‘Take that, kingface’: the Pitchup.com guide to Magna Carta 800
Gadzooks, the Magna Carta is 800 years old this June! Bad King John – he of the high taxes and fights with France – may not have realised that the document he was gently persuaded to sign by teed-off barons way back on 15 June 1215 would become a symbol of British democracy, but, well, accidental history is often the best of all.
The story of the Magna Carta is covered here in a glorious special by our fave horrible historians (and here by the splendid British Library), telling the tale of how John became increasingly unpopular with the country’s barons after imposing many many taxes and generally being an all-round heartily disliked bad egg.
‘We think you’ll find you’re not above the law just because you’ve got a shiny crown,’ quoth the barons after they captured London and forced John to negotiate.
‘And by the way, we’d rather like a law saying that we can’t be imprisoned just because, and that every man is entitled to justice and a trial of his peers. So there. Take that, kingface.’
(We may have paraphrased the barons’ speeches slightly.)
And thus, the Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede in Surrey. Huzzah! John later sneakily reneged on the deal (boo), because that’s just the kind of dude he was, but future, more pleasant, kings adopted the main tenets of the charter and Things Have Never Been The Same since. Another huzzah!
For the 800th anniversary, June, July and the rest of 2015 have Carta-themed events crammed into them all over Britain – and how fortuitous it is to celebrate democracy at a time when Michael Gove wants to meddle with the Human Rights Act. Round up the kids, a sense of national pride and your usual camping gear to trundle along to the Pitchup.com pick of Magna Carta events in 2015:
Salisbury Cathedral holds one of only four copies of the original Magna Carta in all the land, so we’re not a whit surprised to see that Salisbury and its cathedral have the ante well and truly upped for Magna Carta events this year.
Performances of Shakespeare’s King John by players from the Globe Theatre are included in this year’s Salisbury International Arts Festival from 27 – 30 May (the festival itself runs from 22 May – 6 June); a Magna Carta Gala Concert is at the cathedral in June; and a week-long ‘Magna Flora’ Flower Festival will be held in September.
Stacks of other events including walks, lectures and a Magna Cantata are on from now until November: more details here.
Lincoln’s a mighty important Magna Carta city: it holds the only other copy of the Magna Carta outside London at Lincoln Cathedral (the remaining two are at the British Library) and Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was instrumental in the signing of the Magna Carta, was from Lincoln and studied at the cathedral’s schools.
Like Salisbury, the ante has been properly upped in Lincoln this year for all things Magna, around the city at Lincoln Cathedral, Lincoln Castle and various Lincoln museums.
A new vault opened on 1 April 2015 in the castle to display the Carta and ‘blockbuster exhibitions’ are planned from June to September at the castle, the Wren Library in the cathedral, The Collection and the Usher Gallery.
Loads of lectures by law peeps are on until 29 October – full list here – but probably of more interest to the kids will be the Magna party on 13 June and collecting clues to swap for gold on a barons’ trail around the city.
Magna Carta party, Durham
We’re aware that law lectures and classical concerts might not be of much interest to many kids, even those who like Horrible Histories. And thusly, our next mega Magna event is the mega party to be thrown by the peeps at Durham’s Palace Green Library on 13 and 14 June for children aged five to 11.
This is one of several free family activities at the library to celebrate all things Carta: mini historians/rampagers might also like making Merry Monarch puppets on 6 – 7 June; Fabulous Flags on 20 – 21 June and protest poster making on the 27th – 28th (we like the sound of the last one).
Durham is holding several other celebratory events in June including the world premiere of The Great Charter community opera at Durham Cathedral – details on all Durham Magna Carta events here.
Speaking of kids, it’s never too early to introduce sprogs to afternoon tea and sitting nicely at table, say old-fashioned we, which is why we think tea and scones for adults and children to celebrate the Magna Carta on 14 June sounds just magnif.
‘Plan an afternoon tea to celebrate, debate and reflect on your freedoms and rights,’ runs the LiberTeas tagline, which should provide immense fun/room for debate on your rights to have just one cup of tea in peace just for once, versus your four year old’s vocalisation on their right to finger paint the tablecloth with jam.Like the barons, hold firm against tyranny here – it’ll stand you in good stead later.
Other revolutionary events
Magna Carta 800 at Pontefract Castle, Wakefield, 20 June
Pageant and spectacle at Hedingham Castle, Essex, 14 June