Although the Magna Carta has international renown as one of the earliest legal instruments limiting the absolute power of a monarch, what is less well known is the sister Charter of the Forests sealed on November 6th 1217 at St Paul’s cathedral.
2017 is the 800th anniversary of this Charter and the New Putney Debates organised an inspiring celebration of this key event on 17 September 2017, to build awareness of how radical this legal instrument was for the UK constitution as we come closer to its 800th anniversary. Speaking of its radical nature was Keynote speaker Guy Standing, Professorial Research Associate of SOAS. Whereas the Magna Carta only redistributed power amongst those who claimed power through their ownership of land (the King and his barons), the Charter of the Forest claimed power from the King and asserted rights for the landless, a right for ordinary people to work and a right for them to claim the production of that work for subsistence (through e.g. grazing cows, foraging, coppicing in the King’s Royal Forests, etc). We were a captive audience (literally as we were on a barge!) travelling down to Runnymede where the sister Magna Carta had been signed by King John witnessed not only by his barons, but also by a yew tree at Ankerwycke said to be over 1500 years old.
This preparatory event will be followed by a discussion on the Charter of the Forests on the actual 800th anniversary on 7 November at the Houses of Parliament, hosted by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP.