800 years and Dorset’s role in the Magna Carta

King John signs Magna Carta

King John signs Magna Carta

On the 15th June 2015, it will be 800 years since the Magna Carta was agreed by King John and the barons of England. In the 21st Century, four copies of the charter have survived and are held by the British Library and the cathedrals of Lincoln and Salisbury. To mark the 800th anniversary of an agreement which has been described as ‘a symbol of liberty and law’, the British Library and the Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals will be uniting the four copies for an exclusive display running from 13th March to 1st September.

If you’re one of the lucky 1,215 people who won a ballot to see this unique reunion, then be sure to look out for a familiar name which relates directly to your local Dorset history and heritage. That name is, William Marshall. Marshall was a man born into humble origins in 1147 but in May 1213 became the King’s chief advisor and in 1215 was described as ‘steering the reluctant monarch towards accepting the terms of Magna Carta, on which his mark appears first among those after the King.’

Coat of Arms of William Marshal

Coat of Arms of William Marshal

However, if you won’t be heading to London this summer then why not head to Sturminster Marshall. If you haven’t already guessed, Sturminster Marshall is directly linked to William Marshal himself. The name “Sturminster” derived from the River Stour and the church to which “Marshall” was added after he married the daughter of the Earl of Pembroke and in turn, acquired the land. It is here in Sturminster Marshall that a very special reminder of William Marshal and the Magna Carta still resides in the church of St Mary.

On one of the pillars in the church is mounted a seal of the “Royal Peculiar”. This seal signalled that the parish had become a “Royal Peculiar” which meant that from 1457 onwards it was not subject to the jurisdiction of the bishop and therefore, the local vicar could resolve small legal disputes, prove wills and grant marriage licenses etc. Although in our modern society these privileges are no longer granted, the seal of the “Royal Peculiar” can still be seen in the pillar in the church today. So instead of heading to London to see the Magna Carta, why not head to your local church at Sturminster Marshall and experience first-hand Dorset’s role in saving the English monarchy and bringing peace and order between bishops, barons and government.

Gabriella Crouch

To find out more about Dorset’s rich history head to Dorset County Museum or visit the website www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

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