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Monday, February 9, 2015

Ankerwycke yew ~ King John's Magna Carta of 1215

Taxus baccata is a conifer native to western, central and southern Europe, northwest Africa, northern Iran and southwest Asia.  It is the tree originally known as yew, though with other related trees becoming known, it may now be known as English yew, or European yew.

Magna Carta, of 1215,  was a peace treaty between the King and the rebel barons. In that respect it was a failure, but it provided a new framework for the relationship between the King and his subjects. The 1225 version of Magna Carta, freely issued by Henry III in return for a tax granted to him by the whole kingdom, took this idea further and became the definitive version of the text. Three clauses of the 1225 Magna Carta remain on the statute book today.  In 1214, a mercenary army raised by King John was defeated by the French at the Battle of Bouvines in northern France. This army had been paid largely by the tax known as ‘scutage’, a payment made to the Crown in place of providing knights for military service, and the focus of much baronial discontent.

Windsor is a town in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire, England. It is widely known as the site of Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the British Royal Family.  John Lackland was King of England from 1199 until his death in 1216. Following the battle of Bouvines, John lost the duchy of Normandy.

Magna Carta (Latin: "the Great Charter") is a charter agreed by King John of England at Windsor, on 15th  June 1215.  First drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons. Neither side stood behind their commitments, and the charter was annulled later,  leading to the First Barons' War. After John's death, the regency government of his young son, Henry III, reissued the document in 1216, stripped of some of its more radical content, in an unsuccessful bid to build political support for their cause.

The charter became part of English political life and was typically renewed by each monarch in turn, although as time went by and the fledgling English Parliament passed new laws, it lost some of its practical significance. At the end of the 16th century there was an upsurge in interest in Magna Carta. Lawyers and historians at the time believed that there was an ancient English constitution, going back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons, that protected individual English freedoms. In the 21st century, four exemplifications of the original 1215 charter remain in existence, held by the British Library and the cathedrals of Lincoln and Salisbury.  It is stated that the four original 1215 charters will be on joint display at the British Library in 2015 to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

The 1215 sealing of the Magna Carta reportedly occurred under a yew tree. Daily Mail reports that now, exactly eight centuries after that historic event, experts have preserved the yew tree for eternity. Saplings grown from cuttings of the tree have been planted in a hedge in Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens, added to those of other historic yews as part of a conservation project.

The Ankerwycke yew, which has a girth of 26ft and stands in a water meadow on the flood plain of the Thames, is now approximately 2,000 years old. Scientists at the gardens have created the hedge to preserve their genetic material amid fears that Britain’s historic trees are threatened by a variety of diseases. Famed for the signing of the document at Runnymede in 1215 – although the exact site is still disputed by historians – the Ankerwycke yew is also said to be the site of the first meeting between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. It is named after the manor of Ankerwycke, part of the estate of Richard de Montfichet, one of the 25 barons who were present as King John gave his seal to the Magna Carta.

Martin Gardner, who leads the gardens scheme in Edinburgh, said: ‘We are losing ancient yews all the time, to climate change, development and vandalism. These are the most iconic trees in the world. We have to conserve every single one.’ The initiative comes as celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the document move to Parliament. The Ankerwycke yew was named as one of Britain’s 50 great trees in 2002 to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
2nd Feb 2015.


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