to believe that although it’s not perfect, both the European Convention and the Human Rights Act are working pretty well.”

It made us free: Melvyn Bragg on Magna Carta

The New Statesman, 12th June 2015
Written by Melvyn Bragg.
Click here to read the original article.

Parliamentary democracy, trial by jury or habeas corpus – it can be argued that all these flowed from this document.

Is it rather stupid and dangerous to take Magna Carta so much for granted, as many of us seem to do, and to think of this attitude as “very English”? Or would it be better to connect it with the present as resolutely as possible, to show the distance travelled in these past 800 years, the achievements despite the setbacks, its uniqueness? Perhaps to take our history too much for granted can be a way of diminishing both the past and the present, especially in this case.

At a recent public meeting about Magna Carta, a member of the platform panel, a well-known public intellectual, leaned forward and to a packed room pronounced with a world-weary confidence: “The fact is that Magna Carta was a squalid little deal.” A few sentences later he added: “Moreover, it did not mention women.” It is difficult to think of a more politically correct, less historically accurate and more impoverished view of history than this, and yet I was the only one who (publicly) protested.

David Carpenter, who has just finished writing a 600-page book on Magna Carta, said that it asserts “for the first time in world history a hugely important constitutional principle of the foundation of liberty, which is that the ruler is subject to the law”.

King John, who sealed (but did not sign; there is no evidence that he could write) Magna Carta appears to have been as the contemporary Benedictine monk Matthew Paris described him: “Foul as it is, hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John.” It has proved impossible to launder King John’s reputation. The barons and earls, the archbishop and bishops, men to a man, stopped a tyrant in his tracks; and after many close escapes since then the Big Charter helped create civilised society, and its journey goes on.

The charter spoke through the king to God and to the liberties of the Church. It enhanced the liberties of London, which the earls and barons had just captured. It bundled together a package of laws, most of which are of their time and have fallen off the page. Sadly for some, it said nothing about the rights of women, the welfare state, the trade unions or the euro.

Nor did it say anything about the right to parliamentary democracy, trial by jury or habeas corpus. But it can be argued that all these flowed from and were triggered by this document. And not only in this country, but as time went on, most powerfully in America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and as a foundation stone in the constitution of India and elsewhere. After the Second World War, the UN set up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt called a “Magna Carta for all mankind”.

Magna Carta has 63 clauses in abbreviated Latin. Two of them that are still on the statute book, numbers 39 and 40, could be said to have changed the way in which the free world has grown. “No free man shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseised [his lands taken away], or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way ruined; nor will we go against him nor sin against him except by the lawful judgment of his peers, his equals and by the law of the land.” And, “To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay right or justice.” These two clauses have so far proved to be indestructible, though often defied. They came to apply to all men and then all women, and have elasticated their earliest purpose to become universal with a legendary, even mythical aura to them.

Soon after the treaty was sealed, King John broke his word. The pope, on his bidding, annulled the charter. This provoked the invasion of England (the first since the Conquest) by the son of the king of France. But after John’s death in 1216 the earls and barons booted out the French invader, rallied round his son and once more the charter was reissued. It went under the statute books in 1225 and was revived in one political crisis after another: 1253, 1267, 1297 . . . From the very beginning it was brandished in the local courts by peasants who saw it as their defence against tyranny.

The great lawyer Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) brought it face to face with the Tudor and the Stuart autocracies. In the English civil wars its time of greatest influence was seen and branded on the English conscience. Sir William Blackstone took it up in the 18th century. Lord Woolf speaks to China on it today; and in the argument about 42-day detention in 2008, Magna Carta was headlined in some of our newspapers.

Magna Carta has become totemic. It is in the comedy of Tony Hancock, in the poetry of Kipling, never far from the front pages in a constitutional crisis. It was copied out by hand. Four copies are remaining and although one is badly damaged, there is not a blot on any of them. Those two clauses hit a nerve in societies all over the world. They have become sacred tablets.

The monuments at Runnymede, where it was signed, both modest, are funded by American lawyers. It is curious that just up the river at Windsor Castle, which King John made his base during the negotiations, we maintain one of the splendid palaces of monarchy – while downriver the ­English have erected a narrow road that belts through those meadows where thousands met for the treaty 800 years ago. And there’s an English tea shop. With a small car park.

Magna Carta scribes identified ahead of 800th anniversary

BBC News, Sunday 14th June
Click here to read the original article.

Scientists have identified the scribes who wrote two of the four original 1215 copies of the Magna Carta.

They found the copies held in Lincoln and Salisbury were written by scribes based at those cathedrals, rather than by someone working for King John.

The discovery was made ahead of the 800th anniversary of the historic charter on Monday.

Lead investigator Professor Nicholas Vincent, said to identify the authors was a “significant achievement”.

He said after 800 years it was “certainly equivalent to finding needles in a very large haystack”.
The new discovery sheds further light on the Church’s role in the creation and distribution of Magna Carta – which sought to restrain the powers of the king.

Professor Vincent said: “It has become apparent, not least as a result of work undertaken for the Magna Carta Project, that the bishops of England were crucial to both the publication and the preservation of Magna Carta.

“King John had no real intention that the charter be either publicised or enforced. It was the bishops instead who insisted that it be distributed to the country at large and thereafter who preserved it in their cathedral archives.”

The project, involving academics from the University of East Anglia and King’s College London, found the Lincoln Magna Carta was written by a scribe who produced several other documents for the Bishop of Lincoln and Salisbury’s was “probably” made by someone working for the cathedral’s dean and chapter.

Project team member David Carpenter, a professor of medieval history at King’s College, said: “We now know that three of the four surviving originals of the charter went to cathedrals: Lincoln, Salisbury and Canterbury. Probably cathedrals were the destination for the great majority of the other original charters issued in 1215.

“This overturns the old view that the charters were sent to the sheriffs in charge of the counties. That would have been fatal since the sheriffs were the very people under attack in the charter.
“They would have quickly consigned Magna Carta to their castle furnaces.”

A replica of the Great Charter began its journey down the Thames on Saturday as part of events to mark its 800th anniversary.

The Royal Barge Gloriana is leading 200 boats from Hurley in Berkshire to Runnymede in Surrey, where the document was signed, over two days.

Magna Carta celebrations begin on River Thames

BBC News, 13th June
Click here to read the original article.

A replica of Magna Carta is being carried down the Thames as part of events to mark its 800th anniversary.

The Royal Barge Gloriana is leading 200 boats from Hurley in Berkshire to Runnymede in Surrey over two days.

Magna Carta was granted by King John on 15 June 1215, establishing that the king was subject to the law rather than being above it.

Twenty-three local people have been chosen as “charter bearers” to relay the document.

