Magna Carta miscellany

‘Magna Carta miscellany’, Honest History, 9 June 2015

Update 8 July 2015: Malcolm Turnbull on Magna Carta and related issues.

Update 15 June 2015: leader from the Guardian with the interesting title of ‘the magic of myth’.


Next Monday, 15 June 2015, is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, near London. David Hayes in Inside Story provides an outline (with plenty of links) of what Magna Carta has meant, particularly as viewed from Britain. The British Library has more.

Magna Carta PlaceMagna Carta Place, Canberra (Magna Carta Committee of Australia)

Canberra has its own Magna Carta memorial, the brainchild of then prime minister, John Howard, and of the Australia-Britain Society. Unveiling the memorial in 2001, Howard said, ‘it is worth remembering that many of the common ideals and common values that are shared by the people of Britain, the people of Australia and the people of the United States and indeed the people of many lands in the 21st century, many of those ideals and values in fact find their origin in the Magna Carta’.

Magna_Carta_Memorial, Carta memorial, Runnymede (Wikimedia Commons/Len Williams)

The Magna Carta memorial at Runnymede itself was built and is owned by the American Bar Association, which may say something about what people on either side of the Atlantic think of the original event. There have been arguments in the last couple of years whether Runnymede today does enough to commemorate what happened there eight centuries ago.

Some popular commentators and historians believe we have moved on from the Great Charter. Owen Jones suggests it is a ‘useful myth’ but Peter Singer believes it grappled with an essential question that persists today: ‘From where do the principles that constrain rulers come, if from neither the rulers nor their subjects?’ Former ACT Chief Justice, John Miles, will be speaking this week to the Independent Scholars’ Association of Australia. He says that the significance of Magna Carta was not so much what happened in 1215 but in how the Charter has been used and interpreted in later generations.

There was also this piece last year from Hugh Harley in The Spectator. Magna Carta has been depicted in many ways over the centuries and here is the document itself and  some of those depictions (Wikimedia Commons and various sources as shown).

Magna_Carta_(British_Library_Cotton_MS_Augustus_II.106)Copy of Magna Carta (British Library/Earthsound)

 Magna_Carta_(1297_version,_Parliament_House,_Canberra,_Australia)_-_20080416Copy of 1297 version Magna Carta, Parliament House, Canberra (Wongm)

Coloured engraving (19th century): King John signing Magna Carta (Granger Collection/Thomas Gun)

David Parfitt sculpture (1997), Egham, near Runnymede: King John and Baron Fitzwalter sealing Magna Carta (David Parfitt)


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