King’s Breakfast in Bed Revolts the Barons!

This might have been the headline in the “Sun” of 1215 and was one of the startling facts that emerged from our Magna Carta Day on 3rd December.  Dr. Alan Crosby told the tale of the reign of King John and of the events which brought about that fateful meeting on Runnymede.  Throughout his reign John had failed to match up to the image of a medieval king and, though he was an able hands-on administrator, had met with multiple disasters in France, with the Pope, in campaigns Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  His habit of lying in bed with his wife Isobel, disgusted the barons who, seeing their privileges and wealth undermined, rose in the revolt which culminated in the sealing of Magna Carta.

At this point Dr. Meg Ford, Head of Books and Manuscripts at Christies, took up the tale, describing the various copies of the document that exist.  Then she went on to describe the physical creation of a document in the Middle Ages, the preparation of the parchment, the pricking of margins and the ruling and inscribing of the lines with a bone point.  The copy which we hold in the Library is one of the first general issue of the charter in1297 and she explained how one scribe would write the body of the page and specialists would draw the illuminated capitals and these were then painted by the same or a different artist, the copy shows that it was someone who worked in the London style.

The fascinating day closed with a lively question and answer session, refreshed with tea and cake, before some of the audience moved on either to listen to Sir David Maddison talk about Magna Carta today or to go to the opening of the exhibition “Knowledge is Power” at the Victoria Museum and Gallery of the University of Liverpool which includes many items from our collections.  The exhibition is free and open to June 2016 and should be visited by every member of the Athenaeum