Lincoln and the Magna Carta

023 Barons' ShieldsOn June 15, 1215 – or 19th according to some sources – at a place called Runneymede (near Windsor) on the River Thames, King John of England reluctantly signed a treaty with the powerful barons of the realm. The document was a series of written promises that John would govern the country and deal with its people according to the customs of feudal law. In other words, the charter was an attempt by the barons to stop John from abusing his power and the people of England suffering as a consequence. The charter became known as the Magna Carta: Latin for the Great Charter. Here are a couple of artistic interpretations of the signing:

19th century coloured wood engraving of king John signing the Magna Carta. Public Domain
Link John Magna Charta by Ernest Normand, 1900. Uploaded by william Avery. Public domain

By 1215, John had been king for 16 years, and had a series of mistakes, misdemeanours, and cruel or treacherous acts behind him and at last the barons had snapped. I intend to look at some of these in another post, but today, I want to think about the Magna Carta.

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Several copies were originally made and delivered to religious establishments all over the country. Only four of these copies are still in existence today: two in the British Library, one in Salisbury Cathedral and one belongs to Lincoln Cathedral but is on display in Lincoln Castle. Lincoln’s copy has been in the city since it was sealed by King John – it even has instructions to deliver to ‘Lincolnia’ written on the back.

Lincoln is also the only place in the world where you can find an original copy of Magna Carta together with the Charter of the Forest, issued in 1217 to amplify the document, and is one of only two surviving copies.

Throughout the summer, Lincoln has been celebrating this momentous signing, along with several other places around the country. And since Lincoln is only 7 miles away from where we live, Husband and I decided to pop along and have a look.

Lincoln Castle is worth a post on its own – another one I have planned for later on. It’s a fine old Norman structure, unusual in having two keeps. The County Law Courts are still located inside the castle, as is the old prison – well worth a visit in itself. It is in the subterranean vault inside the prison building that the Magna Carta is on display. It’s the red brick building in the photo (bottom left) below.

Unfortunately, the controlled lighting in the vaults makes taking photographs impossible. Flash photography is a no-no. So I have no photos of the documents to show. But there are some online that can be seen.

As part of the anniversary celebrations in Lincoln, the organisers have created the Barons’ Charter Trail for children to follow. Twenty five fun ‘barons’ have been created, all painted in bright colours and given amusing names like ‘Truck Driver Baron’, ‘Wild Flower Baron’ and ‘Lincolnshire Waterways Baron’. They are spread out across the cultural and commercial areas of Central Lincoln. On finding all 25, and copied down the code for each, children collect a bag of King John’s gold – in other words, chocolate money.

We found all of these ‘barons’ and here is a selection of them:

The barons’ shields, used as the header image above, are on display on the wall outside the vault where the documents are housed.

A week after this visit to Lincoln Castle, we had a visit to nearby Newark Castle, where a  re-enactment group were putting on a display about John and medieval life in general. We have some good photos of that event, too. Needless to say, John is featured a lot this summer. He was an interesting character, and one of the most memorable kings in English history.