Magna Carta – a feminist charter?

There’s been plenty of talk in the UK about the 799th anniversary of Magna Carta this month – with the 800th anniversary looming next year. Politicians have been banging on about the need to use this ancient document to re-instil “British values” in our multicultural land.  The thing is – if any of these parliamentarians actually took the trouble to read the document they claim to know so much about (prime minister David Cameron famously couldn’t translate the latin when asked to do so on the Letterman show), they’d find some very surprising things.

For example (with supporting quotes):

MAGNA CARTA IS FOR FEMINISTS

(7) At her husband’s death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband’s house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.

(8) No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a husband. But she must give security that she will not marry without royal consent, if she holds her lands of the Crown, or without the consent of whatever other lord she may hold them of.

FOREIGNERS WITH MONEY CAN COME AND GO AS THEY PLEASE

(41) All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water, for purposes of trade, free from all illegal exactions, in accordance with ancient and lawful customs.

THE WELSH CAN RULE THEMSELVES

(56) If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of lands, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgement of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them. A dispute on this point shall be determined in the Marches by the judgement of equals. English law shall apply to holdings of land in England, Welsh law to those in Wales, and the law of the Marches to those in the Marches. The Welsh shall treat us and ours in the same way.

BEING IMPRISONED WITHOUT TRIAL FOR ANY PERIOD IS A NON-STARTER

(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

+ (39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

HS2 WOULD NEVER HAVE GOT BUILT

(23) No town or person shall be forced to build bridges over rivers except those with an ancient obligation to do so.

UK WOULD EITHER HAVE TO GO METRIC OR IMPERIAL – BUT NOT BOTH AT THE SAME TIME

(35) There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom. There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russett, and haberject, namely two ells within the selvedges. Weights are to be standardised similarly.

PUNISHMENT SHOULD FIT THE CRIME – AND THE OFFENDER

(20) For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.

I’m sure these aren’t the British values that prime minister David Cameron intended!

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Ten best medieval TV series

Like most of you – I love watching historical TV series.  Even the ones that are a little suspect from a factual point of view.  Some lists of medieval TV series include stuff I wouldn’t regard as being strictly medieval.  Hope I’m a bit more authentic here.  We’ve been spoilt in the recent past so let’s look at what we’ve been offered.

PILLARS OF THE EARTH

Pillars of the Earth brought us a murderous romp from the civil war that engulfed England under the reign of King Stephen. This was the beginning of the Templar era and a very violent time for England, often called the great anarchy. I loved this series – absolutely faultless.

THE DEVIL’S CROWN

This was a BBC series about the Plantagenet kings that never got repeated after a controversial airing in the late 70s. It’s quite violent in parts including a very disturbing castration. The style is a bit dated but to get to grips with English history at the time of the Templars, I can’t recommend this enough.

DA VINCI’S DEMONS

Total nonsense about a young Leonardo da Vinci on a quest to find the “book of leaves”.  From the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance. It’s a compelling watch and I look forward to season three in 2015.

GAME OF THRONES

It’s mythical, Tolkein with attitude and full of gory violence – but strangely, it captures the flavour of the Middle Ages quite well.  Full of court intrigue and belief in strange beings that dwell in the forests, what’s not to like as a medievalist?

WORLD WITHOUT END

Like Pillars of the Earth, this comes from the pen of Ken Follett – only now we’ve moved about 150 years ahead. This is the reign of Edward III and again, it’s after another civil war. The last king, Edward II, has been killed….or has he?  Edward II, by the way, was the last king to preside over the Knights Templar before they were crushed.

THE WHITE QUEEN

BBC drama series takes us to the War of the Roses – the bloody end to the Middle Ages in England when the aristocracy tore itself to pieces. This focuses on the strong women who emerged in this conflict.

MERLIN

Merlin had a long grey beard when I was a kid but the BBC re-imagined him as a youth for this very dynamic and rather scary kids series.

THIBAUD

Whassat? I hear you say. This was a 1960s French TV series about a crusader – I just like the theme tune to be honest!

