Magna Carta Battlefields
Magna Carta is remembered for its constitutional and legal importance. It is the first ‘statute’ in England and as such marks the birth of what became our distinctive limited monarchy and, in time, democracy. But its influence and importance stretch far beyond these shores: it is an international symbol of liberty and the rights of the individual. However, it is easy to forget that whilst King John and his successors accepted Magna Carta, this was not achieved without military conflict.
Even though there was only one major pitched battle, Lincoln, linked to the political crisis of 1215-17 there were many sieges and minor actions. In anticipation of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the Battlefields Trust devised a public-facing programme to ensure that this military side was not overlooked, not least as it had distinct local impacts, much of which was still evident in standing remains such as castles. The Trust’s aim was to help interpret and present the heritage of the conflicts associated not only with Magna Carta but also with the instability that followed, culminating in what is popularly known as the Second Barons’ War of the 1260s. These wars, which featured major battles at Lewes (1264) and Evesham (1265), had erupted because John’s successor Henry III had tried to rule arbitrarily through favourites rather than with the advice of his leading nobles. In challenging the king, one of his leading magnates, Simon de Montfort sought to gain broader based support by calling what was effectively the first English parliament.
Grants from both the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Magna Carta 800 fund established by HM Government enabled the Trust to undertake a range of activities over the years of which a special issue of the magazine (link below) was the culmination.
This page on the Battlefield Resources part of our website therefore seeks to draw together the different elements of the Trust’s information on the military conflict that was associated with royal acceptance of Magna Carta and the instability which occurred later that century. Below are links to the Magana Carta conflict issue of Battlefields Magazine and our Battlefields Hub pages on the battles of Lewes (1264) and Evesham (1265).