What’s the proper gift for an 800-year birthday?
I was remiss in not noting earlier that today is the 800th birthday of Magna Carta.
The Great Charter is not taught much in school these days. And, frankly, its points are usually wasted on children, especially modern children. They cannot conceive of why it was ever needed. Also, to be honest, much of it is a little squirrelly (fish wiers?) and not particularly relevant to us sophisticated moderns.
The debt of gratitude we owe the English medieval barons and the members of the clergy, particularly Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, for getting together to pull it off can never be paid. (And tip of the hat to King Henry I and his Charter of Liberties.)
Sure, King John abrogated the charter as soon as he could (within days) and it can be argued that most subsequent kings and queens ignored it at their pleasure. I wouldn’t be the first to note that Magna Carta is probably more revered in the United States than in England or the U.K. It and its concepts were very important to the Founding Fathers.
That a king (or a government) could be compelled to serve his people rather than the people serving the government was a concept unseen across most of the planet and throughout history.
Sadly, in our modern times, the people (especially in the view of liberals and progressives) are seen as serving the government.
Out on cable these days is a movie called “Ironclad,” which is set during the times immediately after the signing of Magna Carta, when King John was on a rampage and trying to put the barons in their place. It’s not bad on its history, though many of the dramatic details are inaccurate. But it’s better than nothing.
I recently read Frank McLynn’s “Richard and John Kings at War” – far better. The half on John really brings one to understand the need for Magna Carta. Yes, most of the barons were really in it to improve their position and secure their lots in life but the fact that they did conceive of themselves as needing and deserving of protection from a capricious, greedy tyrant cannot be discounted and that such protections should be held in inviolable law set a precedent. Once even the king was subject to law, the path to our rights and democracy was set.