Raw Beginnings

Listed on January 21, 2015 in Blogs!

This week we celebrate 750th anniversary of the de Montfort parliament. Later this year we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. Both events are important in British (mainly English) history as both laid down the foundations of what ultimately became our constitutional monarchy. Interestingly, a generalised school-book knowledge of these two events will throw up evidence of a lot of air-brushing. Events and context demonstrate that things were much more intemperate and convoluted. The will of the king may have been brought into check but the self-interest of the barons, the knights and the important burghers was also served. These weren’t the moments when democracy took root. On Sunday we heard from Professor Henry Mayr-Harting of Oxford University how King John was desperate to recover his lost territory in Normandy and how these military campaigns financially embarrassed him and the crown. The church didn’t come off well either. Indeed it was a very messy, chaotic and intractable affair in which everyone seemed to be thinking of themselves and few were thinking of the big picture. Of course, the rule of law was in a very embryonic state and the economy, such as it was, presented itself as incredibly parochial. Populations were small, communications were poor and armies were not the regulated well-disciplined forces we would consider them to be today. We learnt that one of the reasons why John was so unpopular was that without his Normandy possessions he busied himself in local affairs. People were not happy to see the king because of his interferences! He was good at management and perhaps less good at leadership. He difference is important.

So, when we revisit our knowledge of history this year, we need to be mindful of how utterly different the world was in medieval England. These events were the raw beginnings of something that continues to grow and certainly not a worthy lesson for the lives we live today.