13th Century History Up Close

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by CarolineR-D on July 2, 2013

Lincoln Castle is currently undergoing refurbishment which will not be complete until 2015, so it is not the most inspiring place at present. The castle walls are being reconstructed and the scaffolding makes the whole place look a bit of an eyesore. Hopefully, it will be worthwhile when the work is finished as there will be a complete wall walk offering superb views of Lincoln. Once the prison buildings are refurbished, I'm sure they should also be worth seeing.

Given that there wasn’t much going on when we visited, the £12 entrance fee (for 3 adults and 1 child) seemed a little expensive, but one of the things we did enjoy was the Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest Exhibition.

The Magna Carta is the earliest charter granting English freedoms and rights. It was first drawn up in 1215 by rebel English barons in order to restrict the power of King John, and was revised three times. By 1297 it formed the basis of the laws that governed England.

I had not realised that one of only four surviving copies of the Magna Carta was housed in Lincoln Castle, so it was rather exciting to come face to face with this ancient document together with one of just two surviving copies of the Charter of the Forest, which was issued in 1217 and which added additional clauses to Magna Carta. The documents are displayed under very dim lighting and are written in Latin, so don’t expect to be able to read them clearly! It is awe-inspiring, however, to see such an important piece of history and I felt almost as moved as when I visited the Bayeux Tapestry museum.

This was an informative exhibition, which explained the history of the Magna Carta in a way that was suitable even for young visitors to understand. The story is brought to life with visual props such as replica medieval weapons. We found out about crime and punishment in the 13th century and shuddered at the sight of a large mantrap. There are interactive exhibits, which help explain concepts such as the feudal system and what is meant by hierarchy. These are good because they encourage children to think for themselves.

Although I knew a little about the Magna Carta, I knew nothing about the Charter of the Forest, but the exhibition made me understand how significant the latter was. Whereas the Magna Carta protected the barons’ rights, the Charter of the Forest was more important to the humble people living in royal forests, ensuring their protection and allowing them the opportunity to get a living from the forest, e.g. by grazing animals, etc.

Most importantly, the exhibition helps you to understand how the Magna Carta is still relevant today. For example, we are invited to think about such things as detention without trial, the right of protest, the right to free access to justice, etc. and to consider how this impacts on the modern world. There is a wall containing visitors’ thoughts on a variety of controversial issues, such as anti-terrorism laws and whether we should keep the monarchy or have a republic. Visitors are encouraged to write down their opinions and read the opinions posted on the wall by others. The aim of this is to help us to appreciate that without the Magna Carta we would not have the right to protest and debate about the things we feel strongly about.

I felt that the amount of reading in the exhibition was just right, not so much that it became heavy going, but sufficient to provide a good grasp of the facts and it stimulated lots of conversation amongst our group. I felt that some of the interactive exhibits could have been better. For instance, the press for making a replica of the King’s Seal didn’t seem to be working.

The museum is not particularly spacious, which means it can get crowded when people gather around particular exhibits. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our visit and if (like us) your prior knowledge of King John comes mainly from the Robin Hood movies, the information here should prove enlightening.
Lincoln Castle
Castle Hill
Lincoln, England
44 (0)1522 511068


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