Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Eight Hundred Years of Accountability

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On this day in 1215, King John signed the original Magna Carta. It did not last long; Pope Innocent III voided it when he learned of it, releasing John from his obligations. He particularly did not like the clause for which this blog is named, which made it not just a right but a duty of the barons to rebel against the king if he did not live up to his side of the bargain.

Magna Carta did not do anything directly for people who were not men of noble birth. It was the result of a rebellion born out of dissatisfaction of the nobles when they found that the king could ignore their advice and slap them around as arbitrarily as they did their serfs. Nevertheless, it was a milestone in the development of Anglo-Saxon political culture and an important part of our heritage.

Magna Carta and the rebellions surrounding it are the events where Anglo-Saxon political development breaks off from that of continental Europe. When the Pope nullified the treaty, the barons did not just say, “Well, the Pope put us in our place, so let’s stand down and let the king do whatever he wants to us.” They went right back into rebellion, which did not end until John died. Where continental kings were able to establish absolutist regimes, Britain rejected this because of the heritage that begins with Magna Carta.

The people of England earned their way to self-government. There is no other way to get there. The baronial rebellion was the start of the idea that the king himself was subject to the law. It would take another 475 years to make the idea finally stick, with much blood spilled along the way. Ordinary people would join in that tradition and demand that they too should have a say in how the nation is to be governed. That issue would take even longer to sort out.

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Written by srojak

June 15, 2015 at 9:51 am

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