ARABIAN KNIGHTS

This cartoon series was part of the goofy 1960s/70s kids show Banana Splits – it completely conditioned my view of the saracens.

THE TUDORS

I was brought up to believe that the Middle Ages ended at the Battle of Bosworth and you couldn’t really call the Tudors medieval.  But I think that view might be simplistic. The Tudors were as much medieval as modern and so I’ve included the delightful Henry VIII and his unfortunate wives.

Quest For The True Cross – free sample chapter

Quest for the True Cross

The greatest Templar adventure you’ll ever read

I’ve been asked by many of you to provide a free sample chapter from my book Quest For The True Cross – so here is a description of the battle scene as the Templars and crusaders storm the Arab city of Al-Usbunna in what is now modern day Portugal.  Once they take the city, they will re-name it Lisbon, which is the name it retains to this very day.  It’s hard to believe now, but Spain and Portugal were once ruled by Muslims from the year 711 to around 1492.  The Muslim armies took the entire Iberian peninsula in the early 8th century CE but were gradually pushed back from the 11th century onwards.  My book is set during this bloody crusade that saw Templar knights and Muslim armies clash across the peninsula.  The Templars played a key role in the so-called ‘reconquest’ often being granted land in hard to govern areas.

Sample chapter

If you like what you read, download the rest of the book HERE if you are in the UK or HERE if you are in the United States.

Happy reading!

My Templar book just out in hardback – in the Czech Republic

Europe’s leading publisher Bertelsmann has just published Quest For The True Cross through its Euromedia imprint in the Czech Republic.  Three hardback copies arrived for me in the post today – very exciting!  Unfortunately, I don’t speak a work of Czech though I can make out what’s going on vaguely.  So – for you Czech speakers, a great Templar day!!

Soumrak templářů

It’s titled ‘Twilight of the Templars – Quest For The True Cross’ in Czech

Huge plague pit discovered in London – Black Death victims

There’s now no doubt that a grisly discovery in London is a mass grave of Black Death victims from the 14th century.  For those of you in the United States and elsewhere, there has already been news and documentary coverage in the UK and I’m sure you will hear more about this very soon.

The skeletons were discovered in Charterhouse Square – what would have once been the outskirts of the medieval city of London and the site of a huge monastic complex.  It was also close to Smithfield – or the Smooth Field – which aside from being a livestock market was also an execution ground (Braveheart came to a sticky end there).

Just over a dozen remains were found initially during construction of London’s new rail link – Crossrail.  DNA evidence revealed that they were victims of Yersinia Pestis – better known as the bubonic plague and the outbreak between the years 1348 to 1350, termed the Black Death.  In recent years, it was questioned whether or not the Black Death was bubonic plague – a condition that still exists in some parts of the world – but scientific advances now affirm categorically that it was bubonic plague.

It’s estimated that up to 60% of the English died during this plague and a documentary on Channel Four last night suggested that famine had already weakened the population’s ability to resist the disease.  The skeletons show evidence of malnutrition and poverty related disease suggesting that for ordinary Londoners, daily life was pretty grim.

Here is an image of the point at which the bodies were discovered in a work shaft for the new rail system.

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 09.53.34

The Templars and Magna Carta

Next year marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta by King John – one of the least liked monarchs of the Plantagenet dynasty.  What is often unappreciated is the role that the Knights Templar played in the background to this momentous occasion.

John was forced by the barons to agree not to use royal powers in an arbitrary manner.  Magna Carta also covered a whole range of distinctly medieval issues that have long become irrelevant but this is the clause – buried quite deep in the charter at the time – that excited lovers of liberty in subsequent centuries.

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 judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

Other more arcane clauses related to a proper system of weights and measures for ale, cloth and corn (no, really!) and the release of hostages John had taken from the Welsh and Scottish royal families.

There wasn’t actually a fully written charter in front of John on the day he was surrounded by angry barons – it was written up afterwards in full by court scribes and then circulated.  Four copies exist – two in the British Library in London and one in Salisbury and another in Lincoln.

