By Phyllis Irene Radford
This is a republication of an older blog series. Since these first posted in 2012 I have combine all the posts into a Book View Cafe edition “Magna Bloody Carta” https://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/magna-bloody-carta/
I have also published through DAW Books “Walk the Wild with Me” by Rachel Atwood. This book takes place in Sherwood Forest (well duh!) in the years leading up to the Magna Carta as seen through a young orphan boy growing up in Locksly Abbey. And no, Robin Hood did not write the Magna Carta.
So here goes with the original posts with a bit of an update here and there.
February 17, 2012: Several weeks ago, a rumor swept across the internet that some ultra conservative politicians called for not only going back to U.S. Constitution as the foundation for all changes to our laws, but to the Magna Carta, from which many concepts of our U.S. Constitution derived.
My first reaction was… um… Have you even read the Magna Carta?
I have. In fact I wrote a book about it, Guardian of the Trust, Merlin’s Descendants #2 by Irene Radford. This book was first published by DAW Books of New York in 2000, another election year filled with controversy and scandal. The series is now out of print but the e-book will appear on the Book View Café February 21, 2012. Guardian of the Balance, Merlin’s Descendants #1 is currently available in e-book formats at the same site. http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/MD1-Guardian-of-the-Balance-by-Irene-Radford
Edited to add: All five books are now available through Book View Cafe and other outlets in both print and e-book
So I am embarking on a series of blogs in which I will take the Magna Carta clause by clause and throw in a few of my own pithy comments, but mostly make this amazing document fully accessible to you in modern translation.
For the entire document, you may go here: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/magnacarta.asp
For a more scholarly analysis of the Charter and its relevance to modern life: http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/magna-carta.htm
Hollywood and revisionist historians have turned the Magna Carta into a declaration of the rights of the common man.
It is in fact little more than a peace treaty between King John and his barons, with the Church making the third side of a triangle in the civil war. Please remember that separation of Church and state is a very modern concept, a heinous idea to the medieval mind.
The opening paragraph is mostly a list of names of those present at Runnymede that summer morning in 1215. I haven’t bothered copying it.
- In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs for ever that the English church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate; and we will that it be thus observed; which is apparent from this that the freedom of elections, which is reckoned most important and very essential to the English church, we, of our pure and unconstrained will, did grant, and did by our charter confirm and did obtain the ratification of the same from our lord, Pope Innocent III., before the quarrel arose between us and our barons: and this we will observe, and our will is that it be observed in good faith by our heirs forever. We have also granted to all freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs forever.
This controversy began in 1204 with the death of Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury. The monks of the cathedral had the right to elect their new archbishop. By ancient tradition, the kings of England had the right to make their choice for the new archbishop known. Most of the time, his wishes were heeded.
King John advised the monks of Canterbury that he wished his secretary, John de Gray, Bishop of Norwich to be elevated to the role of primary prelate.
The monks had their own ideas and elected one of their own, Prior Reginald.
The bishops of England contested this, thinking they should choose their archbishop.
Pope Innocent III selected a compromise candidate and consecrated Stephan Langdon, an Englishman educated in Rome who hadn’t set foot in England for decades.
John refused to allow Langdon to set foot in England. The Monks of Canterbury refused to accept him. The Bishops were delighted with him.
Pope Innocent III excommunicated John, then placed England under interdict. No masses could be sung. No marriages. No rituals except baptism and funerals—not burying a corpse was recognized as a health threat even then.
So the Church was allowed to elect their own leaders. Today we say big deal. Before the separation of church and state in modern times the issue was not so simple. The Church could accuse, try, condemn, and execute a lay person for crimes against the Church. An ordained priest or deacon was not subject to civil law, even for civil crimes. Remember some of the legal problems of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. a few years ago?
In the end Langdon ended up writing the Magna Carta as a way of ending the civil war in England that erupted over the next ten years. Not all of the disputes stemmed from this imbroglio, but it was the first of many.
As an interesting historical note: during the interdict all church construction ceased. The Cathedral at Wells, England, in the far west near the Mendip Hills and the border with Wales, had completed only the Lady Chapel, altar dais and first 3 bays of the Nave. Construction resumed after Magna Carta and the architecture is very different for the remainder of this magnificent building.
Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of the Book View Café. Though raised in the seaports of America she was born in Portland, Oregon and has lived in and around the city since her junior year in high school. She thrives in the damp and loves the tall trees.
For more about her and her fiction please visit her bookshelf here on BVC http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Phyllis-Irene-Radford/
Or her personal web page www.ireneradford.net
Or find her on Facebook as Phyllis Irene Radford, or The Cranky Old Crone