MAGNA CARTA is The Great Charter of English liberty granted (under considerable duress) by King John at Runnymede on June 15, 1215 AD. It’s also the name of our luxury barge which cruises the Royal river Thames in England.

We named our luxury barge Magna Carta for a number of reasons… Firstly, Runnymede (where the great document was sealed) is central to our cruise route. Secondly, the name Magna Carta is known to all who value freedom throughout the Western world. Thirdly, Magna Carta means Great Charter and indeed having a great charter is exactly what hotel barging is all about. Lastly, the shocking events of 9-11 took place while we were building our beautiful ship. It seems fitting that King John was forced to concede rights to the barons after much fighting and it is in these troubled times today, that the freedoms, fought so hard for, should be enjoyed. We are free to travel and learn and we are free to relax and enjoy. The Magna Carta specifically mentions the freedom to navigate the waterways of England and we have included some of these extracts below, as well as some of the more amusing ones. There is also a quote from Winston Churchill (after whom one of our cabins is named), a poem by Rudyard Kipling and some information on the impact of the charter as a whole.

At the bottom, you have the chance to click onto our very own ‘Bill of Rights’!

The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall enjoy all their liberties and free customs. Neither a town nor a man shall be forced to make bridges over the rivers, with the exception of those who, from of old and of right ought to do it.

All merchants may safely and securely go out of England, and come into England, and delay and pass through England, as well by land as by water, for the purpose of buying and selling, free from all evil taxes, subject to the ancient and right customs–save in time of war, and if they are of the land at war against us. And if such be found in our land at the beginning of the war, they shall be held, without harm to their bodies and goods, until it shall be known to us or our chief justice how the merchants of our land are to be treated who shall, at that time, be found in the land at war against us. And if ours shall be safe there, the others shall be safe in our land.

There shall be one measure of wine throughout our whole realm, and one measure of ale and one measure of corn–namely, the London quart; –and one width of dyed and russet and hauberk cloths–namely, two ells below the selvage. And with weights, moreover, it shall be as with measures.

No `scutage’ or `aid’ may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person, to make our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest daughter. For these purposes only a reasonable `aid’ may be levied. `Aids’ from the city of London are to be treated similarly.

the Magna Carta

Here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break. This reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general charter is the great work of Magna Carta; and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it.

–Winston Churchill, 1956

King John of England agreed, in 1215, to the demands of his barons and authorised that hand-written copies of Magna Carta be prepared on parchment, affixed with his seal, and publicly read throughout the realm. Thus he bound not only himself but his “heirs, forever” to grant “to all freemen of our kingdom” the rights and liberties the great charter described. With Magna Carta, King John placed himself and England’s future sovereigns and magistrates within the rule of law.

When representatives of the young republic of the United States gathered to draft a constitution, they turned to the legal system they knew and admired–English common law as evolved from Magna Carta. The conceptual debt to the great charter is particularly obvious: the American Constitution is “the Supreme Law of the Land,” just as the rights granted by Magna Carta were not to be arbitrarily cancelled by subsequent English laws.

This heritage is most clearly apparent in the American Bill of Rights.

The Fifth Amendment guarantees; No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law

and the sixth states; …the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.

Written 575 years earlier, Magna Carta declares;

No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned,…or in any other way destroyed…except by the lawful judgement of his peers, or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to none will we deny or delay, right or justice.

In 1957 the American Bar Association acknowledged the debt American law and constitutionalism had to Magna Carta and English common law by erecting a monument at Runnymede.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissom reeds that give and take,
That bend so far, but never break,
They keep the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:
‘You mustn’t sell, delay, deny,
A freeman’s right or liberty.
It wakes the stubborn Englishry,
We saw ’em roused at Runnymede!

When through our ranks the Barons came,
With little thought of praise or blame,
But resolute to play the game,
They lumbered up to Runnymede;
And there they launched in solid line
The first attack on Right Divine,
The curt uncompromising “Sign!’
They settled John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgement found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter signed at Runnymede.’

And still when mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!