Magna Carta 800th Anniversary celebrations for 2015 outlined for Runnymede and beyond

By Richard Moss | 19 June 2014

The events celebrating the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary begin to take shape in Runnymede and beyond

A medieval depiction of a king on his horse accompanied by hounds
A contemporary depiction of King John hunting© British Library
Prime Minister David Cameron’s efforts this week to explain the importance and relevance of Magna Carta to modern British society may have met with a mixed response but the preparations for the 800th anniversary of the signing of the important document are now well under way.

This week some of the projects celebrating the moment on June 15 1215, when King John put his name to the document under the watchful eyes of his rebellious barons, were outlined at Royal Holloway University.

Taking place a stone’s throw from Runnymede, the spot on the Thames where the King signed and sealed the document, the event was organised by the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Committee and was a first chance to hear more about the celebrations and from partners and planners.

The British Library’s major 2015 exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy promises to be one of the most impactful responses, as will its plans to put the four original surviving Magna Cartas on display together for the first time as part of a three-day unification event with Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals.

The latter, taking place in early 2015, will kick off the year of celebrations and precede the exhibition.

Dr Claire Breay, the Library’s Lead Curator of Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts, revealed how, as well as mining the British Library’s stunning medieval manuscripts collection, the exhibition will feature loans from a range of partners including the National Archives, the British Museum,  the V&A and even Eggham Museum.

A document with medieval Latin script on it
The Magna Carta© The British Library
Promising to deliver “a stronger understanding of how Magna Carta’s values have been embedded in people’s minds” Dr Breay said it would “bring documents together in a way that has never been done before to complement all the activities taking place for Magna Carta 800”.

Many of those activities have been boosted by £1m in government money and the first tranche of grants from this funding pot were revealed. Several towns connected to Magna Carta are receiving support for their commemorative programmes.

In Kent, a project called Faversham Magna Carta Rediscovered will see an exhibition tour across the county and in Lincoln a project called Lincoln Voices: Magna Carta Artists in Residence will see local communities explore the contemporary issues around the principles set out in Magna Carta 800 years ago.

A schools’ competition called Spreading the Word will encourage pupils in Runnymede’s twin towns in France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and USA to ‘spread the word’ about the significance of Magna Carta and in Bournemouth students working with Salisbury Cathedral will produce a suite of new digital media projects (film clips and a free App) about Magna Carta and its enduring significance.

To mark the anniversary day itself a gathering of 5,000 invited guests, including HRH the Queen, will gather on the banks of the Thames at Runnymede for a celebratory day of debate.

Sir Bob Worcester, chairman of the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Committee, said the funding would “help deliver a wide range of activities and contribute to ensuring a fitting legacy from the 800th anniversary and deepen the public's understanding of how the principles of Magna Carta have underpinned our liberties and freedoms throughout the centuries."

Other plans and initiatives include an ambitious project to make and then tour a large hand made Great Charter Project Quilt to venues across the UK and a significant programme of events and initiatives led by Parliament and the Parliamentary Archives that will put more Magna Carta documents online and improve educational resources and awareness.

At Royal Holloway a number of events including a Great Charter Festival for families and a series of debates and workshops to explore the charter’s influence and legacy will take place across the campus.

The National Trust, Surrey County Council and Runnymede Borough Council are also working to develop plans for improvements to Runnymede and its visitor facilities. 

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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The charter was signed on Magna Carta island in the parish of Wraysbury not Runnymede.
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