July 21, 2015
Mock trial to mark 800th anniversary of Magna Carta
Monday 20th July
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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 14, 2015
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
April 21, 2015
Magna Carta to Malala: primary schools to receive new ‘freedom’ guide
By Anita Singh, 21 Apr 2015
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Pupils are to learn how sealing of Magna Carta in 1215 continues to shape the world we live in.
Every primary school in Britain is to receive a souvenir copy of Magna Carta and a guide explaining the links between the historic document and such modern freedoms as the end of apartheid, legalisation of same-sex marriage and the Scottish referendum.
The guide, billed as “a young person’s guide to 800 years in the fight for freedom”, is written in the style of a tabloid newspaper in order to make the history lesson easily accessible.
It explains the legacy of Magna Carta, taking in the US declaration of independence, the abolition of slavery, suffragettes and the Civil Rights movement.
More recent events include the Leveson Inquiry, the Arab Spring, St Andrew’s golf club voting to accept women and Malala Yousef winning the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
Edward Snowden’s leak of classified US intelligence documents will be taught alongside news of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the Church of England’s vote ro ordain women as priests.
The project is being funded through charitable donations to the Magna Carta Trust, which counts the Queen as patron.
The 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta takes place on June 15. The Queen and Duke of Cambridge will attend a commemoration event at the site in Runnymede, Surrey, where the document was sealed.
Sir Robert Worcester, chairman of the Trust’s 800th Anniversary Committee, said this year represents the best opportunity to explain the events of 1215 to primary school children.
He said: “The fight for freedom and rights and the rule of law is a global story, but one that should be extra special to everyone living in the UK since its origins and dramas – from the freedom to choose our rulers and religion to equality of opportunity and the right to live without fear of unlawful imprisonment – are so inextricably linked to the history of Britain itself.
“Freedoms are being eroded faster than they can be won. That’s why it is vital to take the time to step back and look with wonder at what has been achieved over the last 800 years.”
The copy of Magna Carta is a facsimile of the document kept at Salisbury Cathedral, one of only four original copies.
The guide, called the Magna Carta Chronicle, has been written by Christopher Lloyd, who said: “Few people carry an interconnected narrative of the past around in their heads because history has not been taught in schools this way for several generations.
“That’s why important stories such as how we have come to enjoy today’s liberties and freedoms can so easily get lost.”
The Magna Carta Chronicle is published by What On Earth? priced £8.99. To order your copy call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk
The Magna Carta explained
By Telegraph Reporters and PA
21 Apr 2015
Click here to read the original article.
Every primary school in Britain is to receive a souvenir copy of Magna Carta. Here is a Q&A about the document.
The Magna Carta was granted 800 years ago. So what is it, how did it come about, and what does it do today?
• What is Magna Carta?
Magna Carta is an 800-year-old document containing the idea that no-one is above the law, and it still forms the foundation of many modern ideas and documents today.
• What does Magna Carta mean?
It means “Great Charter” in Latin. In fact the whole document is in Latin.
• When and where was Magna Carta granted?
Magna Carta was first drawn up in 1215, granted by King John on June 15 at Runnymede near the River Thames in Surrey. A different version (the one we draw from today) was reissued by John’s son, Henry III, 10 years later in 1225. Magna Carta was finally enrolled on the statute book (meaning it became part of English law) by Edward I in 1297.
• How many of the original Magna Carta documents survive?
King John sent copies of the first Magna Carta across his kingdom – though we are not certain about the actual number. Today only four survive: one in Lincoln Cathedral, one in Salisbury Cathedral, and two in the British Library.
• Why was Magna Carta first written and granted?
Despite what it stands for today, Magna Carta was not written with lofty ideas of justice and liberty in mind. It was originally meant as a peace treaty between King John (of Robin Hood fame) and his barons, with whom he was at war. The barons had captured London and John found himself in a political mess – he needed a quick get-out solution.
• Did Magna Carta achieve its short-term aims of creating peace?
Not at all – in fact it failed spectacularly. Although John agreed to Magna Carta at first, he quickly became bitter when its terms were forced upon him. He wrote to the Pope to get it annulled. The Pope actually happened to agree with John (for once), saying Magna Carta was “illegal, unjust, harmful to royal rights and shameful to the English people”. He then declared the charter “null and void of all validity for ever”.
