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Two MLaw Professors Join Queen Elizabeth II at Magna Carta Reception

Feb. 27, 2015

"It was certainly a very grand reception in the majestic ceremonial rooms at Buckingham Palace in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Princess Royal (Princess Anne), the Dukes of Gloucester and Kent and Prince Michael of Kent."

That report comes from Paul Brand, a William W. Cook Global Law Professor at Michigan Law and an emeritus fellow at All Souls College at the University of Oxford, and John G. H. Hudson, also a William W. Cook Global Law Professor and a professor of legal history and head of the School of History at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. They were two of only three historians invited to the Palace for the Magna Carta reception earlier this week.

The pair share their collective impression of the occasion in the reflection below:

Professor John G.H. Hudson shakes hands with Queen Elizabeth II.

As the pictures show, we shook hands and were introduced to both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. Many of the guests were from overseas and attending a human rights conference in London sponsored by the Magna Carta Trust. They included the president of the French Conseil d’Etat, the Finnish justice minister and figures from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The English guests included the former attorney general, Dominic Grieve, Lady (Brenda) Hale, the deputy president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, Lady (Mary) Arden, a justice of the Court of Appeal, and Lord (John) Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the lord chief justice of England and Wales.

None of the original copies of the Magna Carta was on display at the event, but there was a facsimile of a British Library copy of the 1215 charter. The four surviving original copies of the 1215 charter had been brought together at the British Library earlier this month for comparison. This was the first time since 1215 (and perhaps ever) that they had been in one place together (Contrary to popular belief there is no single original authentic text of Magna Carta. It was issued in multiple copies, of which four survive).

Queen Elizabeth II greets Professor Paul Brand at B​uckingham Palace.

Neither of us had met the queen before. Brand talked with her briefly about why such an old document was of continuing relevance in a very different world from that in which it was originally drafted. Hudson talked with the Princess Royal (Princess Anne) about the value to Lincoln cathedral of their original copy of the 1215 charter.

Although there had been legislation in England since well before 1066, Magna Carta is the first legislative document of any kind whose text was known to 13th century lawyers and justices and used by them, and there is a continuous history of its use and interpretation and reinterpretation since then by lawyers and judges. Magna Carta embodied an important commitment by the king on behalf of himself and his successors to due process and the rule of law and to the same rules being applicable to all his ‘subjects’. In that sense it is the foundational document of the Common Law tradition, which is shared by England, the U.S., and the other Common Law countries.

Brand’s particular connection is with The Magna Carta Project​, which is providing an online commentary for researchers, schools, and the general public on individual clauses of the 1215 charter and an edition of the original charters of King John. Brand is also going to Australia and New Zealand in April and May to give papers on Magna Carta to academic audiences in Melbourne and elsewhere and to the Australian High Court in Canberra and giving a lecture on Magna Carta at the Selden Society AGM in July. Hudson has recently given a paper on Magna Carta in Oxford and is delivering the Allen Brown Memorial Lecture in Cambridge in July on the process of drafting Magna Carta.

The University of Michigan Law Library hosted a commemorative Magna Carta traveling exhibit in October 2014. Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015 featured 16 banners bearing images of Magna Carta and related documents and artifacts from the Library of Congress's rare book collections.

Read more feature stories.​​​​​​

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