Blogging the Magna Carta

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” 

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.

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:

For a more scholarly analysis of the Charter and its relevance to modern life:

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.

  1. 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

Or her personal web page

Or find her on Facebook as Phyllis Irene Radford, or The Cranky Old Crone


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


Blogging the Magna Carta — 6 Comments

  1. “…the separation of Church and state is a very modern concept”

    …and of course it’s a concept still utterly alien to England, where the Church is established and thoroughly embedded into the legal and constitutional framework. Clergy have fewer legal privileges than they used to, tho’ some still abide; but it’s always useful to remember that even where current practice looks similar between the US and the UK, the default positions that we’re coming from are utterly opposed.

  2. What fascinates me, Chaz, is that people in England seem to be less religious than people in the U.S., despite the established church. Perhaps that is because our separation of church and state was intended in part to allow people to practice any religion they chose. Given the number of storefront churches and obscure faiths (and formerly obscure faiths that now have large followings), it’s obvious that a lot of people did just that.

  3. When my husband and I visited England in 1997 while I was researching this series our trip coincided with Palm Sunday and Easter. Took me a while to get used to public service announcements reminding people to go to Church and that BBC ( the independent stations too), its employees, and executives offered prayers for Her Majesty and…

    While I think all members of the US Government need a lot of prayer, I don’t think we can expect our TV stations to publicly do it or remind us to do it.

  4. At least one segment of the Magna Carta is still applicable law in the Australian Capital Territory, where I live. Australia believes in not throwing anything out until absolutely necessary.