Little Dunmow's role in Magna Carta is marked

PUBLISHED: 08:55 18 June 2015 | UPDATED: 08:55 18 June 2015

Little Dunmow sign unveiling. Picture: Roger King

Little Dunmow sign unveiling. Picture: Roger King

2014 Roger King

Little Dunmow and Stansted Mountfitchet were at the heart of the barons’ rebellion against King John in 1215. Six of the 24 rebel barons who forced him to put his seal on the Magna Carta came from Essex.

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The village of Little Dunmow was the seat of rebel leader, Robert FitzWalter and the present day Lord and Lady FitzWalter were in Little Dunmow on Sunday to mark the 800th anniversary.

Julian FitzWalter and his wife Veronica were also at Runnymede for the Royal Commemoration on the exact anniversary the following day. Runnymede was chosen on June 15, 1215, because it is marshy ground and it would have been impossible to wage a battle there – the horses and the knights in armour would have sunk. Also it was equidistant between the King at Windsor Castle and the barons who held the Tower of London and the King’s treasury.

At Runnymede, were Her Majesty the Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne, Prince William, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Prime Minister, the American Ambassador, the US Attorney General and Little Dunmow parish councillor Kate Atherton who for the past two years has been leading Little Dunmow’s celebrations, accompanied by her husband, Michael.

Mrs Atherton said: “The village made badges to mark the occasion in Little Dunmow. Lord FitzWalter bought one and he wore it at Runnymede.”

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The village celebrations at the weekend included the installation of a new village sign by the chairman of Essex County Council, Councillor Norman Hume and the planting of a Magna Carta rose by Kathleen Carhart, 93, the oldest resident. The village also has a copy of the Magna Carta on parchment, which means it should last another 800 years.

On Sunday, there was a special church service and the unveiling of a hand-sewn tapestry, a triptych designed by Mike Elliott. This took 20 villagers a year to stitch. Framed in oak, carved in Little Dunmow by Arthur Crow, the left panel has medieval traditions including the Flitch Trials and allusions to the plague, the centre has Robert FitzWalter’s seal and on the right is a farmed landscape with references to both world wars.

There was an Magna Carta exhibition in the church and a LiberTEA, afternoon tea party.

In her speech before the triptych’s unveiling, Mrs Atherton, who worked on it with her two daughters, Sophie and Isabel, said: “Robert FitzWalter, as the largest landowner after the King had plenty of disagreements with the monarch. John pursued Robert’s daughter Matilda and may have poisoned her after she spurned him. John also forced Geoffrey de Mandeville of Pleshey to marry his disguarded wife, Queen Isabel for a hefty price.

“John’s refusal to discuss the baron’s grievances led them in May 1215 to repudiate their homage to the King and march into London. They were welcomed through open gates and the balance of power shifted in their favour.

“The Mayor of London accompanied the barons to Runnymede and the merchants’ concerns were incorporated into Magna Carta, such as the principle of habeas corpus and the regulation of weights and measures.”

However, as Mrs Atherton described, although it became the foundation of English Common Law, within seven weeks, the peace treaty was dead. In his paranoia at having let go some of his power, the King appealed to the Pope and the document was declared unlawful.

A civil war devastated Dunmow, Pleshey, Coggeshall and Colchester. On Christmas Day, 1215, Tilty Priory was attacked by King John’s forces. The conflict ended only with King John’s death.

Meanwhile, 23 of the Barons were killed. The only one to survive John’s rage was Richard Montfichet, aged 14. His seat was at Stansted Mountfichet, where on Monday, pupils from the Joyce Frankland Academy performed a play based on the lead-up to, the sealing and the aftermath of the Magna Carta with medieval costumes and music.

The Little Dunmow Magna Carta Exhibition can be seen in Great Dunmow Library from Tuesday, June 23, until the end of the month and the triptych will be on display at Little Dunmow Church on Saturday and Sunday, June 20 and 21, from 2pm to 4pm.

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