The pageant, which started at 09:00 BST, has been organised by Thames Alive, with support from Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Runnymede borough and Spelthorne borough councils.

As the copy of Magna Carta is transported downstream, actors will recount its story.

Charter bearers, who live, work or study in one of the three boroughs, will carry the document on board the Royal Shallop Jubilant.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee barge, Gloriana, is the flagship of the flotilla.

Five-time Olympic gold medallist rower Sir Steve Redgrave, from Marlow, Buckinghamshire, watched as it passed through his home town.

“It’s the first row barge that has been built for 300 years so it’s pretty spectacular,” he said.

The event will culminate with the unveiling of a 4m (13ft) bronze statue of the Queen at Runnymede Pleasure Grounds on Sunday.

Road closures will be in place during the celebrations in Berkshire and Surrey.

The flotilla is due to arrive at Oakley Court Hotel, Windsor, at 20:00. The replica Magna Carta’s journey will pause overnight before commencing at 09:00 on Sunday.

Principles set out in Magna Carta charted the right to a fair trial and limits on taxation without representation.

It also inspired a number of other documents, including the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

How Magna Carta Went Viral

The Smithsonian Mag
By Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
First published 12th June – Click here to read the original article.

In a world before the printing press, how did news of the famous document make the rounds?

In November of last year, a 13th-century copy of Magna Carta went for a drive.

The document—a large, nearly square piece of parchment covered in dense, brownish Latin legalese and bearing a dark green wax seal attached to the bottom with cord—rolled around the City of London in a red and gold horse-drawn coach built for Edward VII. A small camera was fitted to the coach’s ceiling to live-stream the document on its journey. Magna Carta toured London’s financial heart in the company of a Chinese dragon, people in fish costumes riding segways, a Viking ship, a group of Maasai dancers, and Napoleon Bonaparte. It was not, as you might imagine, how a copy of Magna Carta would have traveled in 1215, the year of its first sealing.

The copy’s public appearance was part of the Lord Mayor’s Show, the annual parade celebrating the installation of the Lord Mayor of the City of London in office (incidentally, the first Lord Mayor’s Show also took place in 1215). But the real occasion for the outing was as a reminder that the upcoming year would be an important one: 2015, the 800th anniversary of a document celebrated as the keystone of modern democracy, a symbol of the inalienable rights of humankind and the spiritual ancestor of the United States Constitution and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

To be clear, the copy of Magna Carta that took a drive around the City of London last year dates from 1297, the year it was re-issued and sealed by King Edward I. It is not an “original”; it’s not even based on an original, but instead is a re-issuing of a 1225 version, itself a reissue of a 1217 version, which was again a reissue of a 1216 version. That it is a copy of a copy of a copy speaks to how Magna Carta evolved from the practical resolution of a civil emergency into the totemic enshrinement of liberty that it is today. And it speaks to how Magna Carta went, for lack of a better term, viral.

The story of how Magna Carta was communicated is tied up in how it came to be. King John, one of the great, mustache-twirling villains of British history, and a pack of angry barons, rebels whose main coup was taking control of London, spent June 10 through June 19, 1215 in tense negotiation at the Thames-side meadow of Runnymede. A settlement was reached, and John’s oath to uphold it was given in exchange for the barons’ pledge of allegiance.

This settlement was quickly issued as a royal charter, a proclamation by the king; most of its 63 clauses dealt with grievances about his abuse of feudal custom and detailed actions to curtail it. John, who’d lost a lot of money fighting unsuccessful wars in France, had been using his feudal rights to extort money from his nobles, and when they couldn’t pay, he seized their land and took their family members hostage.

Buried among the stipulations regarding the removal of fish-weirs from the Thames and specifying the rights of wealthy widows were several clauses that would have centuries-long relevance, though no one could have known that at the time. These guaranteed the Church the freedom to handle its business without interference from the throne; that no free man could be imprisoned or outlawed except by the lawful judgment of his equals; and that the right to justice could not be sold, denied or delayed. It wasn’t, as the myth of Magna Carta might imply, the first time that these things were recorded—England had been an established political entity since well before the Norman Conquest in 1066, with laws both customary and written. Rather, Magna Carta represented the first time that they’d been outlined in conjunction with the implicit declaration that the king himself was subject to these laws. Big news—but how, in the absence of a printing press, telegraph, 24-hour news cycle or the Internet, did anyone hear about it?

The answer is murky. What happened at Runnymede is unclear beyond the broad strokes (furious barons in full armor, king in a tight corner), although John’s showdown with his barons probably didn’t include an official Magna Carta document as we might think of it. And it certainly wouldn’t have concluded with him dramatically impressing his seal on anything; this was not a moment for theater, whatever later historians with overheated imaginations might want to believe.

“I think the main thing that the general public will assume that when they go to see Magna Carta is that they think they’re seeing something that was on the isle of Runnymede or that the king signed or sealed and everybody looked, and that is almost certainly not the case,” explained Tessa Webber, a lecturer in palaeography at Cambridge. It is more likely that a draft version of the text hashed out during negotiations, both overt and covert, in the previous weeks and months, was read out to the assembled parties. Once John swore his oath, the 63 clauses would have been pulled together in a charter, not yet called Magna Carta (“Great Charter”), but the “Charter of Liberties”. Who actually wrote the first text is unknown, but some evidence points to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, one of the architects of the Runnymede negotiations. This text was then copied out in heavily abbreviated Medieval Latin on parchment by trained scribes of the royal chancery, the king’s records and communications office. These “engrossments”, as they’re called, were then affixed with the King’s Great Seal, the physical representation of his authority, and sent out via royal messengers. Simple enough, right?

“When I’m trying to envision what happens in 1215, it’s not like creating one single document. It’s more like sending an email to multiple recipients, and then it gets copied again, or cut and pasted,” said Julian Harrison, co-curator of the British Library’s major exhibition on Magna Carta. Except, this was a message that needed to be copied out by hand by a team of specialists turning around on a tight schedule, that could travel only as fast as a person on a horse could go, and that ultimately might not have even been understood by the very people who needed to enact it. Less simple.

There are four surviving 1215 Magna Cartas, two held by the British Library and one each at Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals. Each bears the seal date June 15, 1215, although it’s unclear whether they were actually in existence on that day; there was precedent for documents to bear the date they were orally agreed, not the date they were physically sealed. There could have been as many as 41 such copies, one for each shire, or county, and the Cinque Ports, the five ports on the coast of Kent and Sussex. Each of the remaining copies is in a different hand, and each is a different size and shape—one is landscape, two are portrait and one is almost square—written on sheepskin parchment.