Full-scale civil war then broke out between John and his barons. It only ended after John’s death from illness in 1216.
• Is it true that King John never “signed” Magna Carta?
Yes, at least not in the way we think of signing. Back in the Middle Ages kings never signed their name on documents to pass them into law. Instead John used his Great Seal to authenticate the document. This subtlety has confused many people over the years. Most recently the Royal Mint has been criticised for the design on its commemorative 800th anniversary £2 coin, which shows John brandishing the document and a quill.
• Why did John’s son reissue Magna Carta?
Henry III came to the throne aged just nine. A few days into his reign, important men around the young king issued a new version of Magna Carta to try to regain the barons’ support. When Henry reached 18 years old he reissued a greatly-revised version in his own name. This 1225 document was granted explicitly in return for a tax payment by the whole kingdom.
• How much of Magna Carta is relevant today?
The original Magna Carta had 63 clauses. A third of this text was either cut or rewritten for the 1225 version. Today, only three of the original 63 clauses remain on the statute books. Of these three survivors one defends the liberties and rights of the English Church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, and the third gives all English subjects the right to justice and a fair trial.
There are some very good reasons the other 60 clauses have been dropped. Many are very specific to the Middle Ages – dealing with property ownership, the workings of the justice system, and taxes with no modern equivalent (“scutage” and “socage” anyone?)
Other clauses that we have dispensed with include a law banning fish weirs on rivers, the dismissal of specific individual royal servants, and the standardisation of weights and measures we do not use any more.
• How important is that clause about justice and a fair trial?
It is incredibly important today, but it was buried deep in the original document and made very little splash in 1215. Part of its success is its adaptability to all sorts of situations throughout the centuries.
If you were wondering what the actual text was, here it is (translated into modern English of course):
“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. To no-one will we sell, to no-one deny or delay right or justice.”
That basically means the law belongs to everyone, not just the powerful. It is the bedrock of our society today.
• When has Magna Carta been used throughout the centuries?
In 1265 – just 40 years after Henry III’s final reissuing of Magna Carta – the relationship between the promises made by the king and the granting of taxation paved the way for the first English Parliament.
In the next century, Parliament interpreted Magna Carta as a right to a fair trial for all subjects.
During the Stuart period, and particularly in the English Civil War, Magna Carta was used to restrain the power of monarchs (at a time when monarchs on the continent were supremely powerful).
There are strong influences from Magna Carta in the American Bill of Rights (written in 1791). To this day there is a 1297 copy in the National Archives in Washington DC.
Even more recently, we can see the basic principles of Magna Carta very clearly in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – penned in 1948 just after the Second World War.
When King John stuck his seal on that parchment eight centuries ago, he could not possibly have known the magnitude of what he was doing.
March 19, 2015
Magna Carta: Lincoln gets ready for its close-up
The Telegraph Travel, 19th March
Having toured the world, Lincoln’s Magna Carta is finally coming to rest in a dramatic new setting which will open next month. Sophie Campbell visits ahead of the fanfare.
There are conditions attached; there always are with a superstar. In the case of Lincoln’s Magna Carta, these include temperature (maximum 22C), humidity (40 per cent) and its own personal bodyguard in the form of Chris Woods, the director of the National Conservation Service, who has to be there if it is handled. Like many celebrities, it lives in a vacuum (well almost) and hates light.
As we know, this year is a big one for the four surviving versions of the charter that resulted from King John’s fractious meeting with his barons at Runnymede in 1215. There are new exhibitions at Salisbury Cathedral, which owns one, and the British Library, which owns two. All four documents starred in a February “Unification” event for bigwigs, scholars and 1,250 lucky members of the public.
But Lincoln’s Magna Carta is to the others what Diana Ross is to the Supremes. Not so much for its quality, although it has finely justified calligraphy and holes for a diamond-shaped seal.
No, Lincoln is the only Magna Carta that tours like a diva. London, St Albans, America (twice), Australia. At the end of its triumphant 2014 tour of America, it flew back on an Airbus 380 with its own bed.
