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?