This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

15th June 2015 Yerevan, Armenia

Marking 800 years of #MagnaCarta


Today all across the UK and in Embassies around the world we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta (latin for ‘Great Charter’).  In 1215, rebellious barons marched on London, fed up with King John constantly raising taxes to pay for his disastrous wars in France.  The barons forced the King to sign a document which is now seen as the foundation of democratic principles and human rights.  In phrases which still ring strong and true today, the Magna Carta said that:

 –  no-one was above the law, not even the king. 

 – no ‘free man’ could be deprived of his liberty or possessions without a fair legal process: ‘to no one will we sell, to no one will we delay or deny right or justice’. 

 – all new taxes or payments had to be subject to the ‘common consent of the kingdom’.  In later drafts, this idea became a ‘Great Council’ of 25 Barons – and then a ‘parliament’.  The principle of ‘no taxation without representation’ was the key legal argument made by the English colonists in America to declare their independence from Britain in 1776.

 You can find out more about the Magna Carta – and its impact on political and human rights history – in a great cartoon made by the British Library.  But in Yerevan we decided to try to make the anniversary of the Magna Carta come alive by being slightly creative with the historic record. 

Not many people have heard of King John.  But everyone has heard of Robin Hood, and in most of the film versions of Robin Hood it is the very same King John who signed the Magna Carta, brother of the crusading Richard the Lionheart, who is the big bad guy. 9ru0bVE6E7G1zUgtqHgzY__2sOTl-iIHbnGdQ9Mbqms,R55ydV5K9nOIWgpBE4A-fbFJ5xWPYnHz5a_2utWaxU0

 I should stress at this point that, unlike King John, Robin Hood is – I’m afraid to say – a fictional character.  Yes, really.  There is, alas, no historical proof he actually existed.  Nevertheless, we thought he would be a good symbol of the noblemen standing up to an injust and unnecessarily cruel king.  King John was, in fact, just as bad as his Hollywood reputation suggests, and was famous for starving his opponents to death. 

So, thanks to the actors and costume designers at Theatre for Change, King John and Robin Hood have been popping up a20150612_120807round Yerevan over the past few weeks:

– last week, on ArmComedy.  The ArmComedy guys, Narek and Sergey, looked great in their costumes and fired questions at me on the relevance of Magna Carta to today’s political issues in Armenia. 

 – at my ‘#LiberTeas’ tea party on 14 June with parliamentarians from different parties, youth activists and the US Ambassador.  If you remember, the battle for American independence began with throwing tea in Boston harbor, in protest at the King’s taxes.  We discussed a really important question: how to develop ‘parliamentarianism’ in Armenia, that is, the important role of parliament in scrutinizing and improving new legislation and holding the government to account.  And we also discussed the vital question of how to inbvs_zIz55trUasZ_rnzrLq86KUEnJBdaD3NQ-LJ8k0g,OkU4sGhcszESq1G9NF2tbE7oIgsEF7OMHdLBvGaIfjAcrease trust in the electoral process, including by fully implementing the letter and spirit of the recommendations of the ODHIR reports from elections 2012 and 2013.   

 – this week King John and Robin Hood  will have a starring role at our annual Queen’s Birthday Party on16 June, before going on to perform in the British Council’s English summer camps for children in June and July.  

– and to restore the historical record, Yerevan State University, with our support, will hold a conference in October on the history of Magna Carta and its continuing impact on political thought.

 We hope we’ve found an entertaining way to convey a serious message.  How powerfully the ideas expressed in this short document have grown over the course of 800 years – and how strongly these basic principles of rights, liberties and governance continue to resonate today.  It’s a great theme with which to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s 89th birthday and her wise, informed reign of over 63 years.  Happy Birthday and Good Health, Your Majesty! 

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