The Queen at the events marking 800 years of Magna Carta at Runnymede today
The Queen was at Runnymede early this morning to mark 800 years since the sealing of the Magna Carta. The great document, which became reality in June 1215 when the barons forced King John to put his name to it, is seen as the cornerstone of democracy and the bedrock of many constitutions around the world. Eight hundred years ago tonight, King John was weeping into his mead at the power he had given away and what was left of his reputation - poor from the very start of his reign and on a permanent downward spiral in the years leading up to the Great Charter - was ripped to pieces and left to rot in the chapters saved for really bad kings in history books for centuries to come.
Even more awe inspiring is the power that simple document has yielded since it was sealed in anger, bitterness and resentment all those years ago by King John. Lauded around the world for its role in establishing democracy, it is one of the most famous things ever written. John, a spinner if ever there was one, might well have made the most of that had he lived to see the power it would wield. But he died the following year. His great contribution to history was remembered today with a plaque unveiled by the Queen, a speech by the Prime Minister and the rededication of the Magna Carta Memorial by the Princess Royal.
Eight hundred years ago the odds on the monarchy run by John surviving were slim. There was an ambitious French king not far away who had already smashed his continental holdings into pieces while the beleagured English monarch had annoyed just about every power player in Europe in his short reign. He was succeeded by a boy king with an ambitious mother but somehow the House of Plantagenet survived. And the legacy of one of its greatest kings was on show this afternoon. After she had finished at Runnymede the Queen headed back to Windsor to take part in a ceremony started by Edward III, great grandson of John, and as strong and successful as his ancestor had been weak and failing. One of his most famous ideas was the Order of the Garter. On a grey but warm afternoon in Berkshire, Elizabeth II carried on his tradition as Sovereign of the Order with thousands turning out to cheer her.
The Order of the Garter was set up in 1348, just 130 years after the shock of Magna Carta. Edward had been king for 18 years and felt strong enough in his position to establish an Order of Chivalry where those he nominated as members would be honoured to have his favour. Twenty five knights were chosen to stand alongside their monarch and the patron was St George.