Chevening scholars walk the trail of liberty in Newark

Julius Alejandre Social Media Ambassador

A proudly-standing century-old castle tower welcomed 20 Chevening Scholars with Programme Officer Matthew Kon in a day tour of Newark in Nottinghamshire, England, last 18 May.

The day tour was part of a series of Best of British events organised by the Chevening Secretariat, this time focusing on the Magna Carta and the importance of Newark to the English Civil War.

King John and the parcel of liberty

Floss Newman, Newark Castle Warden gave Chevening Scholars a brief overview of the life of King John and his involvement in the establishment of the Magna Carta. For those who are fans of folklore, King John portrays the controversial king in the legend of Robin Hood. King John sealed and issued the Magna Carta or ‘The Great Charter’, serving as a peace treaty between his rebelling barons when England was in serious financial and political crisis.

The Magna Carta reflects the birth of English democracy and the cornerstone of the British Constitution. One of the prominent clauses from the document is the declaration of human rights and liberties – that ‘no one, even our leaders, is above the law’, and that, ‘all free men have the right to justice and a fair trial’. This clause gave Magna Carta its prominence, making it one of the most famous documents in the world.

Clauses from this medieval declaration were adopted in the 1971 American Bill of Rights, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the 1950 European Convention of Human Rights. Since its 1215 version, the Magna Carta was revised and reissued by King Henry III three times before it became part of English law. For many, the Magna Carta is an ‘international symbol of liberty’.

Newark and the imprints of English Civil War

Chevening Scholars also had the chance to roam around Newark while understanding the town and the castle’s importance to the English Civil war. The location of Newark is vital during the Civil War as it lies at the crossroad of the Great North Way and Fosse Way. The walls of Newark Castle, standing tall at the bank of River Trent, also played an important role for Royalist fortification during the war. It is also believed that King John, who became ill with dysentery, died in one of the castle rooms.

Aside from its historic castle, Newark is also home to the National Civil War Centre where Chevening Scholars took a self-guided tour following the traces of one of Britain’s deadliest revolutions. The issuance of the ‘papal bull’ by Pope Innocent III, voiding the Magna Carta, sparked civil war between the king and the barons. It was not just a war between the Royalists and Parliamentarians, but also between emerging diseases and infections of the medieval times. The museum provided scholars with wide-ranging exhibits depicting the revolution – from civil war galleries and cinema, war tools, and displays showing the significance of surgery and medicine in military warfare.

What impressed the scholars is the large collection of medical tools used in military warfare – even a replica of a medieval doctor’s plague mask! Most of these tools are still in use today.

New arc: a Chevening Scholar’s takeaway

For a scholar, perhaps my major take-home from this event is the realisation that the causes that sparked revolution in the dark ages still exist in our modern time. These roots took different faces but still, they speak voices of injustice, corruption of power, and abuse of human rights.

As changemakers, we must take our own quills and parcels and make our own imprints in this long-fought transformation; as future leaders, we serve as the new arcs of hope against these inequalities.