Coastal Georgia is my home and I love it here. That said, there are people, places and things (including some foods!) that I miss about the land of my birth. Quite a few Americans I know have been to Europe this year as they make up for the travel restrictions we all experienced during the pandemic. This means that I have been talking to friends a lot about Jolly Ol’ England. This all has me reflecting about what I used to think of as “home” but now think about as “back where I am from”.
My husband and I used to live within a mile or so from the only true American land in the whole of the United Kingdom! We lived in Surrey, near a place called Runnymede (named for its location on a water-meadow just beside the River Thames), which is about 20 miles west of central London and near the royal residence of Windsor Castle. Before we get to why there is American land there, it is worth sharing the fascinating history of this place since Runneymede played an important role in not only British but all human history. It is generally considered the birthplace of modern democracy. It is where King John signed and sealed The Magna Carta over 800 years ago.
In 1215, King John of England was, by all accounts, a cruel and greedy ruler that finally went too far. He demanded far too much money in taxes from the British people to support his ambitions, primarily a disastrous war in France, which for hundreds of years had been England’s traditional enemy. The leading noblemen of England met secretly and decided to force the king to respect the rights of his subjects. When John returned from the war across the English Channel, they presented him with a series of demands which was called The Magna Carta, which means “great charter” in Latin. Originally drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the noblemen promised to quell an uprising by a group of rebel barons in exchange for its signing.
The Magna Carta stated that the king must follow the law and could not simply rule as he wished. It promised the protection of church rights, access to swift justice, and put limitations on the King’s powers. It was one of the first documents to state that individual people and citizens had rights. Today many people consider Magna Carta to be the first written constitution in Europe. It is considered a forerunner of the English Bill of Rights, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. In my adopted home of the United States, both the national constitution and the state constitutions show ideas and sometimes even phrases directly traceable to the Magna Carta.
So why is Runneymede also home to the only piece of American land in the whole of the UK? Fast forward seven and a half centuries to the day in 1963 that changed history forever… JFK, the 35th president of the United States, was shot and killed. That terrible day shocked the whole world but hit the people of the UK particularly hard. The special relationship between the two countries was well established by then, and the partnership between the USA and UK that saved the world during the Second World War was still in very recent memory. I was not born at the time of Kennedy’s assassination, but older relatives assure me that the whole of England was badly shaken by this tragedy.
To honor the memory of JFK, the British government decided to commemorate his life with a monument. The Kennedy Memorial is simple and understated; just a series of granite steps leading to a slab with an inscription in a beautiful, peaceful setting. The acre of land that it stands on was gifted to the United States federal government from the British in perpetuity so that the memorial would stand forever on American soil, under the control and management of the Kennedy Memorial Trust.
In 1965, exactly 750 years after the Magna Carta was signed, the late Queen Elizabeth II and Jackie Kennedy unveiled the monument to one of the most iconic leaders of the ‘Land of Liberty’. For more information see www.history.com and www.bbc.com along with www.bbc.co.uk.
While places are important, home is much more than a geographical location. I like this quote from American science fiction writer, Pierce Brown: “Home isn’t where you’re from, it’s where you find light when all grows dark.”
God Bless America!
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