Faced with a star of this magnitude, what could Lincolnshire County Council do but build it a dedicated vault, within the walls of Lincoln’s Norman castle and under the gaze of its actual owner, next-door Lincoln Cathedral?
“We started talking about it 10 years ago,” said Mary Powell, who works in tourism for the council and has led on the project from the start. “And of course we thought ahead to 2015, but the castle was also in a terrible state of repair.”
Now here we were on the Wall Walk, high above the six-acre castle bailey. Sections were open before, but it’s now a full circuit and, along with the Vault, is part of the £22 million “Lincoln Castle Revealed” project opening on April 1.
This is the highest point of the Lincoln Edge, carefully chosen by the Norman invaders, and far below farmland stretched away into haze. To one side of us was the cathedral, golden in the light. On the other, within the bailey, a vertical cylinder of trendily rusted steel held a new lift shaft that opens up the wall to wheelchair users. While digging its foundations, workmen found 10 Saxon burials, including a male skeleton in a sarcophagus, and below that Roman remains, possibly from the fort that once ran from the hilltop all the way down to the River Witham.
Beyond this lay two former prisons, one Georgian, one Victorian, and between them the semi-circular roof of the Magna Carta Vault. To the west were the National Skills Centre, housing workshops for “dirty” skills such as masonry and “clean” skills such as textiles, and Lincoln Crown Court.
At ground level, the castle has been opened up so that Lincoln residents can walk through as they cross the city, visiting the café or shop. Paying visitors can access the Wall Walk and the restored prisons, as well as the Vault.
Everything smelled of paint that day. The shop was being stocked, the café – in the room that once housed Magna Carta – was yet to serve any food, and in the prison chapel council employees were experimenting with dummy heads.
I can’t get that image out of my mind. The Victorian prison briefly adopted the “separate system”, the idea being to isolate prisoners, one man per cell, and tall walls divided the exercise yard into cake slices of space, one man per slice. As they filed into head-height chapel pews, each closed a partition behind him, so he was standing in a coffin-shaped space, blind to everything but the preacher. The preacher looked out over a sea of disembodied heads; hence the dummies.
The rest was what you might call “Porridge Vernacular”, with metal walkways and an upper landing. Cells contained displays on prison life and the smaller female wing was partly dedicated to archaeological finds, including the Saxon sarcophagus. A glass floor revealed the basement, converted for use by school groups so that children can dress up and lock themselves (temporarily) in cells.
And so to the vault, which was crawling with busy men in hard hats and hi-vis vests. “Ten years and we’re still going right to the wire,” said Mary wryly, “but you know, all the guys working here are so, so proud of what they’ve done.”
I’m not surprised. The Vault and auditorium were of superb quality, with polished-concrete walls and stairs curving down around the lift shaft to a 210-degree floor-to-ceiling video installation, setting the document in context. A double-height wall showed the entire text of Magna Carta, translated from Latin into English, with the key clauses – the only ones, please note, to have survived in modern legislation – picked out in gold.
The vault itself was the size of a small truck. The first part was polished concrete and the second – the inner sanctum – womb-like terracotta. All was dim. All was quiet. Magna Carta was not there.
Of course it wasn’t. It was recovering from the rigours of the Unification Tour, relaxing in the Lincolnshire Archives, and will appear just in time for the opening. Meanwhile there were three holes in the floor awaiting display cases from Italy: turns out it will share its space with a 1217 Charter of the Forest – almost an appendix – and in front of them will sit the warm-up act, a visiting document that will change every few months. The first will be a “John Charter” from 1213, awarding liberties and freedoms to Lincoln Cathedral.
I barely scratched the surface in Lincoln. There was a stupendous cathedral roof tour, where the guide’s torchlight picked up Norman tunnels disappearing inside the walls, roof spaces bristling with thousand-year-old oak beams, and views on to unwitting visitors in the nave and transepts below. There was the Exchequer Gate, leading to the market square, where Magna Carta may well have been kept in the cathedral archives (it’s said to have hung on the wall for years).
It seems to me that Magna Carta Bagging makes the perfect jaunt, travelling between Lincoln and Salisbury via London, seeing all four documents in situ and in style. The Supremes of early medieval history would expect no less.