Magna Carta: 800 Years of Legacy

It has been 800 years since the Magna Carta was born.

Eight centuries.

As far as anniversaries go in 2015, this is probably the oldest one!

Luckily, it hasn’t gone unmarked. The British Library created an exhibition on the famous document named Manga Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. It opened on 13 March and closed on 1 September. It was the biggest pubic display on this document ever.

This seems a strange week to suddenly talk about the Magna Carta (actually means Great Charter in medieval Latin). But a great exhibition has closed, and I believe when something ends, it should be celebrated. Many apologies for not writing on the actual date of the 800th anniversary on the 12 June 2015!

But my reason for not writing was because I was actually at British Library on 12 June 2015. There was even another little showcase of the charter there.

There was a massive tapestry of the Wikipedia page that was hand sewn by everyone in this world, including prisoners and lawyers. The Wikipedia was chosen because it was a sign of democracy; everyone and anyone can amend a Wikipedia page. I thought it was a very clever, unique idea; it was quite amazing.

Source: The Guardian. Click on the photo to read the article.

Being a medievalist, of course I would go and see these exhibitions. It seems silly not to.

This document holds a personal note to me, because I am actually related to King John. (Well, not directly, but 77 times removed!) Despite the fact he was such a bad king, I like knowing we’re related; and I feel proud that one of my ancestors played a part in shaping the world as it is today in such an important aspect of history, despite that never being uncle’s intention.

The barons were fed up that King John was abusing his power, so they made a law that he couldn’t do that anymore.

The exhibition was great. It gave the whole history: starting way before the birth of the Carta, and through to how we use it today. Knowing the prequel helped a lot; it gave context to why this now-significant piece of vellum was drawn up. One particular point of turn was the murder of Thomas Becket by King Henry II in 1190. Kings, like him, were tyrannical. The uprising and the unrest was slowly moving, it was probably inevitable something was going to be done.

The well known story is that on the 15 June 1215, King John met with his opposition at Runnymede in Surrey. There was a political crisis, while John kept stealing people’s money on the grounds that he could do whatever he wanted. The barons were fed up that the King was abusing his power, so they made a law that he couldn’t do that anymore. Furthermore, they wanted him to know that he was not above the law, and that no-one should be. The monarchy have not been since.

This excellent little video from the British Library, narrated by Monty Python’s Terry Jones gives an excellent explanation of the story of how the story came about:

Of course, Horrible Histories have done an amusing interpretation of the said king, and explains the document in a simple way in order for children to learn of its story. This video was even featured it the exhibition. Ben Miller makes him look like a spoilt brat. It’s funny!

My poor uncle seems to gets painted as such a bad king. But I wonder if he really was, adn whether it was propaganda like how it was with Richard III. That said, he must have been terrible for the barons to revolt against him, and make these laws that essentially we still abide by today.

Since the inception in the Middle Ages, the charter has been changed and amended many times. As the displays explained, it served as a basic to the human rights around the world, and America’s Declaration of Independence.

This little piece of document has shaped our world as we know it now. We should be thankful for it. If this did not appear in history, how would our world be today?

Source: British Library, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, [Date accessed: September 2015]

One thought on “Magna Carta: 800 Years of Legacy”

  1. A lot of it was indeed propaganda, like with Richard III. Unlike his father and brother, John had neither historians (well, chroniclers) at his court, nor any admiring future chroniclers along with him on the (relatively few) occasions when he rode into battle personally. Consequently, all the writing we have about him comes from monks who were still ticked off about the Interdict, even though most of them were writing long after it was over. Also it didn’t help that his son had largely been raised by his by-then-rather-estranged wife, who obviously wasn’t going to do his memory any favors.

    Which isn’t to say he didn’t make a lot of mistakes. He did make lots of them. But he never sat down and watched as several thousand captives were slaughtered, either. (I know, everything about the Crusades was horrible, but that was particularly nasty.)


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