Tag Archives: magna carta

David Wilson:- 1014-or the Long Prehistory of Magna Carta

Guest Blog by David Wilson (Director, TV Series Producer)Reproduced with his kind permission, this article was first published on David’s website here.

1014-or the long prehistory of Magna Carta 

This year with many books and exhibitions we remember the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. That’s terrific, but however important the events of 1215, as it turned out, don’t imagine that they were only, or even the first time an English king had been wrestled to the conference table by his subjects.
We should perhaps have been celebrating two years ago – and the anniversary would have been millennial. 1014 saw the penultimate crisis in the disastrous reign of Aethelred the ‘Unready’ [978-1016]. Son of the great Edgar, whose prestige dominated the British isles and glowed throughout Europe, this ‘badly-advised’ [unraed in old English, hence ‘unready’] monarch brought his Kingdom to destruction by a mixture of willful politics and military failure. Assailed by renewed attacks from Denmark, latterly led by the Danish king Swein Forkbeard, in the winter of 1013 Aethelred lost control of the country altogether, and was forced to seek refuge with his brother-in-law Duke Richard of Normandy. As he clambered aboard the longship which took him to Rouen, Aethelred may have thought the disaster final. But suddenly, at the moment of triumph, Sweyn Forkbeard died. For the English there was a last opportunity to restore the situation and they took it. Sweyn’s Danish army were for enthroning his young son Canute, but somehow, all pulling together, the English elite resisted, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relates:

‘The fleet all chose Canute for king; whereupon advised all the counsellors of England, clergy and laity, that they should send after King Aethelred; saying, that no sovereign was dearer to them than their natural lord, if he would govern them better than he did before. Then sent the king hither his son Edward, with his messengers; who had orders to greet all his people, saying that he would be their faithful lord – would better each of those things that they disliked — and that each of the things should be forgiven which had been either done or said against him; provided they all unanimously, without treachery, turned to him. Then was full friendship established, in word and in deed and in compact, on either side. And every Danish king they proclaimed an outlaw for ever from England. Then came King Aethelred home, in Lent, to his own people; and he was gladly received by them all.’

Here for the first time we can see that conditions are being imposed on the king in return for the throne. The situation must have been not unlike that at Runnymede, more than two hundred years later. This was a king whose political and military failure had made him vulnerable to demands from his subjects.
What those demands were we can surmise from a sermon preached at the time by Wulfstan, Archbishop of York which has become famous as the Sermon of ‘the Wolf’ to the English. It was probably given in the presence of King Aethelred and his council, and it indicates the kind of issues that were exercising them: injustice, excessive taxes and treason.
‘the rights of freemen are taken away and the rights of slaves are restricted and charitable obligations are curtailed. Free men may not keep their independence, nor go where they wish, nor deal with their property just as they desire…

Nothing has prospered now for a long time either at home or abroad, but there has been military devastation and hunger, burning and bloodshed in nearly every district time and again… And excessive taxes have afflicted us…’
Experts think that the wording of the Chronicle is copied from a writ or document which Aethelred issued, which would have detailed the agreement. Eleventh-century writs were letters sent by the King to his governors in the shires, often specifically to be read out in the Shire court; such writs always began with ‘The King greets his people…’ as in the Chronicle. Usually the extent to whiuch kingship relies on the consent of the governed is concealed beneath the rhetoric of royal power. Here, that consent is made public. In the context of the, for this period, unusual sophistication of the English monarchy, working as it did through shire and hundred [district] assemblies, this is even more revealing. In administering the shires, the king’s officials relied, as we have seen, on the empanelment of juries, that is the participation of his subjects in their government. It seems that both at this subordinate level and at the highest reaches of politics, the English felt they had rights, that, as in the forests of Germany centuries before, sovereignty emanated, not just from above, from God, but also to some extent from below, from the people.
 Constitutional encounters of this kind happened elsewhere in Europe at roughly this time, but what makes 1014 special for us is that the agreement comes at the beginning of a continuing series of such deals which would govern the development of the English state down to our own times. Four years later, after Canute had eventually defeated Aethelred’s successor, he found himself making a similar agreement in Oxford, which he was to reiterate in two celebrated ‘Letters to the English’ in 1019 and 1027. King Edward the Confessor [the Edward in fact who crossed from Normandy to begin the negotiations in 1014] inherited this dispensation, and reconfirmed it publicly in 1065. The way he ruled was explicitly the basis of the regime of his Norman successors. That was made clear in the Charter issued by Henry I at his Coronation in 1100, which itself in turn became the basis of the restoration of order by Henry II after the ‘anarchy’ of King Stephen’s reign. Henry I’s Coronation Charter was also instrumental in the negotiations before Magna Carta. Thence, by way of Magna Carta itself, we reach Simon de Montfort, the ‘comune of England’ and the beginnings of Parliament. 