Sheepskin was turned into parchment by soaking it in a strong lye solution, making it easier to scrape off the hair and flesh. Then the skin was stretched on a frame to dry under tension, scraped smooth with a crescent-shaped knife called a lunular and trimmed. The individual sheepskin dictates the shape and size of the parchment that results: “You deal with the sheep you’ve got,” says Webber. Given the length of the text—roughly 4,000 words of shorthand Medieval Latin, probably one of the longest documents produced to date—it’s unlikely that a single sheep could have produced more than one Magna Carta.

The ink was made by the same scribe who used it from a combination of water, mineral dust, gum arabic (as a binding agent) and powdered oak-gall, also known as oak-apple. Oak-gall is one of nature’s weirder treasures: When a gall wasp lays its eggs in the bark or on the leaves of an oak tree, the tree forms a smooth ball, like a boil, around the larvae. Inside the ball is tannic acid, which, when in combination with the other ingredients, seems to almost etch into the skin of the parchment. The black ink would have been applied with a quill, a flight feather taken from a goose or a swan. A right-handed scribe held a left wing feather, which curved into the hand; roughly every 10 lines of cramped, spidery scratching, he’d pause to trim the nib with a penknife and dip it into the ink.

Each copy had to be the work of a single scribe, to reduce the opportunity for and appearance of tampering. “You weren’t meant to have any erasures … You weren’t meant to leave any spaces,” Webber explains: Erasures could be construed as signs of forgery, while spaces could leave enough room to squeeze in something unwanted. This is not to say that mistakes weren’t made—the minor variations between the four 1215 Magna Cartas attest to that—but rather that this was precise, hand-cramping, eye-watering work (at least the scribes working on those Magna Cartas would have enjoyed a bit more daylight to work with, being that it was summer).

Once the copies were made, they were each sealed—not signed, which was not a tradition yet and in any case, there is no evidence that John could write—meaning that an impression of the King’s Great Seal was made in a lump of softened beeswax and resin and attached to the bottom of the document by cord. The king himself, however, didn’t do the honors; his Lord Chancellor, the Keeper of the Seal and one of the highest ranking officials in government, would have, or there would have even been yet another person, called a “spigurnel”, to actually apply the seal to the wax. “Royal administration is evolving and getting more complex,” Webber explains. “Titles are quite honorific, and that means you get a package of privileges … but the actual doing of things would have been done by someone less rewarded. This is bureaucracy, basically.” Only one of the four 1215 Magna Cartas still bears King John’s seal, although this copy was badly damaged by a fire in 1731; the wax melted and now resembles an ancient piece of chewed gum.

It’s unknown exactly how long it would have taken to produce a single copy of Magna Carta, but we do know that at least seven copies were ready for dissemination by June 24, 1215—there’s a memo from that date to the effect that two copies were to be delivered to the bishop of Lincoln, one to the bishop of Worcester, and four to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s steward. Another memo indicates that six more copies were sent out on July 22, again to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s steward. The relative haste with which they were produced and sent out gives some clue as to the document’s importance; regular charters could afford to languish a bit.

There was already a fairly robust system of communication between the Crown and the country dating back to at least the 10th century. This was largely in the form of the sealed writ, a kind of dashed-off memo that bore the king’s seal and would be sent off to the shires. Charters, although they were more formal documents, went the same way, carried by royal messengers via “established routes,” says Julia Barrow, director of the University of Leeds’ Institute for Medieval Studies. Any charter, and Magna Carta was no exception, could only travel as fast as the messenger carrying it. At maximum, that’s about 20 to 25 miles a day on horseback—roughly the distance from Runnymede to, say, the Tower of London (then in the hands of the rebel barons). If, as evidence suggests, a messenger changed mounts at staging posts, he could cover as much as 60 to 80 miles a day, and the copies could have traveled to the corners of the kingdom within a week, Barrow says.

Some did, but not all copies would have traveled via royal messenger moving posthaste. In the case of Lincoln Cathedral’s copy, for example, it went with Bishop Hugh of Wells, who had been at Runnymede and who reached Lincoln, a distance of some 140 miles, by June 30, 1215. Harrison is inclined to think that it took rather longer to spread the physical copies around the country: “It’s not instantaneous, it would have been over a period of weeks and months.” More importantly, perhaps, word about what had happened—”which essentially was that John lost,” Barrow says—would have traveled person-to-person probably faster than the physical documents.

However long it took, it seems likely that copies would have been put in the hands of the earls of the shires and bishops in county cathedrals; this is how other writs and royal charters were disseminated, and there’s no reason to believe Magna Carta was an exception. To publicize it, Magna Carta was probably read out at the cathedral and/or a shire court meeting held at a local great hall. (The shire courts, in existence since the Anglo-Saxon kings and made up of the local earl, bishop, and sheriff, were the primary locus of civic justice.) It’s difficult to picture what such a meeting would have looked like, when it would be held, who would be there and how many people from feudal England’s various strata would have attended. But we do know that the charter was probably read out in the vernacular French, Anglo-Norman, that was spoken by the social and political elite of the country—a surprising number of written translations into French from near the time of the sealing survive, including one that appears to have been intended to be read out at the county court of Hampshire.

“It probably would have taken a bit of time, it’s a long document,” says Barrow. Most towns in England boasted a fee-paying school by this time, a marked improvement on the days when the only schools were in monasteries; however, only a small percentage of the population could spare the money or the child labor, so readers remained a relatively small group and mostly male. Among the more likely to be able to read, however, were members of the aristocratic, religious and clerk classes.

Whether those hearing it would have understood what it was enacting in any language, however, is another question—though the document would have been fairly well known, it was probably haphazardly applied. Historian J.C. Holt, in his seminal 1992 analysis of Magna Carta, noted, “On the whole they knew very little of the contents of the Charter and this must have been equally true of those who were required to act on it in 1215. … As news of the settlement at Runnymede spread throughout the land, it can only have loosened the reins of government, encouraged attacks on local officials, tempted men into invading royal rights or resorting to self-help against both Crown and neighbour. The Charter must have started many a local war.”

It’s also unlikely that the “people” in a broader sense would have really learned much about Magna Carta. In one sense, Magna Carta would have only been minimally important to the vast majority of people living in England: “When it talks about ‘free men’, it’s not talking about free men in the modern sense, it’s talking about men at the top echelons of medieval society, because it’s a feudal society,” Harrison says. “In 1215, [Magna Carta] wouldn’t have had a significant bearing on people’s life.” Yet, in another sense, it did. It dealt with the practicalities of financial burden, which, though levied against the highest echelon, was also borne by the lowest; moreover, the civil war that occasioned it marked the first time in more than 40 years that war had touched the English countryside, so people would have cared—but they wouldn’t have cared that much.

