Cloistered in history

People interested in the history of ‘the people’ running a state rather than despotic (or benevolent) dynasties, often point to Magna Carta as a key document of the people asserting themselves over their king.  I would apply some caution, ‘the people’ who were party to this agreement with their king were barons.  Wealthy landowners, themselves feudal lords of farmers and workers.  This was not an uprising of the working people!

It was, however, the first time a king (King John to be precise) agreed to be subject to the same laws as his people, protected the barons from being illegally imprisoned and limited the payments they needed to make to the Crown.  In practice, neither side stuck to the agreement, it was re-issued multiple times and now none of its clauses remain on the statute books of England & Wales.

Its first iteration was copied at least 13 times and sent out to bishops across the kingdom.  Four copies survive, the one originally been sent to Old Sarum Cathedral is now kept and on display at Salisbury Cathedral.  To my surprise, although kept in a special cubicle, photography of the document is allowed.


The display is reached after walking around the inner cloisters of the cathedral, with the now familiar craftsmanship creating such consistent structures in a time before 3D printing…

These pictures were also taken by my friend Randy.

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1 Comment

  1. Another copy – original copy that is – is in a similar display case in the foyer of the parliament building in Canberra, Australia. It was bought by the then prime minister of Australia in the early 1950s having been in a monastry which became a boys’ school in Bruton, Somerset in the west of England.

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