6 March 2015
This year is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. I am afraid that is not quite accurate because despite the many representations of King John sitting before it with a quill in his hand it was not signed but was, according to the speaker Sir Robert Worcester at today’s Festival, in fact sealed. It is the first document to set out the fundamental rights of western people which is why it is so important and would probably never had happened if King John had not been such a bad King.
John has been spoken of earlier in the week (see my report of Marc Morris’s talk on Day 2). He was not only bad because he was wicked but he was also bad because he was incompetent having lost practically all of his lands in France in a poorly waged war. The charter brought about the separation of powers and ensured that no one including the King was above the law. Nothing should be taken without consent and no one should be imprisoned except by the judgement of their peers. These rights are enshrined in British law today even though the locking away of terrorists and illegal migrants without trial is currently allowed for specified short periods of time.
Sir Robert explained how up until now the teaching of Magna Carta was hardly mentioned in British schools. All is about to change this year with commemorations being planned to mark its coming into existence. Coins, postage stamps and a number of books are being issued to mark the event. Details of these and much more can be found at http://magnacarta800th.com.