Streams of Natural Law Diaries : No. 4 : Runnymede and the River Thames

The latest instalment in our Streams of Natural Law Diaries, is Runnymede on the River Thames, site of King John’s Magna Carta signing in 1215. As we walk beside this busy stream, we reflect on the connection between the land and the law and the significance of the historic site’s monuments.

To launch our film, book and recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Humans in the Telling and preview forthcoming performances, we are walking streams of natural law in the UK. Visit our multi-media hub at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

RUNNYMEDE & THE RIVER THAMES

In David Maxwell Fyfe’s speech to the American Bar Association, given during their visit to dedicate their monument in 1957 (pictured above left), he concluded with these lines : “Our laws… well grounded in history and watered by wisdom are constantly putting out fresh branches and leaves for the comfort of mankind.” You can read and listen to excerpts from his speech here.

In 1215 
A seed was sown
in a field in Runnymede

Planted in stony soil
First it survived
And then began to thrive
Thrusting out fresh shoots and leaves
Pushing against rocks
until it took root

Libertas Demokratia

A principled genus
With upright trunk and strong branches
Spreading from this small green corner 
All across the world 
To Europe, the Americas, Africa and Japan
From East to West, its' canopy extends 

From a field in Runnymede
where a seed was sown 
in 1215

A POEM BY SUE CASSON

The next stop on our Streams of Natural Law is Runnymede, where the Magna Carta was signed by King John in 1215. It has become the foundation stone supporting the freedoms enjoyed by millions of people in more than a hundred countries.

Driving through the impressive columns that flank the entrance, we were greeted by a wide open space, stretching as far as the eye can see, and unusually green for the time of year. This is the meadow or ‘mede’ from which it takes its name.

Walking down the dusty tow path beside the river Thames, I couldn’t help noticing that the water was so much less clear than in other places we have visited – partly because the surface is regularly churned up by passing river traffic. It is a popular spot with pleasure boats and paddle-boarders alike.

Across the river, is the ruined priory where the barons are said to have stayed as they awaited the arrival of the king and his entourage from nearby Windsor in 1215. It still looks majestic in its white rubble, and is one of the only architectural reminders of over 800 years of history. As they say on the signs around the place, “picnics & politics” co-exist side by side.

After our walk by the river, we visited the monuments that stand on the site dedicated to Magna Carta. For a long time the American Bar Association monument, unveiled on a visit in 1957, stood alone to mark the ‘birthplace of democracy’ – the influence of Magna Carta on the constitution of the United States, as well as the Bill of Rights is openly acknowledged. During the MagnaCarta800 celebrations it was joined by Mark Wallinger’s brutalist Writ in Water nearby, and The Jurors by Hew Locke, an imposing set of chairs set right in the middle of the field.

As we drove away, I reflected that although the history of Magna Carta is well remembered at Runnymede, I did wonder if the people visiting this beautiful corner of Surrey had any idea what an impact it has made on our rights and freedoms, not only when it was signed so long ago, but now, in the present day.

Come back soon for the next instalment!

River Thames at Runnymede

Follow our journey as it happens on Instagram @streamsofnaturallaw and share yours with #streamsofnaturallaw.

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