As with many legal practices, we welcome the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
That charter, made between King John and 25 English barons, has considerable historical importance to democratic nations that are founded on the rule of law and which stand against tyrannous regimes.
We also have an historical claim: the practice has traced its origins back 445 years; in the year 1570 Nicholas Hooper, a curate, established a small legal business in his home town of Tonbridge, Kent.
It is Tonbridge that provides the link with the events of 1215. No sooner had the great seal on Magna Carta dried and the royal clerks reproduced and distributed it than the participants sought to discard it. The barons persisted with their rebellion and the king, with papal approval, reneged on its terms. England descended into civil war. That led not only to the famous siege of Rochester Castle, but also the seizure of Tonbridge and its castle by the king’s forces.
Tonbridge’s importance was a major crossing of the River Medway. Its castle was part of the vast landed estate of Richard de Clare, one of the rebellious barons who, with his son, had signed Magna Carta. With the destruction of the bridge over the Medway at Rochester, Tonbridge become of strategic importance. But the de Clare’s exile was brief and in spite of further strife with King John’s son, Henry III, Richard’s descendant, Gilbert, in 1274 hosted the new English king, Edward I, nicknamed ‘Longshanks’, at Tonbridge en route to his coronation at Westminster Cathedral. It was Edward and his Parliament that in 1297 re-enacted the version Magna Carta that remained on the statute book for centuries thereafter.
The passage of time covers up much in the past. As a legal document Magna Carta retains only historical relevance. The castle at Tonbridge plays no strategic role. We have moved away from the town to Tunbridge Wells (a ‘new’ town founded in the early 1600s), and more recently to the important communication hub at Thames Gateway. But the passing of time only strengthens the key events founded in the past: with Magna Carta, it is the vital statement that nations must operate within the rule of law and permit freedom under it. For us, it is the uniqueness of a practice that has stood the test of time and still to the highest standards serves its clients and community.