Which is just as well, because in reality, John, a notorious oath-breaker, probably never intended to honor Magna Carta. “We kind of think that King John in way never expected people to read it, it was just a way of getting out of a tight political corner. He probably thought the Pope will annul it and he’ll live to fight another day, and it didn’t quite happen that way,” says Harrison. “I think he would have been horrified if he knew we’d be celebrating it today, I really do.”

However important and unprecedented Magna Carta was, its immediate impact was blunted by the fact that, at John’s request, Pope Innocent III issued a papal bull annulling it (and excommunicating the rebels) just 10 weeks after its sealing. He didn’t take much convincing: “The Pope thought it was an abomination,” says Harrison; he was horrified by what he perceived as the overthrow of the natural order of society and the violation of God’s law. That the copies of the charter weren’t destroyed is both something of a mystery and a miracle; after all, this was a failed treaty denounced by the highest power in the land. It’s possible they were just archived in cathedrals and forgotten; it makes sense, then, that three out of four of the surviving copies are confirmed cathedral copies. And as Webber pointed out, churches were the safest places for important archives: “They had stone buildings and cupboards and chests for keeping things safe … they had better resources than the secular institutions; and what religious institutions have is institutional continuity.”

Within just a few months of Runnymede, the barons openly rebelled again, plunging the country into a civil war worse than the one that had resulted in Magna Carta. The document probably would have been forgotten altogether if it hadn’t been for the fact that King John died of dysentery (reportedly after too many peaches and new cider) in October of 1216. John’s 9-year-old son, now King Henry III, was put under the guardianship of the canny knight, William Marshal, the Earl of Pembroke, John’s most loyal ally and one of the architects of the Magna Carta agreement. Marshal, acting as regent for the young king, issued a revised version of Magna Carta in November 1216 in an effort to bring the remaining rebel barons back into the fold and to “bind the kingdom together,” Barrow says. It didn’t entirely work, and Marshal re-issued it yet again, with some more revisions, in 1217. It was after this that the charter became known as Magna Carta.

“The idea of it was too important to be dropped,” explains Barrow. Indeed, Magna Carta’s significance in the legal, political and social landscape of England began to snowball. In 1225, Henry III, acting of his own “free will” but in response to his barons’ demands, sealed a revision of the charter that reduced the number of clauses to 37. This would not be the last time Henry III would use Magna Carta as a bargaining chip, a promise of good government in exchange for fealty: In his 56 years of rule, Henry promised more than 10 times to uphold the Great Charter. In 1265, in the midst of yet another baronial rebellion and under house arrest, Henry III reconfirmed Magna Carta and, crucially for the continued dissemination of the document, ordered that it be read out once a year in shire courts. The Church too played a major role in entrenching Magna Carta in society (not the least because the first clause guaranteed the Church’s freedom). From the 1250s, Magna Carta was being read out regularly in church in Latin, Anglo-Norman and, now, the English of the people; from 1253, anyone who broke any of the Charter’s terms faced excommunication.

Finally, in 1297, Edward I, that steel-fisted tyrant also called Longshanks, faced discontent from his increasingly fractious and financially taxed subjects. His chancellors reissued the 1225 version of the charter with his seal, ordered that it be read twice a year in cathedrals and, most significantly, added it to the Statute Rolls, enshrining it into English law. That any copies of the 1215 Magna Carta survive is even more remarkable given the number of times it was reissued—most copyholders would have destroyed the now meaningless older version when the new one was issued. It’s pure happenstance in some cases that copies were discovered; one probably apocryphal story goes that a copy of Magna Carta, one of those in the British Library, was discovered by a 17th-century London tailor just as he was about to cut it up for pattern-making paper.

Referenced in judicial proceedings as law, appealed to as a standard in political rhetoric, Magna Carta was becoming a kind of totem against the tyranny of the kings, not only for the political elite, but also for the layman. By the close of the 13th century, Magna Carta’s impact had spread well beyond its initial intent as the preservation of the rights of the baronial few (with a few bones thrown to the layfolk), and it was beginning to take on the gloss of the iconic document it became. By the 17th century, it was so deeply entrenched that a proposal to move the meeting of the court known as “The Bench” from its drafty corner of Westminster Hall was met with shocked disapproval from the Chief Justice, on the grounds that moving it even “the distance of an inch” would violate the charter. That reluctance to mess with an almost thoroughly outdated text meant that it wasn’t until the 19th and even 20th century that clauses like number 23—”No vill or man will be forced to build bridges at river banks except those who ought to do so by tradition and law”—were repealed. Now, only three-and-a-half clauses remain on the books.

And yet, everyone loves Magna Carta. Cambridge professor of history Sir Edward Shepherd Creasey noted with some amusement in a pamphlet titled “The Textbook of the Constitution”, “Magna Carta, in particular, is on everybody’s lips but in nobody’s hands; and, though perpetually talked of, is generally talked of in utter ignorance of its contents.” Creasey was writing in 1848, but he could have been speaking at virtually any time since 1215. (And today, it’s literally on lips, or at least the lips of the infants with parents so insufferable as to buy them Magna Carta pacifiers, just one of a bewildering array of Magna Carta-emblazoned tchotchkes.) As a standard of law, it’s not much. But as an idea, “it gets reinvented, and it proves to be highly adaptable,” Harrison says. “And unintentionally, it contains some really key statements that have really resonated over time.” So much so that now, Harrison says one of his colleagues frequently receives emails from people asking whether Magna Carta could help them get out of parking fines.

What traveled in messengers’ bags in 1215, what was read out in cathedrals with nearly the same sanctity as the Bible through the Middle Ages, what became a touchstone of human rights law through the Enlightenment and beyond wasn’t just the words of Magna Carta. It was what people believed they said. In his 1941 inauguration address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared, “The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history … It was written in Magna Carta.”

Not exactly, but close enough.

Magna Carta: 800 years of reining in power and why it still matters

ABC Sydney, 14th June 2015.
By Linda Mottram.
Click here to view the original article.

Faced with a punitive, confiscating, murdering king, who’s losing territory hand over fist, what is one to do?

Gather your fellow barons, call in the weakened, discredited monarch and get a man of the cloth to preside while you thrash out a peace treaty.

And so they did at Runnymede in the year 1215 in a bid to end the Civil War that had been tearing the place apart under King John, incidentally a man so awful that no king since has had that name.

It was a shaky start; the deal faltered; but others rallied to salvage and reinstate the document, the 1297 version of which is the critical one which came to be the foundation document for legal systems everywhere that derive their laws from England.

And 800 years on, democracies everywhere are marking the occasion and remembering the words at the core of Magna Carta that have served to make our societies what they remain today.