Magna Carta wasn’t signed as such by King John – but acknowledged with his wax seal…nothing unusual in that.  He may or may not have been literate though John did boast to owning a big library, which suggests he may have had some reading and writing ability. It seems astonishing to us now but illiteracy was widespread beyond the clergy and even extended into the upper reaches of society.  Though the notion that everybody outside of the church was illiterate before the Reformation is now not accepted as having been the case.

The role of the Knights Templar is shadowy.  We know that John stayed with the Templars the night before he had to place himself in front of the barons to agree Magna Carta.  Brother Aymeric accompanied John to Runnymede – where the charter was assented to – in his role as Grand Master of the Templars in England.  Contrary to the enjoyable but historically inaccurate tosh in the movie Ironclad – the Templars were not opposed to John.  They were, after all, his bankers, advisers and played a lead role in the crusades in the Holy Land.

John made a series of gifts to the Templars during his reign and they in turn paid a thousand pounds – then a vast sum – for the confirmation of their privileges in the first year of his reign.  John bestowed on the Templars the Isle of Lundy and manors at Huntspill, Harewood, Radenach and Northampton.  Hardly the act of a king on bad terms!

As we near the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, I’ll share more insights with you – and happy to hear your views of this seminal historical event.  Here we have some glorious historical inaccuracy in Ironclad:

A more considered view of Magna Carta

 

 

Best medieval walled cities in the world

All over Europe and the Middle East, you can still find towns that have retained their medieval walls.  It’s hard to imagine now but cities were often contained within imposing fortifications – there was even a massive wall that ran all the way round London from the late Roman empire (as barbarian attacks increased) through to large scale demolition in the eighteenth century.

Many cities burst out from their walls over the last two, three hundred years and then like London – dispensed with this restraint on urban growth.  But some have managed to hold on to their walls and it’s a huge pleasure to walk them.  Though I should warn you that in certain towns, the walls do not have protective railings – Obidos in Portugal being a case in point.

The most picturesque – though heavily restored – is Carcassone in France, which was home to the Cathar revolt against the Catholic church in the Middle Ages.  As you approach it, Carcassone does look uncannily like one of those towns depicted in medieval illuminated manuscripts – or a medieval version of Disneyland if you prefer.

Here is Carcassone then in its full glory!

2013 – Templar annual report!

Another good year for this blog with tens of thousands of hits but I’m sure 2014 will see a huge upsurge – and I want to extend an invitation to all of you to feel able to contact me with topics and contribute yourselves to this blog.  It must be more of a collaborative effort.

So – what did you like reading here?  Well, there are some blog posts going back two years or more that simply refuse to die.  Top Ten Movies about the Middle Ages was a post written in March, 2011 and it was the number one viewed post in 2013.  Every day, I still get a persistent flood of people to that post and it shows no signs of abating.

They say that sex sells and in the top five were two posts on medieval prostitution – specifically the so-called Winchester Geese (you can use the search button lower down to find it) – and a post answering questions about whether the Knights Templar were gay (yes, I get asked that alot!).

I put up less posts last year – 88 in total, taking the three year grand total to 648 – but views climbed and I think spending more time on research was appreciated.  I also posted more images and went back to older posts brightening them up with photos that I’ve taken on my recent travels.

Jordan was my big trip and so glad I went – still have plenty of photos of crusader forts to share and I must get round to that.  I had planned to go to Lebanon in the autumn but political events there made me delay though I’m assured it’s possible to tour round with a reliable guide.  So watch this space.

My top followers are a hugely appreciated group of people who I thank sincerely – in particular, Alejandro De La Garza who posted eleven times on the blog this year.  I do try and answer everything.  There was an increase in spam – especially from so-called Illuminati groups, which I trashed so you weren’t exposed to that stuff.

Finally, the blog was viewed in 170 countries with the United States in the lead followed by the United Kingdom and Canada – but I got growing interest from Brazil, India and Russia as well as a regular flow from Europe – many of whom join me through the William De Mandeville fan page on Facebook.  He’s the main protagonist in my Quest For The True Cross fiction book on the Templars.  If you haven’t downloaded that yet – shame on you and the link is on this page.

So – forward to 2014!!