Friday, August 02, 2013

24: Magna Carta

OK, back to stuff I haven't read lots of books about. Thanks to my nephew Thomas for suggesting this one, though he could probably tell you more about it than I can.
Magna Carta, AKA the Great Charter, was a contract signed at a spot on the Thames called Runnymede ('wet field', I think) in 1215. My mental picture of it includes a rather gloomy King John signing a bit of paper with a lot of legal jargon on it - thirteenth century legal jargon at that so it's possible he was blagging it a bit - and a lot of smug knights and barons across the table, giving the distinct impression that this document was scoring a point for them over the king. Some dramatisations put Robin Hood in there somewhere.
All I can tell you is that Magna Carta is often invoked as a founding document of the rights of the common people over the whims of the monarch... It placed the word of law above the word of the king.
Although, when I say common people, obviously I mean landowning aristocrats. Actual common people barely even counted as people in those days... An attitude that still seems to be politically expedient from time to time.
Rather a sad figure, King John, as kings go. He had a hard enough time of it being the bad guy who had to raise taxes to fund King Richard's crusades while Richard, the guy spending the money, got all the glory for being out there doing the fighting when really he should have been at home running his own country.
Once John became King in his own right we see him being browbeaten into signing away a good deal of his allegedly God-given power.
Interesting that there's never been a King John II. Whenever we have a monarch we're a bit embarrassed about we seem to stop using the name...hence, no Richard IV, William V, or Charles III. Not yet anyway.

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