Hodder History Expert Blog

Preparing for the Magna Carta Anniversary
By Nigel Saul
31 Oct
For those of us who have been involved right from the start, work on the Magna Carta anniversary began roughly four years ago.  The build-up to a big anniversary like this takes at least five years.  I was drawn in partly because I teach and write about English medieval history and partly because I am a Professor at Royal Holloway, a College of the University of London, which overlooks Runnymede, where King John and the barons met in June 1215.  Initially I was involved at a local level, but when the national Magna Carta 800 Committee, chaired by Sir Robert Worcester, was formed in 2010, I was appointed to that as a College representative, and I’ve attended virtually all their monthly meetings since.  Big anniversaries are very time-consuming for those who are involved in them.  They take over your life!  I am pleased to say that all of us around the meeting table get on very well.  Working on the anniversary has been very enjoyable.

Yesterday I was at a meeting in London of our MC800 Academic and Educational Committee, a sub-group of the main committee.  We’re in charge of co-ordinating the production of online teaching resources, liaising with magazines and publishers, and ensuring that memory of the importance of Magna Carta lives on in the school syllabus.  When we first started, I was concerned that we were going to fall short on the production of online teaching resources.  This was because we lacked financial and technical resources of our own, and were dependent on the endeavours of others.  But I needn’t have worried.  Everything has come right in the end.  There are going to be resources galore.  All of our partners – the British Library, the National Archives, the Parliament Educational Service, and the Historical Association chief among them – are delivering the goods, and by early next year there’ll be a host of online lesson plans and other resources for teachers and students to draw on in their work.  A fair proportion of these will be aimed at KS3 and Secondary School pupils who will be encountering Magna Carta and the related matters of civil liberties and the rule of law in the course of their studies.  But there will also be resources for younger learners and, by virtue of the work of the British Council, for learners whose first language is not English.

Why does all this matter?  Quite simply, because Magna Carta helps explain why we live in a free country today.  It was by means of the Charter that royal authority – for which, read executive authority – was first brought under the law in this country.  The principle was established that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.   If his subjects were expected to obey the law, then so too should the king himself.  As the writer known as Henry Bracton was to say later in the thirteenth century, ‘in England the king is below God and below the law’.  And that’s the principle we have exported all over the free world.

Nigel Saul
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