Eight hundred years ago today at Runnymede, Magna Carta was sealed by King John in front of the feudal barons. ‘The Great Charter’ held the king accountable to the law. As witness to the historic events of 15 June 1215, Runnymede is seen by many as the foundation of liberty.
Runnymede was saved from development in 1929 by the philanthropist Urban Broughton of Anglesey Abbey who died later that year. It was gifted to the National Trust by his widow Lady Fairhaven and her sons in 1931 in his memory in order to preserve it for future generations.
Now in our care, Runnymede is the focus for the world on this important anniversary. It provides an ideal place to pause and reflect on the history of the struggle for freedom.
At a special event this morning around 3000 invited guests from a cross section of the community and around the world will celebrate the anniversary in the presence of HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, The Duke of Cambridge, The Princess Royal, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence and other dignitaries.
As part of the celebrations, a major new art installation will be unveiled on the meadow, there will be musical and spoken word performances and there will be a rededication of the American Bar Association’s Magna Carta Memorial.
Flags representing each historic county of the United Kingdom, designed by primary school pupils as part of a parliamentary project, will be carried by local young people and adults from Surrey in a procession at the event.
The ceremony will be shown on outdoor screens around Runnymede meadow so everyone can join in, followed by events, picnics and tours in the afternoon.
A place in world history
As well as its pivotal place in English history, Magna Carta has influenced the development of the United States Constitution, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and over a third of the world’s legal systems.
At Runnymede, along with a monument to the democratic legacy of the Magna Carta, there are further memorials to John F. Kennedy and to Commonwealth Air Forces airmen and women who died in the Second World War but who have no known grave.
New artwork to mark Magna Carta
The historic 800th anniversary of Magna Carta sees the unveiling of a new permanent artwork at Runnymede by British artist Hew Locke. ‘The Jurors’ is funded by Surrey County Council and commissioned jointly with ourselves.
The work brings the historical significance of this ancient landscape to life. Formed of 12 bronze chairs, each is decorated with images and symbols relating to past and ongoing struggles for freedom, the rule of law and equal rights.
‘This anniversary gives us an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of Magna Carta to democracy, human rights and the rule of law throughout the country and the world,’ said Dame Helen Ghosh, our Director-General. ‘As the custodians of Runnymede, we’re proud to play a part in these celebrations.’
You can read more about Runnymede and Magna Carta in our guidebook by Ben Cowell