Follow in the footsteps of families who paved the way to freedom on the anniversary of Magna Carta

A William IV gold chased Freedom-box by John Northam, showing the Magna Carta and presented with the Freedom of the City to Lord John Russell, in gratitude for his introduction of the Reform Bill. Woburn Abbey Collection, copyright His Grace the Duke of Bedford and the Trustees of the Bedford Estates.

PRESS RELEASE:The Historic Houses Association’s (HHA) member houses are hosting special events this summer to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.

You are invited to follow in the footsteps of families who have played a pivotal role in paving the way for the rights we enjoy today.

Many HHA properties have belonged to families for centuries and a number are related to the 25 barons who forced John to sign at Runnymede.

Muncaster Castle
Muncaster Castle

Visit the homes of The Barons

The last member of the de Redvers family to own Tiverton Castle was Isabella. She was the daughter of Baldwin de Redvers, 6th Earl of Devon and the second wife of William de Fortibus, grandson of William de Forz, one of the 25 barons and related by marriage to three others, Richard de Montfichet, Robert FitzWalter and Gilbert de Clare who formed the Committee in the forefront of the opposition to King John and who were entrusted by the terms of Magna Carta to ensure the King`s compliance with it.

William de Forz (Fortibus) had secured possession of the English lands of his mother’s inheritance on the condition that he married Aveline, daughter of Richard de Montfichet. In this way he was brought into contact with another lord to be chosen one of the Twenty-Five. In the spring of 1215, perhaps as a result of his links with Montfitchet, he joined the baronial opposition to King John and after the meeting at Runnymede was nominated to the Twenty Five. By August, however, he had changed sides, returning to the king’s allegiance, and he accompanied John on his punitive expedition to the north of England in December. He deserted John a second time in June 1216 but returned to royal service by the autumn, after Henry III’s accession, and attested the reissue of Magna Carta in November.

You are invited to find out more on a guided tour of Tiverton Castle and hear about its 900 years of history which will start at 2.45pm (optional), followed by free tea and biscuits as part of LiberTeas on 14 June.

To commemorate Magna Carta and the close involvement with the rebel barons of Robert de Vere, third Earl of Oxford and Lord of Hedingham Castle, there will be a spectacular day full of history, rebellion and battles at Hedingham Castle, Essex, on Sunday 14 June. Amongst all the action, the inner bailey surrounding the castle will be a medieval camp-site giving an insight into the lives of ordinary people, traders and craftsmen where you can see knights on horseback, close quarter fighting, and excommunications. There will be food stalls, fascinating Guided Tours of the Norman Keep and Riotous Assembly providing a musical documentary ‘History Happening’.

Goodnestone Park also has a strong link as its owners, Lord and Lady Fitzwalter are related to Robert Fitzwalter, regarded as the leader of the baronial opposition to John, styling himself ‘Marshal of the Army of God’. Robert played a major part in the events of 1215 and so contributed substantially to Magna Carta becoming part of the fabric of English political society.

Goodnestone Park was built in 1704 by Brook Bridges and it was his great-grandson, the 3rd baronet who married Fanny Fowler, a co-heiress of the ancient Norman barony of FitzWalter, established in 1295 by the grandson of Robert FitzWalter who had forced King John to seal the Magna Carta in 1215. Robert was, in the words of the Histoire des Ducs de Normandie ‘one of the greatest men in England and one of the most powerful’.

By early 1215 the signs are that he was moving to the forefront of the baronial leadership. In January he was present at the barons’ meeting with the king at which John pledged to answer their grievances at Easter. By the end of April, after John had refused satisfaction, he took up arms with the other eastern lords and somewhere between Stamford and Northampton linked up with the Northerners, who were making their own way south. On 5 May, the rebels formally defied John, renouncing their oaths of homage, and chose Robert FitzWalter as their leader. At Runnymede after the making of the Great Charter he was named to the committee of Twenty Five and on 19 June he was named first among the barons with whom John made a treaty.

Goodnestone Park gardens are open on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 11 – 5 & Sunday 12 – 5.

