Salisbury and Magna Carta

We left Stonehenge and fast forwarded to more recent times with a visit to Old Sarum and Salisbury Cathedral where one of four extant copies of Magna Carta is kept, currently on display to the public in celebration of its 800 year anniversary.

Old Sarum

Old Sarum, like many medieval castles, was originally a hill fort built during the Iron Age, and then used by succeeding generations of Romans and Saxons.  In the 11th Century William the Conqueror built one of his first castles here in his ultimately successful campaign to subjugate Anglo-Saxon England.

Henry I, William’s grandson, added on a royal palace and very quickly a walled town grew up around it, becoming the original Salisbury, complete with Cathedral.  The town continued to grow until the early 13th Century when it began to outgrow the confines of the ringed walls.  The decision was made to abandon the town and move it into the valley a few miles away.  Using stones from Old Sarum they rebuilt the new city complete with the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral that stands today and can be viewed from the ruins of the old castle walls.

Magna Carta

On June 15, 1215, King John met with a group of rebel barons at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames and placed his seal on the Magna Carta. Negotiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Magna Carta was a peace agreement between the King and his barons, providing for protections against what they saw as abuses by the Crown.  

They had some legitimate complaints about John, but the truth was that tensions had been building from the start of Plantaganet rule under both Henry II and Richard I (aka the Lionheart). Although successful in expanding the glory of England, they were not a kindhearted lot. In any event, John did not honor the agreement for long but it would be updated and renewed by monarchs through the centuries and became the foundation for the English political and legal framework.  And, by extension, the American. Without King John’s capitulation to his barons 800 years ago, there may likely have never been a U.S. Constitution.

One of the four original surviving documents from 1215 is housed in Salisbury cathedral, as it had been since before the cathedral was moved from Old Sarum. In honor of the 800 year anniversary they have it on display to the public.

We took a stroll through the quite magnificent cathedral before finding the chapter house where the document is on display.  Later we strolled about the town finding other hidden treasures, including a lovely old church to St. Thomas Becket.

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