So I headed off to Runnymede today ready to be educated. This is the memorial to the Magna Carta:
Please note that the children and man in the picture were not vandalising the monument, as I obviously would have objected if that had been the case and not just stood there taking photos of their backs. They were doing rubbings of the text:
In case you too went to a school that didn't bother with Magna Carta, here's what I learned:
- King John came to the throne in 1199
- A lot went wrong and he ended up defeated in battle and losing his lands on the Continent
- The Barons of England got fed-up with bankrolling his losses but there was no obvious contender to the throne that they could bring forward to replace him
- Instead, they tried to call him to account and force reform by creating a Charter of Liberties
- King John was forced to put his seal on the Magna Carta at Runnymede on 12 June 1215
- However, he had no intention of honouring it and tried to annul it
- The furious Barons offered the throne to Louis, son of the King of France
- John died in 1216, however, and his son, Henry III, succeeded to the throne when he was only 9 years old
- Henry's minority council decided to resurrect the Charter
- Support for Louis and his claim to the throne dwindled and he went home
- The Magna Carta was reissued with modifications and entered the statute book in 1297, becoming the first constitutional document in the world
- The Magna Carta has since become the basis for the development of international democracy
- Clause 39 provides the basis for law and individual rights with the text; "No free man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by lawful judgement of his equals and by the law of the land."
The importance of Magna Carta seems to be recognised everywhere but here in the UK. There's a copy of it in Salisbury Cathedral - if you ever go to Mompesson House then you can pop in and see it. It's always surrounded by people and 90% of them are from overseas.
Runnymede is also the site of the Kennedy Memorial, which was opened in 1965 by the Queen, Jackie Kennedy, and other members of JFK's family. A few years ago I went to Arlington in Virginia where John F Kennedy is buried and the Runnymede memorial had the same atmosphere of stillness. It's quite something.
I hate to admit this but having just seen the birthplace of democracy and the sombre memorial to a man brutally cut down in his prime while pursuing freedom, it didn't really seem quite right to go and stuff my face with a scone.
Luckily, I had already done it - I started my visit with a quick stop in the tearoom, which was recently taken over by the National Trust. It has particularly friendly and helpful staff and they're very generous with their scones. They were a bit dry though and for the second week running the cream was more flaky than clotted. Maybe that's what happens in September - thousands of children are rounded up and forced back into school, 8,000 spiders decide to try and get into your house, and Rodda's cream turns flaky. C'est la vie I suppose.