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The Charter, the Temple, and the Temple Church, ‘Mother Church of the Common Law.’

(Photograph is copyright Chris Chrisdoulou)

Since 1608, the Temple in London has been the land of Inner and Middle Temple, two of London’s Inns of Court. The Temple is geographically and professionally at the heart of legal London, and will be at the heart of the Anniversary’s celebrations.

The Temple was as central to England’s polity in 1215 as it is today. It was effectively King John’s London headquarters, November 1214 – May 1215. From the Temple the charter was issued in November 1214 that guaranteed the freedom of the English Church. For a week in January 1215 John was confronted in the Temple by a posse of barons demanding a charter; these fraught days opened the road to Runnymede. From the Temple, on 9 May 1215, the charter was issued that still, to this day, guarantees to the City of London the right to elect its own Mayor.

At the heart of the Temple stands the Temple Church. Here is the effigy of William the Marshal, the greatest knight of the age, who mediated between King and barons and was a witness to the Charter; he reissued the Charter in his own name as Regent to the young Henry III, and so ensured its survival. The Marshal died in 1219 and was buried next to his close friend Aymeric, Master of the Temple, who had also been a witness at Runnymede. Next to the Marshal’s effigy lies the effigy of his eldest son, William, who was among the Charter’s surety-barons.

Magna Carta was the supreme icon of liberty for the lawyers of Inner Temple who resisted the absolutism of the Stuart kings in the 1630s. Middle Templars took the Charter’s principles with them to America in the same years. Five members of Inner or Middle Temple would sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776, seven Middle Templars the American Constitution in 1787. Such links remain strong: the American Ambassador, Chief Justice and Attorney General are all Honorary Benchers of Middle Temple.

Inner and Middle Temple are working on a major programme of conferences, lectures and other events, for the study and re-affirmation of the Charter’s principles throughout the Common Law world and beyond. The Temple Church will celebrate the London Charter with a service early in May 2015, and on Sunday 14 June 2015 will present a rededication to the Charter’s principles.

The Knights Templar had a choir of choirmen and boy-choristers in the Temple Church; the Church now has one of the finest such choirs in England. The choir will surely have sung for King John and the barons in January 1215; it will sing again, 800 years later, at these services in the Church that now houses three of the heroes of Runnymede.

For more information about The Temple Church and Magna Carta, please click here.

BBC World Service: Saturday 13th June

The BBC World Service’s Outlook programme will be recorded in the Temple Church from 11.30am on Saturday morning. Host Shaimaa Khalil and a panel will examine the international legacy of Magna Carta and ask why it remains an icon of freedom and democracy so many centuries after it was written.

The panel will include former South African judge Richard Goldstone, American legal scholar and constitutional expert Professor A E Dick Howard, Libyan lawyer Elham Saudi, and Dr Satvinder Juss, Professor of Law at King’s College London. They will “examine the international legacy of Magna Carta and ask why it remains an icon of freedom and democracy so many centuries after it was written.”

The Temple Church Choir will also sing, the Master of the Temple, Robin Griffith Jones will set the scene as it was in 1215, and actor Julian Glover will read excerpts from Magna Carta itself.

Click here to listen again on BBC iPlayer.

Saturday 19 September and Sunday 20 September – “Revealing Magna Carta at Temple”.

Temple’s summer of Magna Carta celebrations climaxes with the chance to get inside the beautiful surroundings of Inner Temple, Middle Temple their gardens, Temple Church and the Royal Courts of Justice – including parts not normally open to the public. Tours, family-friendly entertainment and a delicious food market will combine to make a great day out for all. Part of Open House London weekend.
Sat and Sun: 10am – 5pm
Free of charge.
All events take place at Temple, London, EC4Y
Nearest tubes: Temple, Blackfriars, Chancery Lane

Dates for your Diary

19th February – Middle Temple (Lord Judge) – ‘Magna Carta, luck or Judgement?’
20th February – Temple Church to host a Magna Carta Stakeholder day; an afternoon for events partners to discuss the national campaign together, followed by a service.
1st March – A ‘Read not Dead’ Globe performance of The Troublesome Reign of King John – book here
6th March – Sovereignty, Liberty and the Legacy of Magna Carta: a debate event for 40 15-18 year old students at Cumberland Lodge, in partnership with Egham Museum and Inner Temple.
10th – 19th April – The Globe Theatre’s run of Shakespeare’s King John at Temple Church. Click here for bookings.
12th May – Lincoln’s Inn (Lord Neuberger): “Magna Carta and the Holy Grail”
June (Dates TBA) – Exhibition including 1297 Statute Roll, and the Victoria & Albert’s casts of effigies of John and Henry III.
1st June – 20th September – Magna Carta and the City Walking Tours to begin. Tours will be free of charge, and will begin at Temple and progress to the Guildhall.
19 – 20 September – “Revealing Magna Carta at Temple”. More information about this above.
19th October – Gray’s Inn (Baroness Hale). “Magna Carta – Did She Die in Vain?”
23rd November – Sir John Baker Lecture, ‘The Temple and the Great Charter’. Inner Temple.

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Magna Carta, or as it is properly called the Great Charter of Liberty, was born on 15 June 1215 at Runnymede when King John – Bad King John as he is more commonly known – was persuaded to accede to a number of demands made...

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