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Why Cartmel will be celebrating the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta

PUBLISHED: 16:01 12 June 2015 | UPDATED: 20:48 19 April 2016

Knights will fight it out in a medieval tournee in Cartmel

Knights will fight it out in a medieval tournee in Cartmel

© Roger Bamber / Alamy

Cartmel is famous for sticky toffee pudding and for having one of the country’s most beautiful racecourses but few people connect it with one of the great moment in our history - the signing of Magna Carta.

A sign in the priory marking the founding by William Marshal A sign in the priory marking the founding by William Marshal

That connection will be celebrated later this year, though, when the village hosts five days of celebrations and festivities in and around the ancient priory to mark the moment 800 years ago when the principles of freedom, justice and democracy were enshrined in our laws.

The Cartmel connection involves one particular character from the village’s medieval past - a man who was a superbly able legislator who helped establish the rule of law in the kingdom. He was William Marshal, the 4th Earl of Pembroke, the founder of the Priory of Cartmel.

William was knighted in 1166 during a campaign in Upper Normandy. By 1185 he had won significant favour at court through his skill at arms and, in recognition of his service, he was given the large Royal Estate of Cartmel by King Henry II. It consisted of some 28,747 acres of Lancashire and involved custody of Heloise of Lancaster. She was one of the king’s wards, heiress to the barony of Kendal, with extensive lands in Lancashire and Westmorland. The king expected Marshal to marry her but it appeared the ambitious William had other ideas.

Towards the end of Henry II’s reign in 1189, Marshal was involved in one of the most important moments of his life. During yet another rebellion by the king’s sons, William was helping Henry retreat to safety and in doing so charged at the heir to the throne, Richard Coeur de Lion, killing his horse from under him. Attacking the king’s son and heir to the throne might not have seemed a good career move.

The lovely santuary inside the priory The lovely santuary inside the priory

However, when Henry died and the new king, Richard I, confronted William about the incident, Marshal replied that he had not intended to kill Richard and had struck precisely where he meant to. Fortunately the king accepted the story and allowed Marshal to marry Isabel de Clare, Countess of Pembroke and Striguil instantly elevating him from knight to one of the richest men in the western world.

William invited monks from Bradenstoke Priory, Wiltshire, to found an Augustinian house, on his lands in Cartmel, which they commenced building almost immediately. William declared that he had founded Cartmel ‘for the widening of the field of the holy religion’ and ‘for the soul of the Lord King Henry II, and for the soul of the Young King Henry my lord, and for the soul of King Richard; for my soul and soul of my wife Isabel, and those of my ancestors and successors and our heirs.’

After the death of Richard I, William served his brother King John. Despite open hostilities between the king and his barons, William managed to remained in favour with both camps, which ultimately meant he was one of the leading mediators, smoothing the way to the sealing of Magna Carta on June 15, 1215 at Runnymede.

When he was laid to rest in London’s Temple Church on May 20, 1219 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, reportedly described this celebrated veteran of countless wars as ‘the greatest knight in the world’.

Carvings inside the building Carvings inside the building

Without him there would have been no priory at Cartmel and sadly, he never did see its completion.

To mark the connections between Cartmel, William Marshal and Magna Carta, the priory will play host to five days of festivities this September from the 25th to the 29th.

During the celebrations there will be a spectacular ‘Flower Pageant’ – a display of flower artistry designed to illustrate the influence of Magna Carta. There will also be a range of other events including a living medieval encampment from 1215, on the Saturday and Sunday, featuring knights in armour staging a tournée and fayre. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday evenings there will be son et lumière and firework displays, plus a programme of concerts throughout. w

The beautiful exterior of the priory The beautiful exterior of the priory

For more information and to book tickets, go online to cartmelpriory.org.uk to find out about where to stay and other events happening in the area, visit golakes.co.uk

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