Visit The Magna Carta Project website for more on Magna Carta and King John.

Thursday 30 June 2016

New research on Magna Carta published

An excommunication
(BL, Royal MS 6 E VI f. 216v)
Research over the last few years has shown that there is still so much more to learn about Magna Carta: both new discoveries and new interpretations. The latest issue of Historical Research includes two articles that illuminate the context and afterlife of the Charter.

Christopher Tilley’s ‘Magna Carta and the honour of Wallingford provides new insights into local society in the early thirteenth century, and the context that informed the Charter:
'Magna Carta mentions the honour of Wallingford twice. Exploring the context of this shows how a tenurial relationship predating John's accession to the throne led to minor ‘gentry’ landholders experiencing the king's manipulation of marriages, wardships and escheats directly, and resulted in many serving in John's military expeditions. All this was in addition to the increasingly onerous demands of royal government also felt by many of their neighbours in the localities. This combination of networks, tenurial and local, helps explain the politicization of minor landholders such as William fitz Ellis of Waterperry, who was present at Runnymede in 1215, and the nature of political society in the early thirteenth century.'

You can read the full article here (login required).

Felicity Hill’s ‘Magna Carta, canon law and pastoral care: excommunication and the church's publication of the charter advances a new argument to explain why the Church was so committed to publicising the Charter in the later thirteenth century:

'This article argues that the church's strenuous efforts to publicize Magna Carta can only be fully understood when viewed in the context of canon law and pastoral care. The automatic sentence of excommunication that fell on anyone who infringed Magna Carta meant that every Christian in medieval England needed to know not just the general principles of the charter, but the contents of every clause. Clergymen had a duty to ensure that their parishioners did not unwittingly incur the sanction, thereby endangering their souls. Thus the threat of excommunication had a profound effect on the political awareness of English society, as a result of the church's obligation to look out for the spiritual welfare of its members.'

Monday 21 March 2016

King John 800 - a 3 day conference in Dublin Castle, 8-10 September 2016

This autumn will mark the 800th anniversary of the death of King John and, to commemorate the occasion, a major conference will be held in Dublin. Leading historians from around the world will gather in Dublin Castle (constructed in 1204 to be the centre of John’s Irish administration) to debate the controversial king’s place in British, Irish and European history.

The conference, hosted by UCD, will be held 8-10 September. You can find out more, and book your place, via the conference website (N.B. book before 25 April for an early registration discount). 

Wednesday 10 February 2016

David Carpenter unveils Bury St Edmunds sculpture

The Magna Carta Project's David Carpenter was recently called upon to help unveil a sculpture in Bury St Edmunds.'Our Liberty' commemorates the role of the town in the events surrounding Magna Carta - according to the chronicler Roger of Wendover, a group of discontented barons met at the abbey in the autumn of 1214 and sworn to unite in resistance to King John. You can read a translation of Wendover's account, together with a commentary by the MCP's Nicholas Vincent, on the Magna Carta Project site. For a vindication of Wendover's account, see David Carpenter's book Magna Carta (2015), pp. 290-95. You can read more about the Bury sculpture via the Magna Carta Trust.
David helps to unveil the sculpture in Bury
David with the mayor of Bury, Margaret Charlesworth, and other dignitaries

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Revealing Records VII

We're pleased to be spreading the news about the latest Revealing Records conference - a KCL institution for PhD students working in medieval history. See below for the call for papers.

Now in its seventh year, the Revealing Records conference series brings together postgraduate researchers working with a wide range of sources from across the medieval world to share challenges and approaches through the presentation of their research. This year marks the first year of Revealing Records as a combined effort of King’s College London and University College London History Departments, and will feature keynote papers from Dr Sergei Bogatyrev (UCL) and Dr Rory Naismith (KCL).
We encourage applications from students working with a wide variety of records - from the written word to objects, buildings and more. Papers that employ an interdisciplinary approach, drawing upon palaeography, archaeology or other related disciplines are particularly welcome.
Abstracts (300 words max.) are welcome from students wishing to present a 20-minute paper.
Students should provide a CV, paper title & synopsis.
Please send abstracts to: by 19 February 2016

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Magna Carta World Tour

Members of the team have been flying the Magna Carta Project flag across the globe this autumn, as part of a Foreign Office programme of events commemorating the Charter's 800th anniversary. You can view more pictures on the Magna Carta Project Facebook page.

David Carpenter took part in a public event at NYU Abu Dhabi on 4 October, introduced by the British Ambassador to Abu Dhabi, Philip Parham. Also speaking was Thomas Cogswell (Professor of HistoryUniversity of California, Riverside) and the event was chaired by Lubna Qassim, Executive Vice President and Group General Counsel and Company Secretary of Emirates NBD. David also gave a talk about Magna Carta and money in Dubai.

David also took part in an event in St Petersburg on 13 October, held at the British Consulate General and introduced by HM Consul General Keith Allan. David spoke here about 'The Nature of Magna Carta 1215' and also gave a lecture on Magna Carta to students at St. Petersburg State University School of Law. 

Whilst he was there, he had an opportunity to visit the Winter Palace (above right), including Tsar Nicholas II's Library (below right). 