The de Vescy family were probably the first to build a stone castle at Alnwick. Eustace de Vesci was one of the group referred to by contemporaries as ‘the Northerners’, the original hard-line leaders of the baronial resistance to King John. He was lord of Alnwick in Northumberland and an extensive landowner in northern England. Accused in 1212, alongside another important northern lord Robert FitzWalter, of plotting against John’s life, he fled to Scotland, and his lands were seized. In 1215 he was deeply involved in the military operations that led up to the making of Magna Carta, associating himself closely with a Yorkshire rebel, his kinsman Robert de Ros of Helmsley.

Some parts of the de Vescy castle still survive, such as the archway that leads to the Inner Courtyard (also called the Inner Ward) and the State Rooms today, where characteristically Norman chevron patterns known as ‘dog-tooth’ can be seen. The Norman castle would have stood on a motte, or mound, and have two baileys, or enclosed spaces, within its walls. Some of the walls on the Outer Bailey (particularly those connecting the Barbican to the Abbot’s Tower, and the Abbot’s Tower to the Falconer’s Tower next to it) date roughly from the late 12th century, and are therefore among the oldest surviving parts of the castle.

However, most of the masonry at Alnwick Castle comes from the time of the Percy Lords of Alnwick in the 1300s. They too have a link to Magna Carta, as Richard de Percy, the 5th Baron, was one of the lords who opposed the actions of King John prior to the signing of Magna Carta, and so became one of the 25 barons appointed to enforce the observance of the document.

Eight hundred years ago on the field of the Runnymede, Baron Geoffrey de Say stood firm with 24 of his peers to force the reluctant King John to seal the Magna Carta. The story of that iconic document and its continuing relevance through the ages is retold at in the Great Hall at Broughton Castle, the home of his descendants, Lord Saye & Sele and the Fiennes family on 25 June at 7:30pm.

David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London will draw on new discoveries to give a fresh account of the Great Charter showing how it quickly gained a central place in English political life, and Sir Robert M. Worcester, Chairman, Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Committee will describe how the Magna Carta has inspired him and its relevance today.

Broughton Castle will open the garden on 25 June to ticket holders from 5.30pm for those that wish to picnic prior to the talk. The ticket price is £15 per person including a glass of wine or soft drink. Tickets can be purchased at Banbury Museum or

Robert De Berkeley was another baron who sided against King John. Charles Berkeley explains “King John actually took Berkeley Castle from the family for about seven or eight years. During the Civil War the castle was attacked by both sides. It must have been tough times.”

Eventually King John returned the castle to the Berkeley family who today, having lived there for 900 years, are known as the family who have inhabited an English castle for the longest period of time.

Celebrate the legacy of Magna Carta at a HHA LiberTea

The Historic Houses Association are supporting LiberTeas, a national event on 14 June celebrating Magna Carta’s legacy and reflecting on our freedoms and rights.

Holkham Hall will be holding an exhibition on the role of Sir Edward Coke, one of England’s foremost jurists, and founder of the family fortunes for his Coke descendants, later the Earls of Leicester, at Holkham. His reinterpretation and use of Magna Carta helped to limit the powers of the Stuart kings and, when opposing them, he used Magna Carta to help draw up The Petition of Rights. The exhibition will include some of his manuscripts and books from the Library and Archives, demonstrating the crucial importance that he attached to Magna Carta.

Sir Edward Coke
Sir Edward Coke

In 1628, as a precondition to granting any future taxes, parliament forced King Charles I to assent to The Petition of Rights. This asked for a settlement of parliament’s complaints against the King’s non-parliamentary taxation and imprisonments without trial, plus the unlawfulness of martial law and forced billets.

More than a hundred years later, the cry at the Boston Tea Party of “no taxation without representation” highlighted one of the major grievances of the American colonies and so provides a direct link back to Sir Edward Coke’s interpretation of Clause 12 of Magna Carta from the original 1215 manuscript.

Holkham’s exhibition will run from 14 June to 29 October 2015. It is part of the nationwide event, LiberTeas, where we take tea to celebrate the role of Magna Carta in protecting our liberties. For the launch of the exhibition a supply of black China tea, blended to reproduce the flavour of the tea found in tea chests on East India Company ships in Boston Harbour, will be on offer as a free sample to visitors on 14 June.