First time monarch agrees to be bound by document
“It was really the first document we associate with the rule of law where in fact you have a monarch in England giving up some of their powers and … putting forward a document which he then seals and agrees to be bound by what that document says,” Malcolm Stuart, vice-president of the Rule of Law Institute of Australia and a member of Magna Carta Australia Committee, said.

“That’s the first time that occurs.

“Prior to that, we’re talking about a king who believed he had divine right, if he woke up in the morning and said he was going to confiscate your property, your property was confiscated or if he said he was going to impose punitive taxes, that’s what occurred,” Mr Stuart told 702 ABC Sydney Mornings.

There is a copy of the 1297 version of Magna Carta at Parliament House in Canberra.

A 1330 edition, that appears to have been a working lawyer’s document, is held at the State Library of New South Wales.

Principles of law under threat in Australia: Institute
But while Magna Carta is echoed in our current political system as well as in documents like the Constitution of the United States, threats to the principles remain.

The Rule of Law Institute said those threats included excessive exercising of powers by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in NSW in the recent treatment of senior crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen.

The Rule of Law Institute also took issue with the recent suggestion in Australia that a minister might exercise virtually arbitrary power in deciding whether to cancel the citizenship of a dual passport holder deemed to be a terrorist.

“The principle of the rule of law would point to saying no [but instead] have the decision made by an independent judiciary, have a full hearing of it … because that will give confidence in the decision as opposed to the minister making the decision which may simply be reviewed by a judge,” Mr Stuart said.

According to the institute, the principles under threat also include the ideas of the absolute supremacy of the law, the requirement that citizens understand what the law is, that all are equal before the law and that the judiciary is independent and accessible.

Advancing the interests of the rule of law, the institute sends teachers to talk to legal studies students in years 11 and 12 in schools around the country.

And on this significant occasion of Magna Carta’s 800th birthday, perhaps it is best not to dwell on another part of the document that declares a woman cannot give evidence against a man for murder unless the man is her husband.

LiberTeas update: A message from Mr Speaker

Sunday 14th June, 2015

In 2015 the Houses of Parliament, along with the people of the UK, are commemorating two important anniversaries: 750 years since the Simon de Montfort parliament (1265) and 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta (1215).

Magna Carta embodies principles which have underpinned the establishment of Parliamentary democracy, as well as the legal system, in the UK and around the world. Montfort’s parliament of 1265 has a unique resonance as it built on these principles and included representatives chosen by both the towns and shires – something that ultimately paved the way for the emergence of the House of Commons.

Parliament in the Making is a year-long programme that brings these anniversaries to life. Our ambition is to develop further awareness and understanding of the UK’s democratic heritage and, in doing so, to encourage the public to reflect on our past and to focus on our future. Through this programme we have developed a range of cultural, educational and ceremonial events and activities of which LiberTeas is one.

I am delighted that you are joining us on this unique day, when people all across the UK and in fact, around the world, are stopping to take a moment to celebrate, debate and reflect on their rights and freedoms.

It is a human trait to take things we are used to for granted. When we ponder the question of who to vote for, or how to dress, or what we say and to whom, we seldom stop and think that underpinning our ability to make freely these choices are the hard won liberties of our predecessors. Gathering together, as we are this weekend, to take tea in the name of liberty is in itself a freedom we should not take for granted.

The rights and freedoms that we are celebrating have been achieved with difficulty, often at the cost of much blood and human suffering. They are not, and never will be, perfect. Not everyone will always agree on how liberty in its ideal essence should translate into a practical realisation. However, the history of the world is a lesson that no society, even one apparently secure in its democratic rights, can afford to believe that those rights cannot be taken away, and often with greater ease than the manner in which they were won. However, as we mark the anniversary of the document which started the journey to these rights and freedoms it feels that it has never been more appropriate, however un-British it may be, to congratulate ourselves on the democracy that we have achieved over the past 800 years.

Wishing you all a very enjoyable and meaningful LiberTeas!

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon John Bercow MP
Speaker of the House of Commons

June 12, 2015

Stoke-on-Trent breaks chains of slavery

Stoke-on-Trent children and citizens from across the city will join together to celebrate the Magna Carta and its democratic legacy at a special service on Monday 15 June, at 12:30 at Stoke Minster. Everyone is welcome.

They will be joined by special guests including the Lord Mayor and historian Fred Hughes, who will talk about the city’s proud democratic traditions and independent spirit.

Everyone will bring symbolic paper chains and ceremonially break the chains of slavery, then joining hands as a symbol of mutual interconnectivity, respect and community.

A special flag produced by pupils from Kingsland Primary in Bucknall will fly above the Minster all week. The children have sent a copy of their flag down to Runnymede in Surrey to be hoisted along-side flags from across the UK.

The event is open to every faith and background.

Kingsland Head Teacher Sara Goddard said the school had been studying the Magna Carta and what it meant.

Democracy is about learning from history, and that’s exactly what our children have been doing all week. They have understood and appreciated the chain of events which have led to the making of modern democratic Britain. They have really enjoyed exploring our living history,” she said.

Other schools across the city, including Trentham High School, Packmoor Primary, and the Sir Stanley Matthews Academy, are sending representatives to the Stoke Minster event, holding special assemblies, doing special projects and tuning into a live national broadcast from Runneymede.

City Council Deputy Leader Abi Brown, who will be speaking at the event, said freedom was something we should never take for granted.

It’s wonderful to see the young people of this city raising the flag of liberty and democracy, and learning about these important cornerstones on which our society is based. Stoke-on-Trent has a proud history of supporting freedom, from Josiah Wedgwood who was a central figure in the fight against slavery, through to Barnett Stross and the ‘Lidice Shall Live’ campaign, which rebuilt the town after it’s destruction by the Nazis during World War Two.

Building democracy is also about people coming together and respecting each other, a message that is echoed in our own city motto – united strength is stronger,” she said.

June 8, 2015

Princess Anne officially reopens Lincoln Castle

Monday 8th June, The BBC
Click here to read the article as it appeared on the site.

Princess Anne has officially reopened Lincoln Castle after a multi-million pound refurbishment.

The £22m works, which finished in March, included the construction of a vault for the city’s copy of Magna Carta.

A new exhibition in the Victorian prison will display objects found in the grounds during the renovation.

Exhibits include a facial reconstruction of a Saxon man, whose skeleton was found in the grounds.

There will also be a bronze Roman eagle and a limestone sarcophagus on show.

Antony Lee, of Lincoln Museum, said some exhibits dated back 2,000 years.

“What’s nice is we can show them very close to where they were excavated,” he said.

The reopening ceremony was open only to winners of a ballot.

Princess Anne entered the grand gate of the East Wing before greeting the assembled crowd and unveiling the plaque.

She also walked the castle walls, visited the Magna Carta vault and the Victoria Prison and is set to visit Boston Stump for a service of dedication.

