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!

About these ads

Maps of the Templar world

I have always loved historical maps – they never give a wholly accurate view of what the reality was on the ground but they’re fascinating to pore over. And here are some images of Europe and the Middle East at the time of the Knights Templar. What a different world they present!

Going from left to right across Europe, these maps reveal the tempestuous political climate of the period.  The Norman aristocracy of England had begun its slow invasion of Ireland as you can see by a smattering of pink on the east coast, Wales and Scotland were still independent and the English crown still claimed vast swathes of what is now France.

The Iberian peninsula is even more striking. Half of it was still under Islamic control – having been completely invaded in the year 711CE.  Christian kingdoms like Leon, Castille, Portugal as well as Aragon and Navarre had begun the ‘Reconquest‘ aided by crusaders and Templars from all over Europe.

Central Europe was dominated by the Germanic Holy Roman Empire that stretched down into northern Italy meeting the Norman controlled southern half of the boot.  Venice was independent and increasingly challenged the fading power of the Byzantine Empire – which it would eventually deal a huge blow against in the Fourth Crusade of 1204.

Beyond the Byzantines – the Greek speaking inheritor of the eastern Roman empire centred on Constantinople – was the encroaching realms of the Seljuk Turks.  The Seljuks had become the dominant force in the Islamic Middle East and would crush crusader controlled Edessa in 1144.

Enjoy the maps!

Map of medieval Europe map of medieval europe map of medieval europe

The son of the man who killed Macbeth becomes king

An interesting anniversary today.  Alexander the first became king of Scotland on this day in the year 1107 – being the son of Malcolm Canmore, the man who killed Macbeth.  Malcolm was a Celt to the very bone whereas his wife Queen Margaret was an Anglo-Saxon.  He allowed her to give their children Anglo-Saxon and non-Scottish names and so Alexander appears to have been named after Alexander the Great – a revered figure in the Middle Ages – or possibly after a pope of the time.

Malcolm was killed while raiding in to Northumberland, which was now under the Norman yoke – as was the rest of England. The reason for the raids is rooted in the dynastic politics of the time with agreements made and broken between the Scots and rulers of England – so no change there then! One has to add in to the mix, the presence on what is now Scottish soil of Scandanavian rulers. The north and west of the country was very much part of the Viking world and this influence is made very evident in Shakespeare’s play on the life and death of Macbeth.

With king Malcolm slain in Northumbria, Scots showed their Saxon queen what they really thought of her and such was the animosity that her sons fled to England.  Hard to believe that Queen Margaret would eventually be declared a saint – she certainly wasn’t worshiped by the Celtic nobility at this time.  The Norman king – William the second known as “Rufus” on account of his flaming red hair – saw an opportunity to meddle in Scottish politics and seized it.  He installed Edgar, one of the sons, on the throne as his loyal vassal and there he remained until he died at a relatively young age.

Then enter Alexander – the next in line to the throne as Edgar had no children.  He doesn’t appear to have broken with the Normans and was probably not greatly enamoured of the old Celtic families that had forced him to flee and given his mother such a rough time.  To their horror, he married the illegitimate daughter of Henry I – now king of England after Rufus died in a hunting accident often suspected to have been murder.  He also brought the distinctive Celtic Christian church closer to the rites of Rome – a slap in the face to the country’s ancient traditions.

Going back to Macbeth – the eleventh century king of Scotland who Shakespeare turned in to a monster – if you have never seen the play, then it’s a definite must.  There are various film versions – the two most famous directed in the 1940s by Orson Welles and in the 1970s by Roman Polanski.

Here is the Orson Welles version – you may have to click through to YouTube:

And the Roman Polanski version:

When Braveheart killed two Templar masters

English: Edward I of England Česky: Eduard I.

English: Edward I of England Česky: Eduard I. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A depiction of the parliament of England in se...

A depiction of the parliament of England in session, with King Edward I presiding, c. 1300 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who have seen the movie ‘Braveheart’ will know that the English army got a pasting at the battle of Stirling Bridge after which a furious King Edward I – ruler of England and his dominions in Wales, Ireland and France – charged back from the latter country to confront William Wallace, now appointed Guardian of Scotland.  Edward was an energetic king who seemed to relish battle on multiple fronts expanding his realm to cover what is now called the ‘United Kingdom’ as well as struggling to hold and increase the ancestral lands on the other side of the English Channel.

Edward expected all subjects to back his campaigns and this included the Templars.  Now, of course that posed – in theory – a little problem for the Order.  Their first loyalty was to the Pope, not any particular king.  They were also forbidden to fight in wars that pitted Christian against Christian.  However these rules didn’t seem to stop the Templar master in England – Brian Le Jay – joining Edward’s side at the Battle of Falkirk.  This was the great clash where Edward got his bloody revenge against Wallace, weakening the great Scottish general.

Le Jay was a rather colourful character.  One of these people in history who seems to have stuck his finger in the wind, worked out which way it was blowing and acted accordingly – to make sure he was on the winning side.  He’d actually been the Grand Master in Scotland before taking over in England.  So by the time Falkirk came round, he found himself with the stronger king, ready to do battle at his side.   Edward had previously insisted, when Le Jay was still Scottish master, that he swear allegiance to him and not the Scottish king and Le Jay, sensing which way that political wind was blowing, duly obliged.  No wonder the Victorian Scottish novelist Walter Scott detested the memory of Le Jay and based his evil Templar characters on him in his novel, Ivanhoe.

To my knowledge, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but the man who became Templar master in Scotland after Le Jay and was in place for the Battle of Falkirk – John de Sawtrey – also fought with Edward against the Scottish king.  So the Templars were very much on the Angevin/English side against Scotland.  A good decision in that Edward won the battle – a bad decision in that both Templar masters were killed pursuing Scottish solders who were fleeing through a forest.

In spite of the support of these Templar leaders, Edward I had a bit of form when it came to regarding the Templars as little more than piggy banks to be raided when he needed the money.  In his youth, he had attacked the Temple in London to get funds for a civil war against the barons.  This was when Simon de Montfort and the barons had rebelled against Edward’s father Henry III.  London had come out for the barons and Edward had to flee the city with his tail between his legs.  His wife, Eleanor – later revered in saintly terms when she died – was forced to take refuge in Saint Paul’s cathedral from a mob that was pelting her with stones and filth.

On his way up to fight the Scots, Edward I had availed himself of Templar hospitality including a night at Temple Newsam outside Leeds, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  By all rights he and his family should have been well disposed to the Templar Order but as Europe turned against the Templars, so did the Angevin monarchs.  Edward I’s son, Edward II, had no hesitation grabbing Templar property when the opportunity presented itself.

As for Wallace – he had cut down the two most powerful Templars in the kingdom but he himself would be brutally executed in London not long after.  The spot where he was hung, disemboweled, etc is not far from where I work and flowers are still placed there by fans.