You can see more photographs from the conference here, and you can read a report on the event by David's fellow speaker, Sergei Golubok (Ph.D. International and European Law, Attorney-at-Law, St Petersburg Bar Association) as a guest post on Keith Allen's blog, here.

While David was talking in St Petersburg, Nicholas Vincent was speaking in Yerevan, Armenia, at a conference hosted by the Armenian Association of World History with the support of the British Embassy in Yerevan. The event was introduced by HM Ambassador Judith Farnworth (pictured on Nick's left in the photograph here), and also there representing the UK was Professor Theo Van Lindt (Professor of Armenian Studies, The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford - picture to Nick's right). You can read more about the event, view photographs and download a pamphlet of the speakers' abstracts on the website of the Armenian Association of World History, and also here

Whilst he was there, Nick visited the ruined Cathedral of Zvartnots, which dates to the seventh century (left). 

Ten days later, on 23 October, David was in Sofia, Bulgaria. The event was held at Sofia University and was hosted by Emma Hopkins, British Ambassador to Bulgaria. In the photograph below right, David is holding 'Magna Carta 800 Years & Her Elder Daughter The American Constitution', a book which includes text in both English and Bulgarian, written by Valentin Braykov (to the right of David in the photograph), honorary legal adviser to the British Embassy. The booklet had a translation of the Charter into Bulgarian by Alexander Shurbanov, professor of English Studies at Sofia University. The Booklet was published by the America for Bulgaria Foundation. 

Currently (4 November), Nick is in the United States on more Magna Carta business - Colorado Springs, followed by New York, Princeton and Ohio - more to follow. 

Friday 30 October 2015

Elves and Apparitions at the Angevin Court

Sir Galahad encounters Symen in a forest, BL Royal 14 E III, f.85
The men and women of the Angevin court were fascinated by the supernatural. They told stories of demons and spirits, whose shadowy realm loitered at the edge of their own. Such beings stalked the darkness, crossing into the land of men to warn, to plead and, occasionally, to love. Not only courtiers but kings, we might assume, listened to tales of these trespasses, especially when they concerned their own. What did Henry II think of the wanderings of Herla? This King of the Britons had been hosted by the ruler of the dwarfs in his cavern palace in the cliffs, only on emerging to be told of an ancient king sharing his name who had disappeared into the dwarfish realm, whose people had been swept away by Saxons two hundred years before. Herla, it was said, was condemned to rove forever with his retinue, although he had not been sighted since Henry took the throne.

Stories such as these were gathered by Walter Map, one of Henry’s court, in his De Nugis Curialium (Courtiers’ Trifles). Walter told another supernatural tale and this one, too, touched on a royal predecessor, for the ethereal being it described had been entertained by William the Conqueror himself – or William the Bastard, as Walter names him.

A ‘story is told about Edric Wilde, a so-called “man of the woods” ... One night when he was returning late from hunting, accompanied only by a boy, he lost his way. About midnight, wandering in search of the path, he came upon a great house on the edge of a wood ... he looked in and saw a band of many noble women. They were most beautiful in appearance and were elegantly clad in robes of the finest linen. They were taller and more stately than our women. They moved about with an airy motion, with pleasing gestures and hushed voices. The sound they made was melodious but faint, and he could not understand their speech. The knight noticed one among them whose beauty far exceeded the others ... [he] received a wound in his heart. He found it hard to endure the pain of Cupid’s dart...
Eadric paid no heed to the danger of the ghostly company. He went around the house and, finding the entrance, rushed in and seized the lady whom he desired ... He took his pleasure with her for three days and nights, but in all that time, he was unable to get a word from her, although she passively submitted to his love. Finally, on the fourth day, she said: “My dear one, you shall be safe and joyful ... until the time when you reproach me because of my sisters ... [then] your happiness will disappear ..."
Eadric promised to be firm and faithful in his love ... [and] solemnly married the lady. William the Bastard, recently crowned King of England, was then reigning; and the monarch, hearing of this marvel, and wishing to test its truth, summoned both the man and wife to his court in London. They brought with them many witnesses, and also the evidence of others who could not be present. But the woman herself, who was of a beauty which had never been seen or heard of until that time, was the chief proof of her fairy nature. Amidst general astonishment, Edric and his wife were sent back to their home.’

Things did not end well for Edric who one day, in fleeting irritation, reproved his wife with mention of her sisters. The lady disappeared, leaving only ‘empty air’, and ‘for all his crying and lamenting, he could not win her back.’

What Henry II took from this account we can only guess. Perhaps he gleaned its warning of the dangers of submitting to one's lust. This was an apt lesson, one might think, for almost any Norman or Angevin king – and especially the likes of Henry II, his grandfather, and his youngest son – whose appetites were seemingly boundless. Or, perhaps, the king simply marvelled at the image of his conquering ancestor, with England at his feet, entertaining elves at the royal court. 

Monday 19 October 2015

The Magna Carta Project at Peking University

In September 2015, members of the Magna Carta Project visited Peking University, as part of a delegation led by the Institute of Historical Research. A conference on Magna Carta was hosted by PKU, involving Chinese and British scholars. 
L-R: David Carpenter, Nicholas Vincent, Harry Dickinson, Sophie Ambler, Rachel Foxley, Lawrence Goldman, Alex Lock, Jane Carpenter, George Garnett