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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006, 00:50 GMT 01:50 UK
Magna Carta tops British day poll
Magna Carta signing illustration
King John signed Magna Carta on 15 June 1215
The anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta has been chosen as the best date to celebrate Britishness.

The charter imposed on King John on 15 June 1215 by rebel barons limited the power of the monarch and gave ordinary people rights under common law.

Its anniversary was picked by 27% of the 5,002 people polled by BBC History magazine, with VE Day, 8 May, taking 21%, and D-Day, 6 June, attracting 14%.

Chancellor Gordon Brown recently called for a new day for national identity.

In an address to the Fabian Society in January, he suggested the UK needed a day to celebrate "who we are and what we stand for".

'Surprising choice'

BBC History magazine editor Dave Musgrove said the choice of the Magna Carta anniversary may indicate the UK is moving on from a "dependence on World War II as the critical point in our island story".

"It's fascinating, and surprising, that an event from medieval history has come out above VE Day, all the more so when you consider that it's a constitutional rather than a militaristic moment that's been chosen," he said.

Dan Snow, the presenter of BBC history programmes, described Magna Carta as a worthy winner.

"The idea that the will of the king can be bound by law is as important today as it was 800 years ago," he added.

HOW PEOPLE VOTED
Magna Carta: 27%
VE Day: 21%
D-Day: 14%
Armistice Day: 11%
Trafalgar victory: 10%
Slave trade abolished: 6%
Napoleon's defeat: 4%
Churchill's birth: 3%
Cromwellian republic: 2%
Reform Act: 2%
SOURCE: BBC History magazine

"It didn't work in practice but it set a precedent. It advanced the cause of liberty, constitutionalism and parliamentarianism, which Britain in turn has passed on to the world."

But some historians pointed out that Magna Carta took place before the union of Great Britain.

"The problem with a Magna Carta day is that this was originally very much an English, not a British significant event," said Linda Colley, Professor of history at Princeton University.

"Though to be sure, it acquired in the 18th and 19th centuries a resonance for radicals and constitutionalists across the islands."

Other dates considered in the poll were Armistice Day, 11 November; the abolition of the slave trade, 25 March; Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, 18 June, and Churchill's birth, 30 November.


What do you think of this decision? Would you have chosen differently? Read a selection of comments below:

I feel that Queen Victoria's Birthday would be the best day, also the date on which the British used to celebrate Empire Day.
Ross Bullock, India

The anniversary date of the Magna Carta signing is a noble idea, but it is hardly inclusive as a BRITISH celebration. I doubt the Scots would support it, for instance. So how about June 20, the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne in 1837. Her reign is probably the greatest in terms of ALL aspects of Britain's impact on the world. Victoria Day would embrace the end of slavery, the works of Dickens, the era of steam, steel ships and an economy and political power unmatched in the world for a hundred years.
Peter Almond , Esher Surrey

My National Day would be the anniversary of the date in AD410, when the famous letter of the Emperor Honorius told the cities of Britain to look to their own defences, and as a result started a period where we have never again been occupied.
Robin Hughes, Long melford, UK

This just highlights the mainstream ignorance of English people - to the fact that Britain is not England and vice versa. No wonder people don't celebrate being British - there is NO SUCH THING. What you are all referring to is being ENGLISH - and I certainly am not. COME ON SWEDEN!!!
Jennifer, Glasgow, Scotland

I think it's a great choice, and certainly better than the other options. It signifies the best that Britain has given to the world and reflects some of the finest attributes of the British people. The fact that it occurred before the forming of Great Britain seems immaterial and should, in fact, appeal very much to everyone as a shared legacy.
Lisa, Cambridge, UK

Why isn't the passing of the Act of Union into law in the list? Surely the day when the UK became the UK would be the best day to celebrate being in the UK? Unfortunately it came into effect on 1st May 1707, so we wouldn't get another Bank Holiday out of it.
Toby Lamb, Canterbury, UK

I'm sure the choice was influenced by the time of year. On the off chance this does become a public holiday, Why pick a day in November or March, at least choose a date when the weather should be nicer.
Paul, Luton / Detroit

