14 June 2015
“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned,
or stripped of his rights or possessions,
or outlawed or exiled,
nor will we proceed with force against him,
except by the lawful judgment of his equals
or by the law of the land.”
That famous quote is, of course from Magna Carta; and if you haven’t read it yet, may I suggest you do so before tomorrow? Big celebrations will mark King John’s no doubt reluctant signing of it in Runnymede meadow on June 15, 1215. There are four original copies extant: two in the British Library, one at Lincoln Castle, and one in Salisbury cathedral.
I bought the Penguin Classic book of the Charter with a superb commentary by David Carpenter some months ago, but still haven’t finished it. I zipped through the Carta itself in no time, amazed at the modernity of it. It consists of 63 shortish clauses, helpfully translated from the original Latin printed on the opposite page.
The rest of the 594 pages are solid scholarship; on King John, the text, sources, society, government, opposition, and so on. The bibliography, notes and index alone account for a hundred pages. The glossary of terms fascinated me; containing such delights as wapentake, escheat, and scutage. Possibly lawyers today know exactly what they mean. (In fact unless you are a lawyer, this glossary is essential.)
There will be day trips to Lincoln Castle and Salisbury to see Magna Carta. A whole industry of replicas, coins, seals, maps and no doubt mugs and tea towels will spring up. Folk in coarse clothing, wimples, and funny pointy shoes may well step out on “Running Mede” as it used to be known.
Did I say there would be big celebrations? Apparently not. The BBC has let me down. I did think there would be a television in-depth look at the historic document, but I’ve scoured the Radio Times where programmes are listed and I can’t find a thing, apart from repeating two lectures given last year. On the Parliament channel, which nobody watches. Perhaps the Trooping of the Colour last Saturday and the imminent observance of Waterloo Day have exhausted their resources.
Obviously it’s time to return to the book and finish it.