Magna Carta: 800 years of Human Rights & Legislation

‘’No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.’’

It was in my history book in school when we were reading about mediaeval Europe. Later in college again I read about it but with a different perspective.  Each time the context of reading has changed from a historical treaty between the king and barons to a document of modern political theory.  Even after arriving in Lincoln as a ITP participant in 2012 it was unknown to me that one of the earliest surviving copies of Magna Carta is kept in Lincoln Cathedral. That forced me to start reading again about medieval England; how kingship has been conceptualised, the relation between the king and his subjects. This is what helped me to differentiate the ideological perception about kingship from my own Indian texts on polity and statecraft ‘Arthasastra’.  Lincoln holds one copy of the earliest surviving copies of Magna Carta issued on 1215 by the king Jhon.  Through this agreement between the King and the rebelled barons demanding more liberty and control over the land, they were succeeding to consolidate their rights. More power was given to the free man and declared that everybody, including the King is also subjected to the law.  Over the period of time this document has been studied and interpreted by the historians and political theorists analysing its composition and contemporary relevance. But the astounding fact is this mediaeval charter is the source of many constitutions of countries that fought for their liberty including India.

In July 2012 Andrea (Andrea Martin, Curator, The Collection: Lincoln) took us to show the Lincoln castle and see the Magna Carta I was speechless for some time to look at the showcase and looking at the pale writings – how valuable it is for me to live and enjoy my rights. Written on parchment paper in highly abbreviated Latin which was the language of law during that time, how it has been kept so carefully. There were always attempts to pull down this charter denying the clauses gave power to the common man. Like other historical documents this charter has also gone through different phases of alteration and modification after it was standardised in 1225 by the King Henry III. The next day we had sessions on the conservation aspects of this important document. We were shown a small film how it was been kept during the world wars and travelled into America, Australia and other countries celebrating its anniversaries.

This year as a past participant facilitator it was even more exciting experience than the first time.  There is a special exhibition at the Collection displaying the historical importance of the Magna Carta and its position in England’s history. It is named the ‘Great Exhibition’ of Lincolnshire. Here for the first time two versions of Magna Carta are on display along with a separate Charter named ‘Charter of the Forest’ which again tells a separate history of human rights.  Lincoln castle has gone through with large scale conservational work. A new walkway has been built around the wall so any of you who have missed the opportunity to walk around the wall and climb to the observation tower, now is a good time to visit. Now the Magna Carta is kept in a new purpose-built exhibition gallery with an interpretation centre showing films on the historical purpose for this universal charter. I thought this was the simple way of telling the reason for this charter, as many of us might have forgotten the history of medieval England. This visual and dramatic exposition has energised me again to read the history of mediaeval England.

It was really an exciting reunion.  I got the opportunity to see three charters in one place!