This proves even more that, we the English demand a national identity and we are proud to be English. The same as the Scots and the Irish. Because we English still see ourselves as English and not just White British, as the Scots majority in the present government are trying to hide the English Nationality on all official government forms.
Stephen Ellis, York

In the light of this choice it is interesting to reflect that these rights are now being trampled on by our current authoritarian government.
Stephen Cavender, United Kingdom

The Magna Carta is the right choice for an English holiday . The Scots, Welsh and Irish could chose a day too . But for Britain ,D day would be a day of remberance and unity .
Chewbacca, Farnborough

Great day for the English, not so for the Scottish and Welsh. How about the date of the Unification of Nations? That's when Britain became Great Britain.
Richard Walls, Bahrain

Clearly the signing of the Magna Carta, is a worldwide event,as it signaled the birth of Parliamentry democracy, which we in these Islands gave to the Planet.

One of many life enhancing thoughts that the british contributed, and as such it is a marvellous idea to dedicate it to a national holiday
Richard Holmes, Cleethorpes england

It's a fabulous choice, nothing is as inspiring as seeing and reading the magna carta. The vision and wisdom of our ancestors is breathtaking and it is as relevant today as it was in 1215.
chris french, brisbane australia

Space holidays throughout the year - Magna Carta Day would fall just after Easter/May Day/Spring Bank Holidays. Armistice Day in November is better, something between August Bank Hol and Christmas
Peter K, Sheffield UK

If English people want to celebrate their "Britishness", then fine. The Welsh, Scots and Irish already celebrate their heritgae on their individual Saints Day. I don't think we need a British day at all, what about all the ethnic minorities in this country, will they celebrate being British. I doubt it.
Carole Winn, Port Talbot, Wales

If you wish to celebrate an English date, then it can only be St George's Day on 23 April.
Nancy Benham, Lyminge, Kent, UK

Great decision, though there are other important constitutional flashpoints in this country's history. The Bill of Rights, signed 13 February 1689, blocked monarchical absolutism and came 100 years before America's.
Abraham, London, UK

Magna Carta is not and cannot ever be considered British. Surely the union of Parliaments 1st May 1707 is when Britishness was defined and if we do require to celebrate Britishness is this not it?
Keith Walter, Peebles, Scotland

One doesn't have to be an Anglophobe to see that Magna Carta in 1215 is wholly inappropriate for a British national day. Assuming that the idea of a national day is a good one in the first place, which may well be a big assumption, it will have to relate to something that occurred after England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland had formed a political unity, which probably takes us into the 19th century or later. Something from the Industrial Revolution or the railway era, which probably did more to link us together socially and economically than any of the things mentioned on the BBC site.
Hector MacQueen, Edinburgh, UK

My choice would have been Admiral Nelson's Victory at Trafalgar - shaped the face of the nation for 200 years!
Graham Holland, Porthleven Cornwall

I would propose the 1st of August, when the royal assent was given to the Act of Union bill in 1800, thereby creating the United Kingdom.
Graeme Phillips, Guildford, UK

For sure the Magna Carta is one of the greatest contributions of Britain to mankind, but I'm surprised to see that three important dates have been omitted: September 28th (1066), which is the day William the Conqueror landed to Britain, October 14th (1066), when the battle of Hastings was fought and October 25th (1415), the day of the battle at Azincourt.
Cesare, Rome, Italy

I think we should celebrate the occasion when all persons, male and female, over 21 were given the right to vote.
Christopher Watson, Doncaster England

Why didn't anybody consider St. George's Day as celebrating "Britishness"? The government's already stated that we in the UK have fewer bank holidays than most other EU countries, and that 23 April ought to be an official national holiday to help combat this. It was certainly the first date that sprung to my mind!
Donna Bright, Stourbridge, West Midlands, UK

An excellent choice, not least because it's my birthday! I for one will definitely be calling for a public holiday to celebrate!
Abby, London




SEE ALSO:
Brown speech promotes Britishness
14 Jan 06 |  UK Politics
Can you pass a citizenship test?
16 Jun 05 |  Magazine
Are we subjects or citizens?
21 Jan 05 |  Magazine


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