June 7, 2015

Magna Carta: The troubled journey to an independent judiciary.

The Independent, Sunday 7th June.
Written by Will Gore.
Click here to read the article as it appeared on the independent.co.uk

In popular perception the Middle Ages was a time of lawlessness and cruelty. And to a degree, that characterisation holds true. Crusades abroad, ill-disciplined governance at home, England in the early thirteenth century was not exactly enlightened.

The creation of Magna Carta in 1215 is all the more remarkable against such a backdrop. An unpopular king brought to heel by a written agreement sounds much too good to be true – and it was, in the short-term, with peaceable discussions giving way to civil war within a matter of months.

Nevertheless, the legacy of the charter signed by King John and the barons at Runnymede 800 years ago has been compelling, both in this country and beyond. The original agreement may not have protected rights and freedoms in the detailed way which modern-day myth occasionally suggests, but it undoubtedly set Britain on a road towards non-autocratic government.

In particular, Magna Carta achieved acceptance for two key principles. The first was that regal authority should be limited by – and separated from – the will of the people. In the immediate context of the early 1200s, that meant that taxes could not be raised without the “general consent of the realm” – and for realm read barons and the church. Even so, as a guiding principle, it was crucial.

The second fundamental doctrine was that individuals were entitled to be treated in accordance with the laws of the land and would, when accused of wrongdoing, be judged by their equals. Again, the contemporary impact of this element of Magna Carta – the famed clause 39 – was limited to the minority of British citizens who were “free men”. However, it confirmed the notion of the Rule of Law and the applicability of trial by jury, which had seen its origins during Henry II’s rule in the previous century when the first judges emerged too.

Ultimately, then, Magna Carta was a bulwark against tyranny. For thirteenth century barons it was also a tool for the advance of oligarchy, a means of protecting their role as the advisors to the king – their positions as such having been established informally during the reign of William the Conqueror. Magna Carta certainly did not envisage genuine democratic rights as they are understood today.

It is the incremental reforms which have taken place in the last 800 years that are the hallmark of British government and governance (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) It is the incremental reforms which have taken place in the last 800 years that are the hallmark of British government and governance (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) Indeed, the continuing acceptance of a formalised and symbiotic relationship between the monarch and his (important) subjects was not without its hiccups – to put things mildly. And the development of regular parliaments in the mid- to late-thirteenth century (and especially their extension to include non-noble representatives) was largely the consequence of discord, rather than harmonious reform.

The security of parliament’s role – separated into two chambers from the mid-14th century – and the independence of the judiciary were largely dependent on the strength or weakness of successive monarchs. Henry VIII’s “great matter” and the subsequent break from Rome have been seen by many historians as the point at which parliamentary power took on a new character, although Tudor monarchs were canny enough to recognise that empowering parliament was a means to legitimising their own authority. Fundamentally, though, the monarch retained a firm grip on the power of the executive veto.

But if the Tudor period, rumbustious as it was, witnessed a new understanding of the need for balance in the relationship between executive, legislature and judiciary, so it was the dramatic failure of the Stuart kings to accept the limitations of their power which ultimately led to the more formal separation of the three arms of state.

The Star Chamber was originally conceived as a kind of supervisory body to oversee the operation of England’s lower courts and consider appeals, as well as to ensure enforcement of the law against those powerful enough to avoid the clutches of local judicial officials. Yet under James I, the Chamber effectively became the king’s private enforcement agency, meting out judgments on moral as well as legal matters. The court was used to suppress dissent and to bypass the necessity of calling parliaments.

The dismissal by James I of Edward Coke, the Chief Justice, for having suggested that the king was subject to the law, rather than the other way round, brought matters to a head. Incensed, Coke dedicated himself to writing The Institutes of the Lawes of England, which emphasised the role of Magna Carta as the basis for the common law and, notably, as having enshrined the independence of the judiciary from monarchical control. Coke subsequently drafted The Petition of Right, an updated Magna Carta, which parliament compelled the new king, Charles I, unhappily to accept. Charles responded by governing without parliament for 11 years and ramping up his persecution of those who opposed him. The English Civil War, which followed, ended with Charles’ execution, convicted by a jury of 120 officials of the highest rank available.

Coke’s assertion of Magna Carta’s formative place in English constitutional history, especially in confirming the independence of the judiciary, has been upheld with remarkable consistency throughout the last 350 years. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the subsequent passage of the Bill of Rights, followed a decade later by the Act of Settlement, finally – and for good – ended any pretensions that a monarch might have to absolute rule and cemented the separate functions of crown, parliament and courts.

In recent decades, constitutional changes have further reinforced the separation of state powers (even if the continued existence of the executive within the legislature raises theoretical difficulties). The last Labour government, for instance, ended the legal function of the House of Lords, transferring power to the Supreme Court as the UK’s highest legal authority, and provided for more independence in the appointment of judges.

Yet it is the great irony of Britain’s unwritten constitution that having arguably reached a point of greatest clarity, so it is up for renewed debate. The role of the European Convention on Human Rights, as legislated for by the Human Rights Act here; the existence of the Strasbourg court; clashes between ministers and judicial officials over their respective roles; and ongoing questions over House of Lords reform – not to mention the state of the Union between Scotland and England: all have become major talking points. Magna Carta, which was intended to resolve a specific set of contemporary problems in 1215, has come for many to represent a simpler, more English, representation of rights.

In the final analysis, however, it is the incremental reforms which have taken place in the last 800 years that are the hallmark of British government and governance. To ignore that is to disregard the struggles of those who have endeavoured to ensure respect for the Rule of Law and to maintain the delicate balance between the powers that rule our lives.

June 5, 2015

Brighton Festival Chorus – Invictus Update

Invictus Education Day – Friday 24 April 2015
Click here for more information about the Brighton Festival Chorus and ‘Invictus’.

What began as a conversation with James and Gill in The Swan last September led, after a great deal of planning and what has seemed like hundreds of emails, to yesterday’s Education Day at BACA. In preparation for our upcoming Invictus Cantata for Liberty performance at the Dome in June, 150 Year 7 and 8 students from 5 local schools and members of our own youth choir took part in a series of drama, music and law workshops, relating to the Magna Carta, led by professionals from Chichester Festival Theatre, barrister Tom Godfrey and BFYC’s Music Director, Esther Jones.

