Throughout 2020, community groups and organisations across the country will mark the 1,000th birthday of the oldest inclusive law of equal rights in the world.
This website provides resources to inspire and enable these celebrations, including...
Creatives of all kinds can also upload images or videos showing their responses to this significant moment in history. Find out how you can get involved
English Common Law is the world's oldest and most widespread legal system, and aims to ensure fair trials for all. But where did it begin?
Some say it began when Henry II of England invented trial by jury, to help ensure law continued to be enacted when he himself was unavailable. Others claim it began when Henry I of England, son of William the Conqueror, decided to adopt many Anglo-Saxon laws – including the right of anyone in the kingdom to petition the king when aggrieved.
But the very first time we see such a law in writing is in the very Anglo-Saxon code that Henry I turned to for help – and it was a code put in place by Britain’s Danish conqueror Knut, beginning with a proclamation in 1020AD. Unlike all such laws before it, Knut’s law applied to everyone in the kingdom – regardless of their class, religious level, or their nationality.
Why did Knut put this law in place? In Cambridgeshire, a story has been told for centuries of Knut being inspired by his friendship with a peasant family. Perhaps Knut was instead reacting to the tales of Anglo-Saxon kings before him, like the much-loved Alfred the Great. Maybe he was following the example of his grandfather Harald Bluetooth, who had found that uniting Denmark made for a much stronger kingdom. Or perhaps he just wanted to avoid trouble breaking out in his kingdom while he attended to matters overseas.
Whatever his inspiration, the action of this immigrant king laid the foundation for human rights in Britain and beyond. That’s a proclamation worth celebrating.