Saturday, 11 April 2015

Magna Carta Again

After my night at the theatre, I had the morning free before heading home, so took the opportunity to go to the British Library, to see their Magna Carta :Law, Liberty, Legacy Exhibition, which opened on 13th March.
The exhibition is, of course, part of the celebrations of the 800th Anniversary of the Charter, and it is both fascinating and comprehensive.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically, starting with some background reading - a beautifully illuminated scroll setting out King John's genealogy, Henry I's coronation charter, and the Laws of King Cnut, reminding us that Magna Carta didn't emerge from a vacuum, but built on previous ideas and legal agreements. There were contemporary accounts of John's first forays into warfare (in Ireland) and of his murder of his nephew Arthur, and documents relating to the political and financial issues which led up to Magna Carta (the Papal Interdict, documents relating to the treatment of Jewish moneylenders, and so on.) The Papal Bull which put England under the Pope's overlordship is also displayed, as the the Statute of Pamiers, which was a charter issued by Simon de Montfort to his French subjects in 1212, guaranteeing rights similar to those in Magna Carta.

Thomas Cromwells's remembrances:
Photo British Library
Then there were documents relating to the Charter and its implementation,such as the Articles of the Barons, (effectively a first draft of Magna Carta), documents relting to the dissemination of the Charter,  the Papal Bull annulling it, King John's will, (and his finger bone, 2 teeth, and a fragment of his shroud, all taken from his tomb when it was opened in 1797).

There were also copies of the later Charters, reissued in 2017, and by Henry III.

The next stage of the exhibition moves on and looks at how Magna Carta was used and invoked, including a handwritten note by Thomas Cromwell (believed to relate to Sir Thomas More's trial), The Petition of Right of 1628, to King Charles I, (and printed details of his trial) and the Bill of Rights of 1688, (which invited William and Mary of Orange to take the throne, and set lmits to their power if they did)
Declaration of  Independence :
Photo from NY Public Library 

And then moved on to the Colonies, starting with transcripts of the trial of William Penn (at which the Judge notoriously imprisoned the jury for failing to give the guilty verdict he felt appropriate!),and including Thomas Jefferson's handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence, and contemporary printed copies, together with material relating to the laws of various of the original States, some of which, such as Massachusetts and Virginia specifically invoked Magna Carta.

There are also political cartoons relating to the French Revolution, and to to the Chartist movement in this country.

The remaining section of the exhibition relates to more recent developments - documents relating to the East India Company, and, later, the Colonies. There are also documents relating to Churchill's suggestion to give the Lincoln Magna Carta to the USA, in the hopes this would encourage the US to join the War, and modern political cartoons, as well as, on a lighter note, Magna Carta themed jigsaws, games, a Ladybird Book, and of course Sellar and Yeatman's 1066 and All That which notes that John was a Bad King,  but that Magna Carta was a Good Thing (which, now I come to think of it, is srguably the message of this exhibition, too!)

Right at the end of the exhibition are the British Library's two copies of Magna Carta, the 'London'and 'Lincoln' copies.
The 'London' Magna Carta - British Library
It is a very interesting exhibition. Many of the items on display have been loaned by other institutions, from the NY Library, to the French National Archives, Parliament, several Oxford and Cambridge Colleges and any number of Cathedrals, so the chances of seeing them all together again seems slim!  

The exhibition continues until September, so I am hoping that I shall have a chance to go back, perhaps when the exhibition is a little less crowded (well, a girl can hope!). If you are in or near London between now and September, I'd strongly recommend going.

Monday, 6 April 2015

In Which There are Museums, and an Atom Bomb

I impulse bought a theatre ticket about a month ago, for the RSC's production of 'Oppenheimer', which has just transferred from Stratford to London.Tickets for the first few nights were half price, and I was tempted. (of course, the cost of tickets is relatively low to start with, compared to the cost of trains and accommodation, but one doesn't always think of that!)

Which  meant that last Saturday I caught a train to London, for a weekend of exhibitions and theatre.

I started with a quick visit to the Wallace Collection , which was a little disappointing, as unfortunately several of the rooms were closed to visitors, including the majority of their collection of arms and armour, which I would have liked to see, so I quickly moved on.

I went on  to the Petrie Museum, which was founded under a bequest to University College London by Amelia Edwards, an early Egyptologist, and co-founder of the Egypt Exploration Society.

It is a small but interesting museum, dedicated to ancient Egyptian archaeology and  artifacts. I admit that my enthusiasm for potsherds is rather limited, but I loved seeing the fragments of stone and plaster, some of which still show the original colours. The museum also has a number of portraits from (later period) coffins, amazingly well preserved after 2,000 years or so! 

I also enjoyed seeing the collections of jewellery, ranging from gold to glass and ceramic beads.

After leaving the museum, I had time for a leisurely meal before heading out to the theatre for the evening.

I have very impressed indeed with the cast. The play starts in around 1937 and follows J Robert Oppenheimer ('Oppie') in his progress towards the creation of the Atomic bomb, with the play ending just after Nagasaki. 

Oppenheimer is played by John Heffernan,who I last saw in 'The HotHouse', about two years ago. I thought then he was worth watching, and I stand by that opinion! His Oppenheimer is not a particularly likeable man, sacrificing his own political principals, and his Communist friends and colleagues in order to achieve his own ambitions, and not, it would appear a natural husband or father, but he is a very human man, tormented by the weight of the work he is doing.

The play is almost 3 hours long, (which at the Vaudeville Theatre is no joke!) but it is gripping, and well worth seeing.

I'm not entirely sure about the part of the play where the atom bomb is exploded - there is a large model bomb which is winched up above the stage, and there is then a blackout as the 'bomb' goes off - I admit that I think it might have been more effective had the 'bomb' remained offstage, but over all it is a gripping production, and does address the moral issues raised by the building, and dropping of the bomb.