King John signed the Magna Carta on 15 June 1215The anniversary of the signing of the 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 the 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 the 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.