This article is more than 1 year old

Magna Carta mayhem: Protesters lay siege to Edinburgh Castle, citing obscure Latin text that has never applied in Scotland

Harry Potter and the Unstoppable Simpletons

A misguided attempt to "seize" Edinburgh Castle yesterday evening under "Magna Carta" – a Latin royal charter signed by King John of England in 1215 – proved short-lived.

Livestreaming the siege against one of the oldest fortresses in Scotland (and Europe) via Facebook, protesters appeared to be objecting to COVID-19 lockdown.

However, Scotland has followed England for the time being in removing legally enforceable restrictions, so exactly what the problem was remains unclear.

Wheezing as though too many deep-fried Mars bars had been consumed before the band of 20-odd dissidents climbed Castle Rock*, the leader filming the altercation with staff repeatedly spouted phrases like "we the people" and "sovereign" as though she didn't really know what any of it meant.

"Hi!" she yelled as police inevitably turned up. "We are free, we are sovereign, this building belongs to the people of the land!"

"Aye, OK," a rather more composed officer responded.

"Today history is gonna be made!" she continued. "We are restoring the rule of law! It's gonna happen today in Scotland!"

She rambled on that "every police station" in Scotland had been put "on notice" that this was going to happen, and that "Edinburgh Castle now belongs to we the people."

"We've had enough of these fake acts of statures [sic], which are made up by a fake corruption who are paedophiles, who are run by paedophiles, who have been cheating the people of the UK... Genocide has been committed, high treason has been committed, we have the proof, we have the evidence, and today we are gonna be restoring the rule of law."

The unperturbed officer responded: "Aye, OK. No worries at all," before trying to figure out what the group expected to achieve.

She tells the cop: "We're gonna be using Article 61 of Magna Carta, which is actually the only law in effect," as the basis for their authority to seize Edinburgh Castle.

Though the screed is obviously riddled with the same sorts of assumptions and factual errors more commonly seen among conspiracy theorists over the pond, the biggest mistake is that the protesters had no authority whatsoever to claim the stronghold.

"Article 61" of Magna Carta has been invoked by Covidiots across the UK multiple times already as enabling "lawful dissent and rebellion" if people feel they are being governed unjustly, according to Full Fact.

As the fact-checking org puts it: "The original version of Magna Carta granted powers to 'assail' the monarch and 'seek redress' to 25 barons in order to keep the provisions of the Magna Carta, but these powers were not granted to the population at large. Within a year of being written, this clause was removed from subsequent versions of Magna Carta. It was never incorporated into English statutory law."

Clause 61 specifically says:

The barons shall elect twenty-five of their number to keep, and cause to be observed with all their might, the peace and liberties granted and confirmed to them by this charter.

If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us – or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice – to declare it and claim immediate redress. If we, or in our absence abroad the chief justice, make no redress within forty days, reckoning from the day on which the offence was declared to us or to him, the four barons shall refer the matter to the rest of the twenty-five barons, who may distrain upon and assail us in every way possible, with the support of the whole community of the land, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, or anything else saving only our own person and those of the queen and our children, until they have secured such redress as they have determined upon. Having secured the redress, they may then resume their normal obedience to us.

Any man who so desires may take an oath to obey the commands of the twenty-five barons for the achievement of these ends, and to join with them in assailing us to the utmost of his power.

The clause applies only to these 25 barons, then, who, we assume, are no longer around. But that's far from the only problem.

Magna Carta, Latin for "Great Charter", never once applied to Scottish law. It is an English document first written up in 1215 – almost 500 years out from the Act of Union in 1707.

Then there's the fact that the clause was removed from Magna Carter in 1216, so it's been null and void for, oh, 805 years.

Even the Pope refused to recognise the clause because it interfered with the King's authority, which led to civil war in England. Despite numerous subsequent revisions of the document and its addition to the statute book in 1297, most of it has been repealed.

The tl;dr goes to medieval history buff Lord Sumption who told fellow celeb historian Dan Snow: "It's an obscure Latin text which modified English law to deal with a number of highly specific grievances against King John which had no abiding historical relevance. It didn't create Parliament, it didn't create rule of law, which existed both before and after. It was essentially a self-interested document produced by a bunch of baronial millionaires in their own interest."

Saner Scots made hay on Twitter.

Superintendent Gerry Corrigan of Police Scotland said in a statement: "Officers attended at Edinburgh Castle following reports that a group of protesters had gathered within the Castle grounds at around 5.05pm on Tuesday, 17 August, 2021.

"The group later dispersed. One man was arrested for disorder-related offences and a police officer sustained minor injuries during this arrest.

"A full report will be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal."

The moral of the story? Just because something's old doesn't make it mean jackshit. Also, stay in school, kids. ®


*As a Scot, the author sees it as his right to make fun of Scots. No genuine offence is intended, he knows how sensitive you can be.

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like