Magna Carta Memorial at Runnymede - History and Facts | History Hit

Magna Carta Memorial at Runnymede

Celeste Neill

11 Aug 2022
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Magna Carta Memorial at Runnymede

Runnymede, near Windsor, is famous as the location for the sealing of the Magna Carta, signed in 1215 and widely accepted as the first constitutional document that formed the basis of modern democracy.

History of Runnymede

Nearly 800 years ago, King John met with a group of barons at Runnymede. It was here on 15 June 1215 that he sealed the Magna Carta. (The 1225 version would go on to become the definitive version).

Although royal residence Windsor Castle was nearby, not much is known about why Runnymede (a water-meadow and Thames flood plain) was chosen for the sealing of such an important and significant document. However, 13th century sources (including Ralph of Coggeshall, Matthew Paris, the Barnwell Chronicler and Roger of Wendover) reveal that the location had been used for assemblies since ancient times.

The site may have been chosen as Runnymede is situated close to the Roman river crossing at Staines, where King John’s barons were residing during the Magna Carta negotiations while he was at Windsor Castle. This would have given them access to the bank opposite the meadow, a possible fixed location for discussions. The location, equidistant from the bases of the negotiators, was politically neutral and safe, with restricted access from either side.

The exact site where the Magna Carta was sealed within Runnymede is still unclear, though either the island, meadow or under the 2,500 year old Ankerwycke Yew (which to Pagans may have represented the intersection of heaven and earth) are likely contenders.

The monument to the historic moment Magna Carta was sealed at Runnymede was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and erected in 1957 by the American Bar Association.

Runnymede today

Today, Runnymede is a pretty water-meadow adjacent to the River Thames. The site was acquired for the nation in 1929 and is owned by the National Trust. It is still used as a site for significant commemoration – along with the Magna Carta site, it has several memorials dedicated to the ongoing struggle for liberty, including the Fairhaven Memorial Lodges (1931), the Commonwealth Air Forces memorial (1953), and the John F. Kennedy memorial (1965).

Getting to Runnymede

Runnymede is approximately 20 miles west of London.There is a regular bus service from Windsor to the Runnymede site. Get off at the Bells of Ouzely Pub at the southern tip of Old Windsor, cross to the other side of the road and follow the riverside path south, which will eventually take you to signs to the memorials.

The nearest road is the A308. In Summer, the grass by the River Thames is opened up for cars – a great picnic spot. There is a tea house with a small car park by the entrance.

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