Yep, 1215. The year, that is. Not a quarter past noon. 15th June 1215, to be exact. In other words, eight hundred years ago today.
King John was not a popular monarch, and he was eventually more or less forced to submit to demands made by a group of rebel barons. The agreement between the monarch and the rebels was known as Magna Carta, the Great Charter, and was accepted on this day in the year 1215. I say 'accepted' whereas many places indicate that the charter was signed by King John. That was not the case as its acceptance was marked by the King's Seal on it.
There is quite considerable controversy - and has been for centuries - about just how much influence Magna Carta has had on the evolving law in this and other countries. There are those who claim it to be the foundation of the rights of all men, freedom from tyranny, true justice, habeus corpus and all the other things we so often take for granted. On the other hand, much of what was originally agreed and incorporated into the charter has since been nullified. There are also those who claim the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (French: Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen) of the French revolution is a more fundamental document in the history of human and civil rights.
Although it is accepted that Magna Carta dates from 1215, there are other, later versions accepted by kings after John's death, right up to version of 1297 which confirmed it as being part of English statute law.
The charter was sealed, supposedly, on an island in the River Thames near Runnymede and I was most surprised when I stopped off there the first time that the only form of monument erected by my countrymen was a pillar with an almost illegible inscription. Nearby stands a much more impressive memorial erected by the American Bar Association.
Nearby, too, stands another memorial:
The site of the memorial seems to very appropriate given the quotation from JFK's inaugural address.