2015 sees a lot of historic anniversaries: It’s part of the World War One centenary; it’s 200 years since Waterloo; it’s 150 years since the conclusion of the American Civil War; 600 years since the Battle of Agincourt; 75 years since Dunkirk and 70 since VE Day; 300 years since the first Jacobite Rebellion; 1000 years since Cnut’s Viking Invasion of Britain; and it is also 800 years since the creation of Magna Carta. Since we were in Salisbury for the bookend weeks of our visit back to the UK, it was this latter anniversary (octocentennial?) that occupied us.
Famously, King John (bad King John of Robin Hood legend) sealed and thereby agreed the terms of Magna Carta at Runnymede in June 1215. The Archbishop of Canterbury had drawn up the Charter in order to broker some sort of peace between the unpopular king and a group of rebel barons. The document enshrined certain legal rights which would be overseen by a council of 25 barons. Of course, almost immediately everyone involved reneged on the agreement, the Pope annulled the charter and a conflict broke out. Regardless of its own success, however, Magna Carta is a deservedly world famous document for its place in the development of democracy, the rights of citizens and the need to protect and preserve certain liberties. It was, for example, used as the scaffolding of the American Constitution. That’s the potted history.
Many copies of Magna Carta had to be drawn up in order to be widely circulated but only four now exist. Salisbury Cathedral is considered to have the best and best preserved example still extant so we determined to take a walk into Salisbury in order to let the boys see it. Or forcefully encourage the boys to see it since they don’t always appreciate the importance (yet) of the things we are getting them to experience.
On our amble into and around Salisbury, however, we took a bit of a detour along the Baron’s Trail. Various artists have decorated 25 Barons – to represent those on the council – which have then been placed around the city. We visited 17 of them. Most connect to some element of local history or the history of Magna Carta while others were a bit more random but fun, interesting and creative all the same. By far and away our favourite was the Discworld Knight Baron, honouring local author Terry Pratchett and covered in artwork by the illustrator of his many novels.
The whole venture is being used to highlight the anniversary, of course, but also to raise money for the Trussel Trust – a food bank charity. We all thoroughly enjoyed tracking down each baron and studying its design and it was a useful way to engage my boys in the point of the excursion.