What happened eigth hundred years ago in England?
In 1215 the island of Britain had three countries on it, England, Scotland and Wales. This is a story about England.
The king of England was King John, the younger brother of King Richard the Lionheart, who had inherited the throne from his brother who had died without children. King Richard had done little for England as he had been off to the crusades and fighting in Europe for most of his reign.
King John had inherited a kingdom but had little money and when the French attacked England’s lands in what is now Western France John spent a lot of money raising an army and was effectively bankrupt when his army was defeated.
In 1215 the Lords were in revolt against the King and had taken the City of London. John and his army were in Windsor up the Thames from London. They needed to meet and a place called Runnymede was selected.
Runnymede was chosen because it was very boggy, it still is today. This meant that the two armies could not fight there so it was a good place to negotiate.
They negotiated and on 15 June 1215 the great seal of England was attached to the Magna Carta.
It was quickly overturned by the Pope and King John but King John died the following year and his young son, Henry became king.
Henry twenty years later, when he reached maturity, reissued the Magna Carta but without the bits that challenged the powers of the King. He did this in exchange for the right to levy a tax. The Magna Carta was reissued several more times and was referenced at the time of the English Civil War (1642 – 1651) and at the time of The War of Independence of the United States (1776 – 1783) and is referenced in many constitutions.
Here is David Starkey (a historian in the UK) speaking on a political programme about what happened and the consequences of it.
He raised the following issues that the Magna Carta tried to resolve:
- freedom of trade
- the historic freedoms of the City of London
- property rights (and the requirement that a court should decide if you lose your property)
- no-one is above the law
- it is the first step to a parliament whose consent is required for raising taxation
- (Royal) justice for all
These issues are relevant to today as they were in the 13th century.
We broke up into groups to discuss whether these issues are valuable to us now?
Here are some of the points raised:
- compared Germany, Bolivia and the UK’s approaches to these issues
- “free trade” is often used by larger corporations to attack smaller companies in a “free market”
- We live in a world of International agreements under the flag of “freedom of trade”
- we have more and more regulations on foodstuffs for example
- What are our property rights?
- How far do your property rights extend?
- From the time of the occupation Germany has laws that allow the former occupying powers to buy land for their bases.
- Also the Lastenausgleich (after the loss of territory after World War Two) and the current Solidaritätszuschlag (for the integration of East Germany into the Federal Republic of Germany)
- How far beneath your home do you own? Can you dig a well on your property?
- The traditional freedoms of London – like the Hanseatic league towns and Reichsfreier Städte in the Holy Roman Empire
- cities are often freer than the rural areas
- cities are often more expensive to live in but also usually pay people more too.
- were and are these rights followed? In the medieval world and now in the modern world?
It was a good discussion and lots of points were raised.
Quote of the evening
“Can we do something a bit easier next time?”
I plan to do that.