Lincoln Castle

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Things to do


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January, 2017

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Lincoln has one of the four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta as well as copies of the Charter of the Forest dated 1217 and 1225. Loaned by Lincoln Cathedral they are on display in the new David PJ Ross vault which was part of the recent £22million restoration of “Lincoln Castle.”:

When I visited Lincoln Castle in the summer, the vault was shut because of excess humidity and the Magna Carta and Forest Charter had been removed to alternative secure storage until the problems were resolved.

The entry ticket gives one free admission for the next six months. I had another 4 days left on my ticket, which gave me one free admission in the next six months. It was a good excuse for a day trip to Lincoln. I could combine this with a trip to the “Guildhall”: above the Stonebow, which is somewhere I’ve not visited before. I dropped the grandsons off at school and scampered to the bus stop just in time to catch the 103 Lincoln bus which would drop me off at the top of the town, saving the walk up Steep Hill. I had chosen a lovely January day with bright sunshine and had a lovely day.

I didn’t bother with the rest of the castle today and just visited the Magna Carta vault which is situated between the Georgian and Victorian Prison Blocks. As expected, no photography is allowed inside the vault.

As well as a darkened display area with the Magna Carta, this also has a 20 minute video which explains the history and conflict between King John and the barons leading to Magna Carta and then looks at its legacy. It makes sense to watch this first (sit at the back as it is a very wide screen) as it puts the period into context and explains the significance of Magna Carta a not only at the time but also now. It inspired the 1669 Bill of Rights which states the monarch cannot act without the consent of parliament. It is the foundation of our freedom and democracy today and its influence can be seen in constitutions around the world. It was the seed for the rights and privileges we enjoy today.

The start of the C13th was a troubled time. Richard I had bled the coffers of England dry to fund his crusades. King John had lost much of the land owned in France and was making increased demands on the barons for money. There was increasing tension between the king and the barons and the threat of civil war. By 1214, the barons were in open revolt against the king. The Chief Marshall, John’s most trusted advisor advised him to negotiate an agreement with the barons. This lead to the Magna Carta of 1215 agreed at Runnymede which curbed the power of the king confirming he was bound by the law as much as his subjects. It guaranteed a free church, inheritance rights for the barons and justice for all freemen. This was signed and copies sent to cathedrals across the country for safe keeping and a copy was also sent to the pope.

Unfortunately John had no intention of keeping to the promises made in Magna Carta. The barons began gathering arms against the king and even invited Prince Louis of France to take John’s throne. When John died in 1216 he was succeeded by his nine year old son Henry III. Henry had the good sense to listen to his Chief Marshall who advised him to reissue Magna Carta on his coronation and to rule fairly, so getting the barons back on side and away from the French. By 1217 the French had been defeated and Henry had issued two charters. The Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest. This reduced the royal stranglehold on the royal forests, which covered one third of England. Those living in the forest had not been allowed to hunt, fell trees graze animals or forage for food. Concessions had been granted in the 1215 Magna Carta and these were now defined in the new charter. The area of royal forest was reduced, re-establishing rights to those living in the forest and the death penalty for stealing the king’s deer was replaced by fines or imprisonment.
Both charters were reissued in 1225 with minor changes and became the definitive version.

A dark vault displays the Magna Carta, Charter of the Forest and also a 1200 charter from King John to the people of Lincoln.

Only four copies of the 1215 Magna Carta survive and this is the best preserved “copy,”: although it has lost its cords and seal. Hugh of Wells, the Bishop of Lincoln and John Marshall, Sheriff of Lincoln were witnesses to the signing. The back of the document has ‘Lincolnia’ inscribed on the back and the bishop would have been responsible to proclaim the contents to the citizens of Lincoln. The document would originally have been kept rolled but has been folded at some time. The ink is beginning to fade badly in places.

The Charter of the Forest is a much smaller document. Only two copies of the 1217 charter exist and three copies of the 1225 charter. Lincoln has a copy of both. These are displayed in turn for a few months each before being ‘rested’ and checked for light damage.

We’ve all grown up with stories of Bad King John but I hadn’t realised just how close the country was to civil war. If it hadn’t been for Henry having the good sense to listen to the Chief Marshall, our history would have been completely different.


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