Twenty Links with Magna Carta

Charles Carrington studies some of the men of state who held high office in succession, back to the sealing of the Charter at Runnymede in 1215.

Everyone is interested in links with the past, and few Englishmen have had a stronger sense of the continuity of history than Winston Churchill, whose own long career reminds us of a day that now seems very remote. We all have traditions in our own families of some ancient relative who could recall a long-past event in history, but these pious stories rarely constitute an actual link.

My grandfather, for example, as a boy, saw Napoleon on the deck of the Bellerophon in Plymouth Sound, an interesting reflection but not quite real to me, since my grandfather died before I was born. In the case of Churchill, we can establish an actual working connection with one of his seniors, who was engaged in politics a hundred years ago.

When he first held office as Under-Secretary for the Colonies, in Campbell-Bannerman’s administration, his senior colleague in the Government was Lord Ripon, who had served as a young man under Palmerston. How much further can we go?

George Robinson, Earl De Grey and Marquess of Ripon, (1827-1909) is best remembered as a reforming Viceroy of India in the ‘Eighties; but his first Cabinet post had been as Secretary for War in Palmerston’s second administration in 1863; and his last was as Lord Privy Seal from 1905 to 1908. Ripon had been born in the purple of the political world, having first seen the light at Number 10 Downing Street, when his father, best known as Lord Goderich, was Prime Minister.

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