The Artist and the King

Graham E. Seel explores the life of the artist Charles Sims and his controversial, little-known mural in St Stephen’s Hall, Westminster depicting King John at Runnymede. 

The events in Runnymede of June 1215 have a long tradition of being remembered in artistic representation, including in the form of large-scale murals in public buildings in Britain and elsewhere. One such mural is generally little known, even though hundreds of thousands of members of the general public and all of Britain's political masters have walked past it since its unveiling in 1927. The work in question is by Charles Sims. Upon its unveiling it provoked a storm in the press, disquieted George V and led to questions in the House of Commons. Sims' mural is one of eight commemorative panels to be found in the Building of Britain series in St Stephen's Hall in the Palace of Westminster. It has a rather indulgent title: 'King John, Confronted by his Barons Assembled in Force at Runnymede, Gives Unwilling Consent to Magna Carta, the Foundation of Justice and Individual freedom, 1215'. With the arrival of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta it is time for this mural and, indeed, for Charles Sims, to become better known.

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The Artist and the King