On 15th June 1215,King John acceded to barons’ and bishops’ demands to limit his powers and sealed Magna Carta at Runnymede. This version of Magna Carta was revised several times in the 13th Century, and the 1297 version became part of English law.
This year marks the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, the foundation stone of democracy that paved the way for English common law, limiting the power of authoritarian rule and bringing about trial by jury. Widely regarded as England’s greatest export, it has brought freedom to people all over the world and is even seen as the grandfather of America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Over the past 800 years, denials of Magna Carta’s basic principles have led to a loss of liberties, loss of human rights and even genocide. It is an exceptional document on which democratic society has been constructed.
Magna Carta’s legacy has been kept alive by each generation reinterpreting the text and finding a meaning in it that is relevant to them. Whilst much of the detail in Magna Carta is now obsolete, the principles of freedom, liberty and justice are as important today as they were 800 years ago. How can we use the principles of Magna Carta to create a fairer society? How do we deliver justice for all, when oppression still exists in the world? How do we make tough decisions about issues like climate change, migration and national security when the outcome might restrict individual freedoms? Whose powers do we need to limit, and whose rights do we need to defend?
To commemorate Magna Carta’s immense legacy, celebrations and events marking its 800th anniversary are taking place throughout the UK, and across the world, in 2015 – and Kent is no exception.
The Garden of England has several notable connections with Magna Carta, namely:
- A 1300 reissue of Magna Carta in the ownership of Faversham Town Council, and held by the town since its issue
- The 1215 Canterbury Magna Carta, one of the surviving original copies held at the British Library
- Canterbury is one of the UK’s five official ‘charter towns’
- Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, who was seen as the ‘architect’ of Magna Carta and mediated the sealing of the charter
- The TextusRoffensis, the book of early laws that influenced Magna Carta, is held by Rochester Cathedral
- Instrumental sieges fought at Rochester and Dover.
- The recent rediscovery of the 1300 Sandwich Magna Carta, owned by Sandwich Town Council and held at the Kent County Council Kent History and Library Centre
Visit Kent is working with partners across the county bring to Kent’s unique role in the Magna Carta story to life. Visit Kent has been awarded £81,000 of Heritage Lottery Funding to create a striking touring exhibition, Magna Carta Rediscovered, to showcase Kent’s strong links to this period of medieval history across the county during the charter’s 800th anniversary year.
Visit Kent chief executive, Sandra Matthews-Marsh MBE, said: “We are very excited to be bringing Kent’s rich Magna Carta story into the modern age with this stunning exhibition.
“The exhibition uses innovative interactive technology to help people to delve beneath the surface of the charter and examine the original document, investigate its clauses, role-play as barons at the negotiating table in Runnymede, and explore the impact of Magna Carta around the world.
“It will also be the first time the Faversham Magna Carta, one of Kent’s – and the country’s – most important treasures, will go on public display in 715 years.”
Travelling to Faversham, Canterbury, Maidstone, Dover, Sandwich and Rochester, the tour exhibits never-seen before artefacts and relays untold stories of intrigue, battles and bravery to new audiences. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the reissue of Magna Carta represented to Faversham in 1300, which leading scholars credit as one of the most important Magna Carta artefacts in existence.
Professor of medieval history at University of East Anglia and one of the leading authorities on Magna Carta, Nicholas Vincent, said: “Faversham’s Magna Carta is a wonderful reminder of the extent to which Kent remained the driving seat of English history, throughout the Middle Ages. That it should still be in local custody is one of the great wonders of Kent heritage.
“This 1300 reissue is not only one of the best preserved copies in the country, but it is also more relevant to the law by which we live today than the charter issued at Runnymede in 1215.”
Kent’s dedicated Magna Carta website – www.magnacartarediscovered.co.uk – went live this April, and features the full programme of exciting events and activities planned for the county in 2015, including festivals, parades, lectures, and concerts.
Magna Carta Rediscovered is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, Magna Carta 800 (national committee), Southeastern, Swale Borough Council, Faversham Town Council, the Alexander Centre, Rochester Cathedral, Kent County Council, Dover District Council, Sandwich Town Council and Canterbury City Council.The exhibition is being curated by Laura Samuels, from Jakaranda Tree, and has been designed by Italian company ETT Solutions.
For further information on Kent’s Magna Carta celebrations, visit www.magnacartarediscovered.co.uk.