What is the Magna Carta?
The Magna Carta is a document which was issued in 1215 by King John of England in a bargain with a group of rebellious barons. ‘Magna Carta’ literally means ‘the Great Charter’ and it is one of the most famous documents in the world.
Why is the Magna Carta so famous?
The Magna Carta established the principle that everyone, including the monarch, is subject to the rule of law. It also says that all ‘free men’ have a right to justice and to a fair trial. Some of the Magna Carta’s key principles are reflected in constitutional documents around the world including the United States Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Magna Carta is seen as an international symbol of freedom and Nelson Mandela even cited it in his trial in 1964.
This year marks 800 years since the Magna Carta was sealed on 15th June 1215. The four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta are held by the British Library in London (which has two copies), Lincoln Castle and Salisbury Cathedral. Each of these places is hosting an exhibition to mark the anniversary and there are many other events planned.
Famously King John sealed the Magna Carta at Runnymede, a meadow by the River Thames in southern England. Today Runnymede is an area of peaceful countryside and is owned by the National Trust which means that it’s open to the public to visit. You can take a picnic there and go for a walk. On Monday June 15th, 800 years to the day since the Magna Carta was sealed, there will be a Festival of Liberty in the meadow to celebrate the anniversary. There are several memorials at Runnymede including one to the sealing of the Magna Carta and another to President John F Kennedy.
London’s British Library is hosting a major exhibition called Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy from Friday 13th March until Tuesday September 1st. Besides the library’s copies of the Magna Carta there will be various other unique and important exhibits on display including Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence and an original copy of the Bill of Rights. There will be a children’s free audio guide available to use at the exhibition and there’s no charge for under-16s to go into the exhibition.
Salisbury Cathedral is hosting a new Magna Carta exhibition which opens on 7th March. (I’m going to Salisbury in April and I hope to visit the exhibition – I’ll report back). The Salisbury copy of the Magna Carta is said to be the best preserved of the four and will take pride of place in the exhibition. There will be interactive exhibits and videos to bring the Magna Carta story to life. From June 15th until September 7th you can follow the Barons Charter Trail around the city of Salisbury. The trail will feature 35 new Baron sculptures painted by local artists which will be auctioned in aid of the Trussell Trust once the trail has finished. Lonely Planet has named Salisbury as one of the top ten cities in the world to visit in 2015.
Lincoln Castle is currently undergoing a multimillion pound restoration including a purpose-built vault to house and display its copy of the Magna Carta. Lincoln Castle will reopen on April 1st. There’s limited information available at the moment about family-friendly activities at the castle but keep an eye on the Lincoln Castle website for news as the opening date approaches.
Parliament is encouraging UK communities to have afternoon tea on Sunday 14th June (the day before the sealing of the Magna Carta) to celebrate the freedom and rights which we enjoy. The event is called LiberTeas and is sure to involve cake and talking. I’m in.
To find out more about the Magna Carta anniversary go to magnacarta800th.com
Have you ever seen a copy of the Magna Carta? Would you like to go to one of these exhibitions? What do your children know about the Magna Carta?
We are plannng a huge celebration at our school for this as all our local roads are named after The Magna Carta – so much work to do
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Sarah Ebner says
I’ve been hoping to go to Lincoln for some years and am even more tempted this year thanks to the magna carta connection. Great stuff!
It’s amazing to think that our history stretches back that far and beyond.
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Clare Nicholas says
A very interesting post.
Not somewhere I’ve visited before but I would like to.
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Sonya. Cisco says
Ooh I saw something about this on the news yesterday, such a fascinating and important document. We live near enough to Salisbury to make that our most easy one to visit!
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Emma | The Mini Mes and Me says
These sound like some great things to do in half term. I’ve never seen the Magna Carta before x
Thank you. This is very interesting as I had totally no idea what Magna Carta is / was.
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Wow 800 years. I need to tell my girls about this and its history.
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A really interesting post xxx
Sylvia @ Happiness is homemade says
Very interesting post! I love history so it’s always a pleasure to read something about it 🙂
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Louise Edwards says
We don’t live far from Lincoln castle so I will have to keep an eye out for what is happening there. I visited Salisbury Cathedral a few years ago so may have seen that part then. Good to see what is happening xx
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Shell Louise says
I live in Lincoln and will be keeping an eye on the website 🙂 I also like the sound of afternoon tea!
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My Family Ties says
We have never taken our children to see the Magna Carta but really must go as it is so historic and very interesting to learn about.
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Cherished By Me says
What an amazing piece of history to see, I am sure I have seen it at the British Museum but maybe I am wrong.
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Right, adding “seeing the Magna Carta” onto my list of things to do this year! I really want to get to Runnymede too…I need to get planning! Great post.
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Might have to make a visit to the British Library with the kids!
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Jen aka Muminthemadhouse says
We are going to take the boys to Runnymede when we next go down south. We went to see the version at the British Museum the last time we visited.
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Rachel @ Parenthood Highs and Lows says
I love anything to do with history, so this was really interesting!
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When my brother was here, we went on a Magna Carta hunt around Britain. In the end, we only got to see the British Museum one because Salisbury Cathedral was closed when we got there. The train delays on the way to Lincoln and then we gave up and returned to London. I guess we are history geeks who got sidetracked by cute little coffee shops 🙂
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Gretta Schifano says
Well done for managing to see two of the copies – I’ve not seen any yet!