The political freedoms that began with the Magna Carta were supported by the Russell family at over the centuries. They were a prominent Whig family who passionately believed in liberty. Explore their contributions to the freedoms we enjoy today on a special trail through Woburn Abbey. Learn how William, Lord Russell joined the Rye House Plot in 1683 against the absolute monarchy of the Stuarts, he was arrested and, despite numerous pleas he was beheaded for treason. When William of Orange arrived in 1688 as William III, he pronounced the trial illegal and the family was rewarded with a Dukedom. You can view this royal document at the Abbey.

In the later 18th century the great leader of the Whig party was Charles James Fox. Fox was praised amongst liberals for parliamentary reform, catholic emancipation and intellectual freedom. He used to come to Woburn to see Francis, 5th Duke. In the first room a cartoon by the wickedly sharp cartoonist, Gillray, shows the Duke as a mesmerised squirrel, falling into the jaws of a rattlesnake with Fox’s head.

James Gillray, ‘The Republican Rattle Snake”, Woburn Abbey Collection, copyright His Grace the Duke of Bedford and the Trustees of the Bedford Estates

In the Dukes’ Corridor you will see Lord John Russell depicted holding the 1832 Reform Bill. He played a major part in the passing of this important piece of legalisation. The reform bill removed many of the irregularities in voting (a large commemorative cup can be seen in the Gold Vault). He was also an early advocate for granting political equality to Roman Catholics (a large commemorative inkwell for his support of civil and religious liberties is in the Silver Vault). He became Liberal prime minister to Victoria twice. His grandson, Bertrand Russell, seen in a cartoon nearby, was a campaigner for peace and writer on social and political subjects.

This and many other stories will be told and you will be shown the Gold Vault which houses a number of 18th-19th-century gilt freedom boxes, given to various members of the family with freedoms of London, Glasgow, Dublin, Cork and Sligo. A London box is chased with images of Magna Carta and the Reform Bill.

Guided tours will take place on 14 June: 11:00, 1:00 and 2:00pm. Go to the Duchesses Tea Room for a LiberTea when you finish.
The Historic Houses Association’s members own a number of medieval properties that were inhabited at the time of King John and give an insight into what life was like back in King John’s time.

Take a trip to Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincoln and imagine defending the battlements in John’s Tower, once a defensive tower belonging to Gilbert de Gant, Earl of Lincoln. There has been a building on the site of the castle since the reign of King John and the original defensive tower still forms part of the castle and is easy to spot as it has battlements around the top of its walls and arrow slit windows. Or visit Auckland Castle, a manor house or hunting lodge constructed by Bishop Pudsey in the late 1100s and the site where, 100 years later, Bishop Bek established the Castle you can see today. Alternatively, get in the mood for Magna Carta at Muncaster Castle, Cumbria which has been lived in continuously by the Pennington Family since their ownership of it was confirmed by a deed granted to the family during the reign of King John via one of his barons in 1208 during, John’s tour of the north of England.

Notes for editors

For further information or images please contact Lucinda MacPherson, Consultant Head of Communications and Marketing,

The Historic Houses Association

The Historic Houses Association (HHA) is a not-for-profit organisation that represents over 1,500 of the UK’s privately and charitably owned historic houses, castles and gardens. Around 500 of these open their doors to visitors for days out, special tours, school visits, film locations, weddings and events, or as memorable places to stay. The HHA represents more properties open to the public than the National Trust and Historic England put together and we welcome around 13 million visitors a year. Members range from iconic stately homes such as Blenheim Palace, Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey), Castle Howard, Longleat and Burghley House, to more intimate houses such as Traquair in Scotland, Treowen in Wales and Belle Isle in Northern Ireland. Most are still private family homes.  There are over 40,000 Friends of the HHA who enjoy days out at our members’ properties. Members can visit hundreds of special places free during normal opening hours, a quarterly magazine and exclusive tours. The Association was established in 1973 to help owners conserve these wonderful places in the interests of the nation.

For more information on the Magna Carta Barons
For more information on the Houses of Parliament LiberTeas

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