Tag Archives: Magna Carta

Magna Carta

A visit to Windsor and Runnymede  the other day made me think about the Magna Carta.  The Magna Carta (Great Charter) was issued by King John in 1215 because he was facing a political crisis – to put it bluntly, he’d upset all his barons and they were raising arms against him.  He didn’t really have a great deal of choice but to try to appease them.  (As it happened, he didn’t stick to the terms, so his troubles were far from over, but I’m jumping ahead of myself.)

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle

Why Runnymede?

I’d always wondered why John chose Runnymede as the spot for the agreement.  It turns out that this lovely little place, along the bank of the Thames, was the traditional place for assemblies at the time, but also, it was about half way Windsor castle, the rebels base at Staines.  It was neutral ground and did not confer a military advantage on either side.  That must have been an important consideration for the barons as King John had a reputation for being somewhat duplicitous.

Background

I hope you’ve all got over your shock and horror at learning that someone in a position of power had a reputation for being a bit of a cad.  Outrageous behaviour.  Wouldn’t happen nowadays.  Ahem.

Magna Carta
Magna Carta

John was the younger brother of Richard the Lion Heart.  Richard, loved as he was by the people, wasn’t actually the best king ever, he spent a lot of time away fighting in the Crusades.  (Good for him but bad for us peasants.)  So John, although not the greatest king, and a bit of a cowardly custard compared with big Bro, wasn’t totally to blame.  He didn’t help matters though, he didn’t have his brother’s charisma, nor his sense, and he lost a lot of the family jewels to France.  The long and the short of it was that John owed money to his barons and had no intention of paying them back.  That was possibly a good short-term plan, but was never going to work in the long-term.

The Magna Carta didn’t, if John complied with the legal terms, give him a lot of wriggle room.  Many historians say that there was only one way out – civil war.  And, sure as eggs are eggs, war broke out within three months of the signing of the Magna Carta.

Magna Carta
Magna Carta

There were several more “Great Charters” over the years; to be honest, the territory becomes quite technical in terms of legal issues, and I have no intention of going into them here.  (Two reasons: one, I am not a lawyer, two, I am not a historian.)  Suffice it to say that the Magna Carta had a huge impact, conferring a number of rights on the barons of the day (not on the rest of us, those of us that were peasants were really unaffected by it).  The rights conferred were built on over time, who knows where we would all be now, if not for the Magna Carta?  Although, somehow, I suspect we’d have reached a place not far from where we are now, just maybe with far more bloodshed.

 

© Susan Shirley 2016

Constitutional Crisis?

I’m not a political animal but even I haven’t been able to avoid the events of the past week – the Brexit, David Cameron resigning, the Euros, Labour front bench MPS resigning, and a vote of no confidence against Jeremy Corbyn. I’m not sure whether this counts as a constitutional crisis or not.

DavidCameronicon

In fact, there is no official definition of a constitutional crisis, although much of the world press seems to think it’s on the cards that one will happen. Whatever, it’s an unsettling time for us all, and not just in the UK. My fears that the EU will fall apart now have been echoed across the water. I’m amazed that no-one in any position of authority (other than the wonderful Mark Carney at the Bank of England) appears to have planned the next move in the event of a leave vote.

Will Scotland leave the Union? (I think that’s a resounding yes, if Nicola Sturgeon gets her way, but then, surely, Scotland will have to apply to join the EU in its own right? That doesn’t happen overnight.) If so, that would push us closer to a constitutional crisis, surely?

In order for a constitutional crisis to occur, it’s usually necessary for there usually has to be a situation in which the constitutional principles do not answer a serious issue of governance. To add confusion to the mix, Britain doesn’t have a written constitution. It has its written laws, it’s institutions (eg parliament itself) and its customs, all of which have worked pretty well together up until now.

As we don’t have a written constitution, technically, the referendum is not binding on the government. (That said, ignoring the result might be enough to trigger a constitutional crisis.). Not only that, there is a body of legal thought that says that the Scottish Parliament has to give its consent to Britain leaving the EU… That’s an interesting thought.

Has there ever been a constitutional crisis before in the UK? By gad, yes. In 1215, there was the Barons Revolt, which led to King John signing the Magna Carta. That was pretty serious for the King. And then again in 1936, when Edward VIII abdicated so that he could marry Wallis Simpson. (Rumours about his being Nazi sympathiser still abound.) So if this does become a constitutional crisis, we will survive it, things just might be messy for a while.

Next manager of the England football team?
Next manager of the England football team?

The truth is that none of us knows how this is all going to play out yet, but I might just write to the FA and offer them my services as a career coach…

© Susan Shirley 2016