7th March 2016 Athens, Greece
Magna Carta tour at the British schools
Throughout 2015, British embassies across the world celebrated the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede. This is the foundation document of the rule of law in England – including the important principle that the Crown itself is subject to the law. In our Embassy at Athens, we made the Magna Carta the centre-piece of our annual celebration of Her Majesty The Queen’s Birthday Party in June. We were able to display for our guests a perfect facsimile on vellum of the one of the original editions of the charter. We then sent the facsimile to tour the English-speaking schools of Athens, as well as the British Council – ensuring that a wide range of Greeks, young and older, saw a copy of this important document in its anniversary year and were given the opportunity to think about its significance.
I’m delighted that the schools rose to the occasion. Below you can find the thoughts of some of the pupils who encountered the startlingly life-like copy of the document. It’s clear that they were inspired by what they saw and learned. I’d like to thank them and their teachers for contributing to this blog.
‘Our school, Byron College, were honoured to be the first school in Greece to receive the facsimile of the Magna Carta. We presented it to our school community and had the privilege of Andrew Staunton, Deputy Head of Mission for the British Embassy, joining us to share his thoughts on the Magna Carta. For two weeks all our pupils, parents and teachers engaged in activities around the history of the Magna Carta and its significance today. We learned that 800 years ago King John sealed the Magna Carta, the great charter, under pressure from Barons to stop arbitrary rules. This British document first established numerous principles and values we take for granted today, like the rule of law and limits on executive power. This document inspired many other nations to later follow such steps of democratisation, with the best example being that of the US Bill of Rights. Therefore the historical weight of what the copy represented, made it an honour and a privilege to present as Head Boy this sacred text to pupils of my school.
A copy of the Magna Carta still hangs in our reception today and is still a point of conversation to the many visitors we have coming to Byron every day. Now though we are all equipped with the answers to their questions!
Thanks to the British Embassy and HE John Kittmer for affording us this opportunity and allowing us to share this with our community’.
Chalint El Champasi, Head Boy, Byron College
St. Lawrence College
‘I personally loved the fact that the school brought in an exact replica of the famous Magna Carta. Firstly, looking at it gave me a whole new perspective of what this historical document looked like. I also learned that Magna Carta was firstly written by the Archbishop for the barons listing their complaints against King John. The barons handed the document to King John on the 15th of June 1215, 800 years ago! Secondly, having ‘the Great Charter’ in school for some time was also fun because the banners and projects put around it were very pleasant and eye catching. The banners also told us what Magna Carta actually said and told us about the history of this document, as I mentioned before. I think having a copy of Magna Carta in school was a fantastic and educational idea’.
Dimitris Thodis (Year 7)
‘This year we got our hands on a copy of Magna Carta. We may not have been able to touch it, but we still got to walk down to the historical document anytime we wanted (just not during lesson time of course). It got me really interested in why King John signed it. I usually prefer more animated things, but it was very cool and exciting to have the Magna Carta in a school in Greece! Our history lessons are great, but it is really awesome to have something physical from such a long time ago. We had a whole exhibition, with projects about the document close by. I only went to it about three times but it still was enough time to realise how lucky some of us really are. Thank you British Embassy for the lovely historic surprise!!’
Isabella Karaiossifides (Year 7)
St. Catherine’s British School
‘When we learned that the Magna Carta was coming to St Catherine’s, we weren’t sure what to expect or even what it was! We thought it would be a large scroll with normal sized writing, but instead it was hardly larger than an A3 piece of paper and surprisingly the handwriting was tiny and very difficult to read. The Magna Carta helped us learn a lot about medieval times including that one of the laws which still applies today is the right to a fair trial.
We learned about King John and Magna Carta through a dilemma game. As King John we faced difficult problems and had to make hard choices! Before we did this we thought that King John was unkind, badly behaved and incredibly selfish, but the game helped us understand how difficult it was for the king to make the right decisions and keep everybody happy.
During our studies on Magna Carta we also had a “live” visit from King John himself (actually played by our Headmaster, Mr Smith). We had thought up lots of really challenging questions to ask King John about his reign – we made him think really hard. “The King” answered all our questions in a really informative and entertaining way. We particularly liked when he said, “Off with his head!” or “To the Tower!” to some of the audience who asked impertinent questions – it was very humorous as well as educational!’
By Class 6D