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

Thursday, 21 May 2015

EconTalk podcast: Nicholas Vincent on Magna Carta

The British Library's Unburnt Magna Carta
The Magna Carta Project's Nicholas Vincent recorded a podcast on Magna Carta recently for EconTalk, part of the Library of Economics and Liberty in the USA. Nick spoke to Russ Roberts, of Stanford University, in depth about the political and economic background to Magna Carta, the events at Runnymede in June 1215 and the Charter's content, as well how Magna Carta took on a totemic significance through the course of the thirteenth century.

You can download the interview as a podcast, and read a transcript, on the EconTalk website - it's a great resource for learning about Magna Carta and its world. 

And you can hear Nick - along with a host of other Magna Carta experts - at the Magna Carta Conference, at King's College London and the British Library, 17-19 June 2015.

Mortimer History Society Spring Conference

The Magna Carta Project’s David Carpenter spoke recently at Mortimer History Society Spring Conference, which took place at Hereford on 16 May. The subject of the conference was ‘Law and Order in Early Medieval England’.

Here’s David with the conference’s other speakers and members of the Society: (l-r) ‘The Royal Executioner’, Elizabeth Chadwick, Matthew Stevens, Paul Dryburgh, Daniel Power, Ian Mortimer, Jason O’Keefe and David Carpenter.

Both David and Dan Power will be speaking at The Magna Carta Conference, 17-19 June 2015: you can see the full programme and access booking through the Conference page

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Surrey in the Age of Magna Carta

Professors Nigel Saul (left) and David Carpenter (right)
at the Surrey History Centre
Magna Carta Project Co-Investigator David Carpenter spoke on Saturday 9th May about 'Magna Carta in the Reign of Henry III', at a Magna Carta study day at the Surrey History Centre in Woking. Here he is with Nigel Saul, of RHUL and the Magna Carta Trust, who spoke about 'Magna Carta in English History'.
You can hear both David and Nigel at the Magna Carta Conference, which will take place at King's College London and the British Library 17-19 June 2015. For more information and to book tickets visit the Magna Carta Project website

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Cheshire Magna Carta

The Cheshire Magna Carta
‘Both by royal permission and the virtues of its earls’, wrote the monk of Chester abbey, Lucian, about 1195, Cheshire ‘is accustomed to answer in its assemblies more to the sword of its prince than the crown of the king’.[i] There has been much debate over how far the earl of Chester - described here as a ‘prince’ - enjoyed exceptional, autonomous, authority in Cheshire in the decades prior to its takeover by the crown in 1237 and the development thereafter of a ‘palatinate’ tradition by a county community keen to assert claims to special privileges. The first formal record that we have of Cheshire as a ‘county palatine’ does not come until the 1290s.[ii]

Be that as it may, Lucian’s statement is testimony to a perception of Cheshire, during the earldom of Ranulf III (1181-1232, though a minor until 1187) as separate from the rest of the kingdom. The issue by Earl Ranulf of a ‘Magna Carta’ for the county, almost certainly in 1215, as a local counterpart to the Runnymede Magna Carta granted by King John, is an example of that separatism in practice. It is fitting, therefore, that Cheshire Local History Association has chosen to mark the 800th anniversary by publishing The Magna Carta of Cheshire, a booklet of just over 100 pages which includes a new translation of Earl Ranulf’s charter, accompanied by a detailed commentary on its context and content. Some of the key features of the charter are also highlighted in the Feature of the Month for May.

In terms of number of words, Earl Ranulf’s charter was about one-third the length of King John’s Magna Carta. There were far fewer chapters or clauses, but among them were some which addressed issues familiar from Runnymede: safeguarding the interests of widows and minors, relaxing restrictions within the earl’s forests and limiting obligations to castle-guard. There was also a promise that concessions should extend beyond the immediate beneficiaries, the Cheshire barons, to their own knights and free tenants - seemingly a deliberate echo of Magna Carta cap. 60 and, if so, good evidence that those who framed the Cheshire charter intended that it would stand within the county in place of the king’s. Alongside these were concessions which had no parallel with those made at Runnymede, including two dealing with claims over ‘avowers’ - fugitives settling in the county - and a remarkable chapter in which the earl itemised those baronial petitions he had turned down. Among these, if the phraseology has been interpreted correctly, was a bid to have hare-coursing laid on whenever the barons were summoned to Chester! Even some of the chapters for which there were precedents at Runnymede incorporated distinctive Cheshire concerns. There was protection of the right to plead ‘thwertnic’ (‘I deny it all’) in the earl’s court, which appears to have had the effect of frustrating prosecutions, and a guarantee that military service would not be enforced beyond the Lyme, the sharply-defined area of wooded upland which delineated Cheshire’s eastern and south-eastern frontier with the rest of England.

It is fair to say that the Magna Carta of Cheshire, though twice published in scholarly editions during the twentieth century[iii] and duly mentioned in passing in several books on Magna Carta, has not until now received the attention it deserves. It offers us an insight into the hopes and fears of the landholding class in an under-populated frontier shire, away from the main centres of royal power in early thirteenth-century England.

[i] Liber Luciani de Laude Cestrie, ed. M.V. Taylor (Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire,  LXIV, 1912), p. 65.
[ii] See  e.g. G. Barraclough, ‘The Earldom and County Palatine of Chester’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, CIII (1951), pp. 23-57; J.W. Alexander,  ‘New Evidence on the Palatinate of Chester’, English Historical Review, LXXXV (1970), pp. 715-29 and Ranulf of Chester, a Relic of the Conquest (Athens, Georgia, 1983), esp. pp. 60-68; Victoria County History: Cheshire, II, pp. 1-8; D. Crouch, ‘The Administration of the Norman Earldom’ in A.T. Thacker, ed., The Earldom of Chester and its Charters (Journal of Chester Archaeological Society, LXXI, 1991), pp. 69-95.
[iii] Chartulary or Register of St Werburgh, Chester, ed. J. Tait (Chetham Society, new series, LXXIX, LXXXII, 1920, 1923), I, no. 60; Charters of the Anglo-Norman Earls of Chester, c.1071-1237, ed. G. Barraclough (Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, CXXVI, 1988), no. 394.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Pageants and the People: Bury St Edmunds and Magna Carta

Throughout 2014-15, local communities across the UK are marking the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta with a host of varied festivities – from Odiham's specially commissioned Magna Carta Anthem to Runnymede's parade of picnicking giants. But did you know that Britain has a rich history of commemorating history through such theatrical events? For instance, In 1907, 1959 and 1970 the people of Bury St Edmunds commemorated the Charter by re-enacting events from their town’s past, in three big historical pageants.
The Bury pageant of 1959
Bury’s pageants are being investigated as part of a major AHRC project, The Redress of the Past: Historical Pageants in Britain. The project looks at the part of pageants in community life and how communities expressed their identity through theatrical re-creations of their past. Members of the project team (from King’s College London, the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow and the Institute of Education) have been looking at twentieth-century pageants from across the UK. You can see some of the weird and wonderful photographs of these events and read commentary by the team in the Pageant of the Month feature – and you can even upload your own pageant photographs and memorabilia.

The Bury pageant of 1907
The project is helping to commemorate the Bury St Edmunds pageants in a special exhibition in Moyse’s Hall, Bury, which will run from 4th May 2015. On display will be rare film footage of the pageants as well as souvenirs produced for the events – visitors will also be able to have their photo taken with life-size figures of pageant characters. Meanwhile, the Redress of the Past website will host an online version of the exhibition, including behind-the-scenes stories and features. Do take a look!