Eileen Cameron: Rupert’s Parchment

Apr 10, 2015 by

An Interview with Eileen Cameron: Rupert’s Parchment

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

  1. Tell us a bit about your background, education and experience.

I grew up in New Jersey in the historic area of Morris County where George Washington and the Continental Army wintered during the American Revolution. There are many period houses, preserved revolutionary sites and state and national registered important buildings. We grew up with history. We also grew up with books and libraries and the usual childhood fun of swimming, sports, scouts and school.

I attended Skidmore College, majoring in Government and began a deep interest in important documents, especially those that influenced the founding of our nation, and that laid the groundwork for the establishment of liberty and freedom, such as Magna Carta.

I earned an MPA at New York University and studied writing for children at numerous institutions including the New School, New York. I attend a writing c critique group where I and the other writers help each other with suggestion for improvement in their manuscripts.

My books include CANYON, a story of the creation of canyons, written in poetic text. It was a Book of the Year at Bank Street College, in non-fiction. We often hike in the wonderful and many grand canyons of our American west and I wanted to tell children about their glory. G IS FOR THE GARDEN STATE is all about New Jersey, its wonderful history in the founding of our country, its natural wonders and the story of its many inventions. Last year, 2014, was the 350th Anniversary of NJ and the Official 350 NJ committee chose GARDEN STATE as one of The 101 Books of New Jersey.

I have spent years in historic preservation, including service on the Life Guard Board at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Virginia and currently serve as a Trustee and President of the Washington Assn. of NJ, one of the oldest preservation groups in the nation. I now live in Florida where there is lots of history and wildlife – but all very different from New Jersey or the canyons of the west.

  1. Why choose the topic of Magna Carta and why now?

Magna Carta celebrates its 800th Anniversary this year on June 15, 2015! Can you imagine a small piece of parchment being so important that people all over the world will celebrate it? Magna Carta is valuable because in it the King of England agreed to honor the traditional rights of free men in England. The document over years and centuries was agreed to many times and was so respected that the American colonists, who were English subjects, used it as part of our founding documents, asserting the right for men and women to be free.

3). Who is Rupert and what does parchment have to do with Magna Carta?

RUPERT’S PARCHMENT, STORY OF MAGNA CARTA, tells the story of a boy named Rupert who is lucky enough to have a ring side seat at the sealing of this great document. The story provides children with an authentic experience as they live through this exciting time with Rupert as he sees King John many nobles and knights and bishops with all their regalia at the meeting in the meadow of Runnymede near the king’s castle at Windsor. Rupert is the son of a local parchment maker. In the medieval times during the 1200’s, paper, invented in China, did not yet exist in northern Europe. For documents such as the Magna Carta, parchment was often used. Parchment is the skin of sheep or goat that is worked through a softening and scraping process and made ready for writing. In the story which I wrote as an historical fiction book, (the background of the history is real but that the story of the people and what they say is sometimes made up but in manner that would be accurate for the time period), the Bishop’s clerks need more parchment and visit Rupert’s Father’s shop to buy more. Since the lad who is the Bishop’s messenger is sick, Rupert is lucky to fill in to see the exciting happenings.

  1. What is going on in England just prior to the signing of Magna Carta?

The King, John, had been abusing the rights of many of his people, including the Barons, who held large amounts of land, in exchange for the King’s protection. They had enjoyed a history of traditional rights and liberties and felt that King John was not honoring them. The King had been fighting long wars with France, the enemy of England. The barons owed him extra tax money and soldiers to fight in return for their lands. The King’s financial problems increased and he and his men were seizing castles of barons and even carts and livestock of local people in the country and towns.

Some of the barons decided to oppose the King, organized and armed. The King finally settled with the barons and agreed to the liberties stated in Magna Carta. The Magna Carta assured the same freedoms to free men.

  1. Where is the Magna Carta housed in England?

There are four known copies of the original Magna Carta that were sealed in 1215 at Runnymede. The document was sealed using wax and the King’s royal seal as was the custom. It was not signed.

It is thought that there were 24 original copies, which were sent to the each of the counties of England. Today two copies reside at the British Library, London, one at the Cathedral in Lincoln and one at Salisbury


Magna Carta, (written in Latin, the name means Great Charter), was re-issued several times in that century, including in 1297. A copy of Magna Carta is on loan by its American owner to the National Archives in Washington where it is on display in the exhibit, “Records of Rights.” I have stood in awe in front of this great document a number of times – when it was housed at the British Museum in London, in Salisbury and when a copy was visiting in New York at the Morgan Library.

  1. Can you discuss the separation of Church and State in England and how it relates to the book?

During medieval times in Europe most people were Christians and the churches were part of the Catholic Church in Rome. King John seized church lands as well as the lands of the barons. When kings seized church property they could be in trouble with Rome. Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, is thought to be one of the main authors of Magna Carta, with the concern that the church, its practices and properties be protected along with the peoples.

The first clause of Magna Carta states that “…the English Church is to be free…”.

The First amendment in the US Bill of Rights states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

  1. Who is the illustrator for this book?

Doris Ettlinger is the illustrator and I met Doris when I was writing G IS FOR THE GARDEN STATE when she was chosen by the publisher to illustrate my new book. We met and toured many of the locations in NJ that were in the book and became friends. I was thrilled that her busy schedule was open so she could draw Rupert and his story. Doris had planned a trip to England last summer by chance and was able to visit Runnymede, the site of Magna Carta, on the Thames River. She enjoyed getting a feel for the historic place, its beauty and history, took photos and had ideas to begin sketching.

Doris fills her paper with rich and detailed illustrations. She did extensive research on clothing, buildings, heraldry and the history of the times. Doris is a watercolorist, teaches painting and lives in a restored gristmill on the banks of a New Jersey river.

  1. Who is the Publisher and where is RUPERT’S PARCHMENT, STORY OF MAGNA CARTA available?

Mascot Books, an experienced publisher of self published books,is located in Virginia and was the publisher of the picture book, AL AND TEDDY, which won the SCBWI SPARK national award for the best self published picture book of the year in 2014.

RUPERT’S PARCHMENT is available where ever books are sold. It is distributed

through Baker and Taylor and Ingram and is listed on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and booksamillion.com (BAM).

Midwest Book Review stated “…this presentation adds life, color, and personality to
events, emphasizing to a younger audience why the historic Magna Carta signing
was so important.”

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about Rupert and the wonderful document, Magna Carta, and its history.

Eileen Cameron

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