The students were divided into 3 groups – Liberty, Freedom and Justice – to form a mix of all the schools and the youth choir. After a welcome briefing in the main hall the morning workshops commenced. BFYC trustees were assigned to each group. Mine was ‘Liberty’ and our first port of call was the drama and dance studios where the group was halved and led by our two drama practitioners, Jonty and Angela, from Chichester Festival Theatre. After some great ‘ice-breaker’ activities the students were asked what they thought ‘liberty’ represented – the responses were thoughtful and intelligent: women’s suffrage, the right to vote, racial equality, as well as examples of their own experiences of being trusted to act independently. Small groups then created a tableau to represent liberty, followed by discussion of the ‘story’ attached to each highly creative image. Likewise, the other drama groups carefully considered what the concepts of ‘Freedom’ and ‘Justice’ might have meant in the past, as well as in today’s society.

After a short break we moved on to our next workshop led by barrister, Tom Godfrey, who had taken time out from a murder trial in London to be with us. His fascinating talk about his work was interspersed with many questions from the young audience: ‘Do people have to do jury service?’ ‘What has been your weirdest/most interesting case?’ ‘What do you do if you think the person is guilty?’ The group was entertained by volunteers who dressed up in courtroom wigs and gowns and re-enacted a ‘mock trial’ based on Jack and the Beanstalk.

Our third and final workshop of the morning took place in BACA’s music room with Esther. After a short warm-up, including some excellent tips on producing a really good sound, various parts of Invictus were learnt and rehearsed. Composers James and Juliette came in to listen to the work in progress.

After returning to the hall for a short lunch break, James and Juliette spoke to all the students and answered questions such as ‘What do you have to do to become a composer?’ Esther then led the afternoon rehearsal with all the students which gave us an insight into how fantastic the performance in June is going to be.

All in all, a great day and one that we hope will be memorable for everyone involved.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Julie Emerton (BFYC trustee) 25/4/15

June 3, 2015

Transatlantic crossing for historic documents

The Durham Times, Tuesday 2nd June.
By Gavin Havery.
Click here to read the original article.

Durham Cathedral is making history by sending one of its three priceless Magna Carta issues across the Atlantic this week.

It is the first time the document, which dates back to 1300, will have ever left its North-East home and will be sent along with the accompanying Forest Charter.

They are heading overseas as part of a national exhibition, which will tour four Canadian cities until December.

Starting in Ottawa, the exhibition will give Canadians a unique opportunity to come face-to-face with the documents.

Cathedral guide and senior steward Gordon Summerbell had the idea to loan them following a family holiday four years ago.

It has been organised to mark the 800th anniversary of the creation of the original Magna Carta by King John at Runnymede in 1215 and coincides with an exhibition of the 1216 copy at Palace Green Library, near Durham Cathedral, over the summer.

The 74-year-old retired bank manager, from Shotley Bridge, in County Durham, and his wife, Rosemary, and her sister Bernadette Toner, will be guests of Magna Carta Canada at the Canadian Museum of History when the exhibition is launched in Ottawa next week.

He said: “One of the ideas is that the reputation of Durham will be pushed to the fore, and of course that will include the cathedral.”

The documents will be the centrepiece of a bilingual, interpretive and interactive exhibit based on three themes: History, Legacy and Justice Today.

A bilingual documentary film, Magna Carta: The Enduring Struggle for Rights and Freedoms, will also be featured as part of the exhibition.

Suzy Rodness, co-chair of Magna Carta Canada, said: “Durham Cathedral’s gracious generosity in bringing this original issue of the Magna Carta to us has afforded Canadians a tactile, tangible, teachable moment.”

Click here for more information about Magna Carta and Canada.

June 2, 2015

Magna Carta 800th anniversary marked with commemorative stamps

BBC News, Tuesday 2nd June.
Click here to read the article as it appeared on the BBC.

A special set of commemorative stamps has been issued to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

The six stamps feature text from Magna Carta, and other charters, bills and declarations that have developed the rule of law around the world.

Magna Carta was granted by King John of England on 15 June 1215, establishing that the king was subject to the law rather than being above it.

A “foundation of liberty” postmark will also appear on letters this week.

Principles set out in Magna Carta charted the right to a fair trial, and limits on taxation without representation.
Landmark document

It also inspired a number of other documents, including the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Text from the American Bill of Rights of 1791, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and the 2013 Charter of the Commonwealth are among other texts that feature on the commemorative stamps.

Sir Robert Worcester, chairman of the Magna Carta 800th Committee, said: “The relevance of Magna Carta in the 21st Century is that it is the foundation of liberty.

“I am delighted that Royal Mail has marked this landmark document, and other key bills and declarations it inspired, with these striking stamps. It is fitting that they will be seen by people all around the world.”

Andrew Hammond, director of stamps and collectibles at Royal Mail said the legacy of Magna Carta had been far-reaching.

“The charter’s unique status as a fundamental text, guaranteeing freedom under the law, has been the inspiration for many key charters, bills and declarations which have become milestones in the development of the rule of law throughout history and across the world,” he said.

Royal Mail issues Magna Carta stamps to commemorate 800th Anniversary

A new stamp set also pays tribute to other bills declarations inspired by Magna Carta.

Royal Mail has issued Special Stamps to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

Royal Mail worked closely with the Magna Carta 800th Committee to produce six stamps to celebrate the Magna Carta itself and other landmark bills and declarations from which the rule of law developed throughout history and across the world.

As well as reproducing key texts from Magna Carta, the other stamps mark the 750th anniversary of Simon de Montfort’s Parliament, the Bill of Rights, the American Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of the Commonwealth.

The Magna Carta was the Charter of Liberties that King John granted at Runnymede on 15 June 1215.

The issuing of the Special Stamps and the signing of the Magna Carta will also be recognised with two special postmarks from 2-6 June and on 15 June.

Royal Mail vans in the 12 Magna Carta towns will feature the Magna Carta stamp.

The stamps will be on sale from 2 June 2015 at www.royalmail.com/magnacarta and from 8,000 Post Office branches across the UK.

Royal Mail worked closely with the Magna Carta 800th Committee to produce a six-stamp set commemorating Magna Carta itself, as well as major charters, bills and declarations that have developed the rule of law in the centuries since around the world.

Meaning ‘The Great Charter’, it was reluctantly granted by King John of England in Runnymede on 15 June 1215, as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced. Written in Latin on a single parchment and comprising a total of 63 clauses, the Magna Carta established for the first time, that the King was subject to the law rather than above it. By its terms, the King was committed to upholding the Rule of Law and ensuring that justice was done equally to every free man “by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land”.

Sir Robert Worcester, Chairman, Magna Carta 800th Committee, said: “The relevance of the Magna Carta in the 21st century is that it is the foundation of liberty. I am delighted that Royal Mail has marked this landmark document, and other key bills and declarations it inspired, with these striking stamps. It is fitting that they will be seen by people all around the world.”

Andrew Hammond, Director, Stamps and Collectibles, Royal Mail said: “The legacy of Magna Carta has been far-reaching. The Charter’s unique status as a fundamental text, guaranteeing freedom under the law, has been the inspiration for many key charters, bills and declarations which have become milestones in the development of the rule of law throughout history and across the world.”

