Monday, June 15, 2015

What's What: Magna Carta

Professor Childermass boasts that the name Childermass is "ancient and honorable" with one of his ancestors alongside the barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta [The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, 9].

Magna Carta (Latin for "the Great Charter") is a charter agreed by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, on June 15, 1215.  That's right: it turns 800 years old today.

The document was written by a group of 13th Century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. It is concerned with many practical matters and specific grievances relevant to the feudal system under which they lived. The interests of the common man were hardly apparent in the minds of the men who brokered the agreement. But there are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day:
"No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land."

"To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice."

In the 21st Century, four exemplifications of the original 1215 charter remain in existence, held by the British Library and the cathedrals of Lincoln and Salisbury.  The four were displayed together earlier this year at the British Library for one day only in preparation of the document's anniversary. 

Of note, British artist Cornelia Parker was commissioned to create a new artwork to celebrate the festivities.  The piece is an earlier version of the Wikipedia entry for Magna Carta from the document's 799th anniversary in 2014, embroidered into the form of a tapestry.  Eat your heart out, citizens of Bayeux.

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