Evidence suggests Bury St Edmunds had a key role in Magna Carta

Magna-Carta-front-coverA fascinating new book reveals evidence that Bury St Edmunds played a more crucial role in the build up to the sealing of Magna Carta than anyone previously thought, according to one of the UK’s leading historians.

David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History of King’s College, London, says research for his book, Magna Carta, has revealed new evidence which not only proves that the meeting of rebellious barons did take place in the town’s Abbey in 1214 – but also much earlier than previously suggested.

This argument has never been presented before.

Professor Carpenter, who is one of UK’s leading authorities on the revolutionary 1215 document, is also one of a team of prominent historians working on the national three-year Magna Carta Project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Magna Carta, published by Penguin Classics shortly, is set to become a standard text for students of the Charter, which is recognised around the world as the cornerstone of British constitutional liberty.

Professor Carpenter will be presenting some of his ground-breaking research during a forthcoming visit to the Moyse’s Hall Museum, in Bury St Edmunds, on January 17.

Professor Carpenter says: “New facts have come to light which not only vindicate the idea of a large meeting of barons in Bury in 1214, but also that the meeting happened a month earlier than previously thought.

“Some historians, including luminaries such as J.C. Holt, had grave reservations about this meeting even happening but the new evidence proves not only that it did, but also that it took place on October 15, and not November 20, as has been previously suggested.

“Upon learning of the meeting on his return from a campaign in France, King John made a dramatic dash to Bury on November 4, in an attempt to reassert his authority over the town. At the meeting, the barons had sworn to impose their programme on him, if necessary by force.

“Less than a month later, he granted Freedom of Election to the Church, which was a major concession, prompted by his alarm. This was the crucial decision which, the following year, led to Magna Carta.

“This chronology would indicate the Bury meeting played a much more crucial role in the build up to the revolt, which led to the eventual sealing of the Magna Carta.”

Bury St Edmunds has cherished the connection with the Magna Carta for centuries and is reflected in the borough’s motto: Sacrarium Regis, Cunabula Legis (Shrine of the King, Cradle of the Law).

Its role has also been commemorated in a series of pageants in 1907, 1959, and 1970 and is continuing with town’s Heritage Lottery Funded Magna Carta 800 celebrations.

PM David Cameron recently called for the 800th anniversary of the Charter to be used as an opportunity for every child to learn about “the foundation of all our laws and principles”.

Magna Carta celebrations will be held nationwide throughout 2015, with special commemorative £2 coins due to be released later in the year by the Royal Mint.

Lance Alexander, St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s Heritage Operations Manager, said: “We are delighted to welcome such an eminent historian to the town and its museum.

“His ground-breaking work is based upon a lifetime’s research into the Magna Carta and he has now provided us with a compelling new argument and important new text, which are both hugely significant and exciting for the town.

“The book signing and talk will launch our Magna Carta 2015 celebrations which also include an exhibition of the previous historic pageants, later in the year.

“We are very much looking forward to his visit.”

Professor David Carpenter will visit Moyse’s Hall Museum between 2-4pm on January 17 to sign copies of his new book, Magna Carta. The 594-page book, published by Penguin Classics, is priced at £10.99.

There are 45 places for his evening talk at the museum from 6.30pm-8pm. Tickets cost £3 per head, and includes refreshments. To book visit www.whatsonwestsuffolk.co.uk

People can purchase copies of Magna Carta during the event.

For more information visit: http://www.whatsonwestsuffolk.co.uk/

By Ben Redsell

I am a political blogger with many years of political experience, as a political party employee, an elected member and now a commentator. I work full time as a consultant. I graduated with a law degree from the Open University in 2016.


  1. Bury St Edmunds has an even greater significance than the saint’s burial. It is where Count Alan Rufus, Earl of Richmond and Earl of East Anglia, was buried on 4 August 1093/4. Alan Rufus, ‘precepto legum’ (‘teacher of the law’), founded the first English Parliament in 1089 and was known for successfully standing up to the first two Norman kings.


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