The issuing of the Special Stamps set and the sealing of the Magna Carta will also be recognised with two special postmarks which will be applied to all stamped mail across the UK. The Special Stamps postmark will run from Tuesday 2 June to Friday 6 June and will say ‘Magna Carta stamps – Commemorating the foundation of liberty’. While the second will appear on Monday 15 June and will say; ‘Magna Carta 800th anniversary’.

There are 12 towns linked to the story of the Magna Carta unfolding and Royal Mail vans these in towns will feature a stamp from the set. The towns are: Runnymede; Faversham; Durham; Canterbury; Sandwich; Bury St Edmunds; St Albans; Salisbury; Oxford; City of London; Lincoln and Hereford.

Stamp-by-stamp

Simon de Montfort’s Parliament, 1265
Simon de Montfort’s parliament of January 1265 was the first to which the burgesses, the representatives of the towns, were summoned. De Montfort, a French political adventurer who had come to England in 1231 having inherited the earldom of Leicester, was the leader of the baronial opposition to King Henry III. In May 1264, he inflicted a massive defeat on the royalists at the Battle of Lewes, capturing both the king and his son. His radicalism, however, alienated most of the higher nobility, the leading men in the realm, and to compensate for their loss of support, he turned to the gentry and leading townsmen. In 1264, he summoned a parliament to which he gave orders that knights from the shires be elected. In the following year, in an initiative which acknowledged the growing importance of the towns, he went further by arranging for the election of burgesses. Together, these groups were to form the nucleus of the future House of Commons. De Montfort used parliaments both to promote his policies and to seek popular backing for them. His initiative in widening parliamentary representation was to survive his death in battle at Evesham in August 1265. In the reign of Henry III’s son, Edward I, the presence of the knights and burgesses was to become established, and their presence was required whenever the king sought assent to taxation.

Bill of Rights, 1689
The Bill of Rights, approved in December 1689, restated in statutory form the Declaration of Right presented by parliament to King William III and Queen Mary, in the wake of James II’s deposition in the previous year. Drawing on the political thinking of the philosopher John Locke, and following in the path of Magna Carta, the Bill laid down certain fundamental personal liberties, chief among them no royal interference with the law, no taxation by royal prerogative, freedom to petition the monarch and freedom of speech in parliament. Along with the other enactments of the years 1689 to 1701, the Bill successfully established the principle of parliamentary sovereignty in England.

American Bill of Rights, 1791
The Bill of Rights is the collective name given to the first ten amendments to the American constitution, approved in 1791. With the aim of entrenching the rights of the individual, neglected in the constitution, they guaranteed freedom of religion and speech, the liberty of the press, the right to petition and bear arms, and immunity against arbitrary search and arrest and excessive punishment. The tenth amendment reserved to the states all powers except those specifically delegated to the federal government. The indebtedness of the Bill of Rights to Magna Carta is especially clear in the wording of the fifth amendment, which promised that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law”, echoing the Charter’s 39th clause.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
The Declaration was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 in response to the horrors of war and represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled. The first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which was charged with drafting the Declaration, was Eleanor Roosevelt. The Declaration’s provisions fall into four main groups. The first affirms the rights of the individual, such as the right to life; the second, the rights of the individual in civil society, such as the right to own property and to marry; the third, such essential freedoms as freedom of association, thought and religion; and the fourth, social, economic and cultural rights, such as the right to work and enjoy leisure. While the Declaration is not a treaty, it forms the foundation of many national and international laws, and acts as a tool in applying pressure on governments that violate its terms.

Charter of the Commonwealth, 2013
The Charter of the Commonwealth, a document setting out the core values of the member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, was adopted in December 2012 and officially signed by Her Majesty the Queen in March the following year. It enshrines commitments to: participatory democracy; human rights; international peace and security; tolerance and understanding; freedom of expression; separation of judicial and governmental powers; good governance and the rule of law; sustainable development; protecting the environment; access to health, education, food and shelter; gender equality; the active involvement of young people; recognising the needs of small and vulnerable states; and the role of civil society.

For more information contact:
Natasha Ayivor
Royal Mail Press Office
100 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0HQ
Tel: 020 7449 8250
Mobile: 07436 280 002
Email: [email protected]
www.royalmail.com/stamps

About Royal Mail plc
For 50 years Royal Mail’s Special Stamp programme has commemorated and celebrated events and anniversaries pertinent to UK heritage and life. Today, there are an estimated 2.5 million stamp collectors and gifters in the UK and millions worldwide. Her Majesty the Queen approves all UK stamp designs before they are printed.

May 22, 2015

Commemorative Bells to Ring out in Celebration of Magna Carta 800th

Four new church bells specially commissioned to celebrate Magna Carta 800th will be cast for St. Mary’s Church, Thorpe in the Borough of Runnymede.

Believed to be the only bells to be cast in the UK for the MC800th anniversary they will be hung afterwards in St. Mary’s Church, Thorpe to join the existing four bells and provide a unique and long-lasting legacy for future generations.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry will undertake the casting of the four new bells, as they did in 1958 when the original three bells dating from 1693, 1725 and 1758 were recast to make four.

The bell inscriptions will include the names of King John, Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, Adam, Abbott of Chertsey Abbey and the MC800th logo.
St. Mary’s church is the oldest church in the borough and was in existence at the time when Magna Carta was sealed on Runnymede Meadows in 1215 AD. The St. Mary’s Bells Project is funded by generous donations from parishioners and a grant from the Magna Carta Trust.

The project will allow local schools and colleges to engage with moral, social and cultural aspects of learning, through exploring the church location, the history of bell-ringing and contemplation of the past 800 years’ growth of democracy throughout the world.

The Magna Carta Trust’s 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee is charged by the Magna Carta Trust to co-ordinate activities, raise the profile of the anniversary and deliver a number of key national and international aspirations.

For more information on the project, visit the project page

May 21, 2015

The Times Advocacy competition: Do we need a new Magna Carta for the digital age?

The Times, Student Law
Wednesday 21st May.
Click here to read the original article.

Trolls, instrusive advertising and surveillance: a debate is growing about the need for the protection of our privacy
The digital revolution of the past two decades has transformed our lives. But the promise of a communications Utopia has now turned sour in a bleak landscape of trolls, intrusive advertising and Big Brother surveillance.

So the question for entrants to this year’s Times Student Advocacy competition sponsored by Herbert Smith Freehills is: “Do we need a new Magna Carta for the digital age?”

The competition is open to all students registered with a UK academic institution, with prizes on offer worth £6,500.

Click here for more information on how to enter.

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