Mark Wallis, boss of Past Pleasures, an historical re-enactment company, is fretting over the costume he will wear on his next job.
“It’s very heavy,” he says. “When you’re wearing it, you feel as if there are two iron hands pressing you into the earth.”
It’s chainmail. And real chainmail. Not knitted string sprayed the color of silver. Wallis is playing the part of Robert Fitzwalter, leader of the rebel barons, in a reconstruction commemorating the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede on the banks of the River Thames, on June 15, 1215. Mark is determined that his performance should be authentic as possible.
“Our job is to bring alive the hidden stories of England’s dynamic history,” he says.
The reconstruction is part of a mass of commemorative events and medieval festivities marking the 800th anniversary of an episode that has even more resonance in the United States than in Britain.
“Magna Carta was initially a peace settlement between a bad king and his very, very unhappy barons,” says Justin Champion, Professor of History at Royal Holloway University. “But it became a symbol of resistance and protest, especially during the American Revolution in 1776.”
The document not only inspired the revolutionaries but also formed part of the intellectual underpinning of the U.S. Constitution.
Americans are playing a major role in the anniversary. Some 800 American lawyers have descended on London for a round of debates and seminars and for the re-dedication of the Magna Carta memorial at Runnymede, set up by donations from the American Bar Association in the 1950’s.
The Association’s current President, William Hubbard, is leading the delegation in this anniversary year.
“This is a great opportunity for us to come and celebrate the foundation of much of the freedoms that we enjoy in the United States,” Hubbard says.
Many of the lawyers will take time out to watch some ferociously realistic medieval combat — hand to hand fighting with mace and broadsword and jousting.
“You know lawyers are always into jousting,” says Hubbard.
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