Holkham’s role in the revival of Magna Carta

Sir Edward Coke challenged the royal power of two kings.
Sir Edward Coke challenged the royal power of two kings.
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This summer marks a series of events celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta – and it will also feature in a new display at Holkham Hall.

Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), whose descendants have lived at Holkham since 1612, was the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.

His interpretation of Magna Carta, one of the most famous documents in the world, is detailed in a unique display which opens to the public this Sunday at Holkham Hall.

Visitors to the hall will be able to see the texts from the ‘great charter’ that Coke consulted, defining Magna Carta for the modern age and directly challenging the royal power of James I and then Charles I.

The display at Holkham Hall includes manuscripts and books from Holkham’s library and archives, demonstrating how Coke highlighted the crucial rights laid out in Magna Carta and how this ultimately helped shape our modern legal system.

Coke spearheaded the fight for Parliament’s rights and for an individual to be entitled to a fair trial.

Both King James I and his son, Charles I, believed that they ruled by divine right and so could govern without the advice and consent of parliament. The imposed arbitrary taxes and imprisoned men without trial if they did not pay.

Magna Carta was Coke’s main weapon in proclaiming that the Stuart kings were acting unlawfully and this interpretation helped to limit their absolute power.

Coke’s influence also spread further afield. The constitutions aof the United States and many Commonwealth countries also bear the hallmarks of his writings on Magna Carta. The famous cry at the Boston Tea Party of “no taxation without representation” in 1773 reflected one of the major grievances of American colonists and provided a direct link back to Sir Edward Coke’s interpretation of Clause 12 in Magna Carta from the original 1215 manuscript.

Holkham’s display is part of the countrywide event, LiberTeas, which invites the nation to sit down to tea to celebrate the role of Magna Carta.

For the launch of Holkham’s display, a supply of black China tea, blended to reproduce the flavour of the tea found in tea chests thrown overboard during the Boston Tea Party, will be on offer in Holkham’s café in the park as a free sample to visitors on Sunday.

Holkham’s display Sir Edward Coke – Magna Carta Reborn will run from Sunday through to October 29; for further information visit www.holkham.co.uk