On a summer’s day in June 1215, after days of negotiation, the royal imprimatur was applied to a document that would underpin the history of democratic evolution across the globe.
It was sealed in at Ankerwycke which is today part of the Windsor constituency and took the form of a typically British document, the result of compromise and competing demands, free from hasty radicalism but which nevertheless formed the foundations of the free society we live in to this day.
The rule of law, trial by a jury of peers, a limit on executive power and protection from imprisonment without trial were all first laid down on that day in 1215. And these guarantees were not easily won.
Initially sealed by King John after political pressure, he conspired with the authorities in Rome to overrule British sovereignty. King John tried to revoke the document, but succumbed to dysentery, which led to his death a year later. His 9 year old son Henry was ultimately responsible for enshrining Magna Carta into law, under the watchful eye of his protector, William Marshal.
Though its passage into law was not the clear cut, magnanimous act that is often remembered, Magna Carta paved the way for the democratic, free society that we still have in Britain. This should never be taken for granted.
But this document is also an inextricable part of Windsor and Berkshire’s legacy despite some ongoing debate about the precise location of events. Unbounded by the shackles of being a qualified historian I am happy to be a shameless politician in supporting Wraysbury’s claim to that honour at Ankerwycke, in my constituency.
I spent this morning celebrating the legacy of Magna Carta with thousands of people up and down this country. It’s one of our proudest contributions to the world, both as a country and as a county. I would encourage everyone to get involved in this national celebration that to this day, keeps us a free and fair country.
To end, I’d like to quote Franklin Roosevelt, the former American President who said:
“The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history. It is human history. It permeated the ancient life of early peoples. It blazed anew in the Middle Ages. It was written in Magna Carta.”