Magna Carta 800th anniversary - the effects of this significant event still reverberate
PUBLISHED: 09:50 26 May 2015 | UPDATED: 09:50 26 May 2015
A spectacular river event led by The Gloriana – the iconic sight at HM The Queen’s river procession for her Diamond Jubilee – will be the highlight of the Royal Borough’s 800th anniversary celebrations of the sealing of the Magna Carta.
Residents will be able to view the procession from public locations along the Thames from Hurley to Runnymede, taking in Marlow, Cookham, Maidenhead, Eton and Windsor over the weekend of Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 June.
A copy of the Magna Carta will be transported downstream, along with ‘King John’ and ‘barons’, and playlets will be acted out at seven locations along the route, telling the story of the writing of the document.
The event is being organised in partnership with Thames Alive – which helped to organise the manpowered squadron of the Queen’s Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant in 2012 – and Runnymede Borough Council. Contributions are being made by all partners with the overall costs being underwritten by the Royal Borough.
Cllr Eileen Quick says: “I am so excited that this wonderful row barge will be part of these spectacular once-in-a-lifetime celebrations. Residents will be able to see the flotilla at a number of public locations as it makes its way downstream. Magna Carta is the foundation of law and democracy in many parts of the world, not just here in the United Kingdom, and the world’s eyes will be on us in June.
“The flotilla will be an added draw for British and international visitors travelling here to take part in the celebrations. So the borough benefits twice over – residents will be able to enjoy the procession down the river and there will be increased business opportunities.”
Cllr Margaret Lenton, chairman of Wraysbury Parish Council and chairman of the Royal Borough MC800 stakeholders group, said: “While the main focus will inevitably be on Runnymede, the pageant and many other events will highlight the key role in the sealing of the Magna Carta of this side of the river, especially Ankerwycke in Wraysbury.”
A medieval festival in the grounds of Royal Windsor Racecourse on 13 and 14 June will offer access to the river boat flotilla. Jousting and falconry shows are among the planned attractions, family ticket for four including parking £53 (under 3s free) see www.magnacartafestival.com.
Other upcoming events include the performance of a new fanfare, a medieval stories display at the Windsor & Royal Borough Museum and a dinner organised by the Windsor and Maidenhead Community Forum.
In June there will be LiberTeas (afternoon teas to celebrate, debate and reflect on freedoms and rights) in Wraysbury, Eton, Windsor central and Sutherland Grange in Dedworth; a flower festival, a fair, a play and a peal of bells in Wraysbury; a procession by Barons of England archers through Windsor; and a walk by Gurkhas from Lincoln to Salisbury via the Royal Borough.
A legacy that lasts around the world today
In one sometimes overlooked aspect, the Magna Carta signed at Wraysbury was a failure. It was supposed to be a peace treaty between the unpopular King John and the exasperated English barons who had set up a rebel camp at Staines, with forces on the meadows at Runnymede. They were fed up with his autocratic rule and taxes. With the Royal fortress at Windsor, the King’s supporters were on the opposite bank of the Thames. There’s still some doubt about where the actual signing took place.
It may well have been an island on the river, perhaps Magna Carta Island in Wraysbury, or beside the now ancient yew (at least 1,400 years old, so no mere stripling when Magna Carta was signed) on the small island of Ankerwyke.
Wherever it happened, Magna Carta ended up being updated several times. King John died within months of the first signing, and a new Great Charter was issued in 1216 under the reign of Henry III, still a child.
Further versions appeared in 1217 and 1225 through continued trouble times. In 1258 a group of barons, citing the Magna Carta as their cause, seized power but were eventually defeated by Henry’s son, the then Prince Edward, who as Edward I was to become known as Longshanks, or Hammer of the Scots. Political intrigue suited him, and he countered the rebel barons by claiming he was the person actually upholding the fine words of Magna Carta.
In 1297 he reissued the 1225 Charter. So it took a long time to get to some sort of peace, but enshrined within Magna Carta are rights which have become woven into society, even if they were originally there to protect just the barons.
Within one of four surviving copies of the 1215 version is the clause: ‘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.”
The right to trial by jury and to be presumed innocent until convicted stem from this.
No taxes could be demanded without the general consent of the realm (at the time this meant the nobility rather than all of us). Today we see the protections given to senior churchmen then as enshrining the right to freely follow a religion if we so wish.
While virtually all of Magna Carta has been replaced or repealed, its theme has spread across much of the world, including within the United Nations and as an antecedent of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.
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