Having returned from its recent sell-out tour in the USA, the Lincoln 1215 original copy of Magna Carta, 800 years old this month and one of only four in existence, now has a brand new home in a specially built vault within Lincoln Castle, after languishing in relative obscurity for much of the last eight centuries elsewhere in the City.
So, what is Magna Carta? This British Library video is the best explanation I have come across in the last two years of research:
Without doubt the new David P.J. Ross Magna Carta Vault is impressive, a major visitor attraction. Since it opened in April this year, I have visited it twice, and I would recommend it to anyone; it’s only 20 miles from Woodhall Spa after all, and you can make a day of it by walking the rebuilt Lincoln Castle walls and visiting the fascinating old Lincoln Prison while you are there! Lincoln celebrates Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary.
Inside the vault, as well as viewing the 1215 Lincoln Magna Carta itself you can also experience the giant curved feature wall feature bearing the charter’s text chiseled into stone, a memorable 200 degree curved wide screen audio-visual version of the Magna Carta story, complete with the wicked King John, and one of only two surviving copies of the Charter of the Forest, issued in 1217 to amplify Magna Carta .
Drafted for the English Barons, Magna Carta challenged the absolute power of the monarch, and has been seen as the first step toward constitutional law, even though most of its clauses were removed within ten years of its creation. We can only imagine it being brought from Runnymede to the City gates of Lincoln by a messenger on horseback, having been sealed, however reluctantly, by King John in June 1215. Brought out of obscurity in the 19th century following its rediscovery by a royal commission, only now has the document achieved the public exposure in its home City it has always deserved.
Paradoxically, the Lincoln Magna Carta is no stranger to the public gaze elsewhere, as the most traveled original copy. In the 20th century the charter crossed the Atlantic, once in 1939 for the World Fair, where it was viewed by 15 million Americans, and again for a spell in Fort Knox, as a precaution against the threat of war in Europe.
More recently it went on tour in America to celebrate its octocentenary, once again attracting appreciative visitors, this time in Williamstown and Washington, its popularity probably being connected to its influence on the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the American Bill of Rights.
Of course, Woodhall Spa did not exist in 1215, but at least two English barons who held lands in Lincolnshire were involved in the process which led to the reluctant sealing of Magna Carta by King John.
“Roger de Monbegon (c1165-1226) was one of the group of northern barons who were the first to rebel against King John. He held lands in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. Before John became king, Roger had been his close friend and loyal supporter. He joined Prince John in his conspiracy against his brother, King Richard the Lionheart, during the latter’s captivity in Austria, in 1192-4.
When Richard returned home, he forgave John, but punished Roger by taking away his lands. When John became king, Roger must have expected that he would be rewarded for his earlier services, but he did not receive the favours he expected and turned against the king. In 1214, he was one of the northerners who refused to answer John’s call to serve in his French war; he fought with the rebel barons thoughout the war, but he was not present at the Battle of Lincoln, when most of the leaders were captured.
William de Mowbray (c1173 -1224) was a landowner with estates in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. He also belonged to the group of northern barons who were King John’s bitterest enemies. According to a French chronicler, he was ‘as small as a dwarf, but very generous and valiant’.