There was nothing inevitable about this, as there was nothing inevitable, indeed, about the survival of England as unified kingdom, but the fact remains that English constitutional history descends in a direct line, not unlike the monarchy itself, from those tense discussions in the aftermath of Danish disaster.
David Wilson 2015

Not Magna Carta: Grayling’s Legal Summit

2015 marked the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, where we should have celebrated the cherished ideals of Equality before the Law, right to a jury trial, and the principle that  Justice should not be for sale. Instead, the Government, with it’s legally illiterate Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling, held (on February 23rd) an invite only “Legal Summit” with tickets priced at £1500 per head.
It has been said , “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.” (Anatole France, see here for more on equality before the law)
But only the rich could afford to attend Grayling’s fat-cat jamboree, hypocritically masquerading as a Magna Carta celebration. Some invited to speak chose to boycott the event.
Many with integrity indicated their opposition, and set out why as recoreded in this blog

I attended the alternative “Not the Great Law Summit”  protest, demonstrating outside the official event. A write-up is here in the Justice Gap.

Speakers included  Maxine Peake (Pictured below), Debora Coles from Inquest,  Marcia Rigg, Karl Turner MP, Andy Worthington and  Jon Black (President of LCCSA)


There was an impeachment hearing for “King John” Christopher Grayling. 

There was also a walk from Runnymede to Westminster over the weekend of 21st-23rd February (“Relay for Rights“)

 

Anyone who would like to learn more about the issues raised in this blog, may like to look at the website of the Justice Alliance www.justiceallianceuk.wordpress.com
You can also catch up on events as they happened on Twitter using hashtags  #RelayforRights and #NotGLS2015

Notes

1 Check out this excellent article in the New Statesman by Anthony Barnett (founding editor of Open Democracy) who spoke at the start of the March at Runnymede, and joined the walk and demo. 

2 This Article in the Islington Tribune features Ruth Hayes of Islington Law Centre, who also spoke at the Runnymeade gathering and joined both walk and demo. My letter in the same paper is here

 

The Impeachment of “King John” Christopher Grayling

0n 21st February 2015 the Justice Alliance met in Runnymede and set out for Westminster as part of a JA event called Relay for Rights.

This finished on 23rd February with the “NOT THE GREAT LEGAL SUMMIT” In Westminster.

This was organised as a direct response to the hypocritical “Great” Legal Summit, which in the name of Magna Carta, was being used to promote the kind of law that in fact has no resemblance to the principles still celebrated from that historic document.

At the alternative event, on the inspiration of Justice Alliance member Rhona Friedman, I was asked to seek impeachment of the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling by asking the assembled crowd to vote on “articles of impeachment” .

The Articles put to the crowd, and their responses, are recorded below:-

 

                                                 ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT 

 

                                    The People

                                      V

                     King John Christopher Grayling”

 

SummaryOne Resolution consisting of four articles of impeachment. 

The articles will be debated and voted on individually

 

Introduction

 

The original King John  had ruled using the principle of “force and will”, taking executive and sometimes arbitrary decisions, justified on the basis that a king was above the law.

800 years later, Chris Grayling, a man posturing as Lord Chancellor, takes executive and arbitrary decisions, and by seeking to remove the rights to Judicial Review attempts to place himself above the Law. 

Article 1   MISLEADING PARLIAMENT AND THE PEOPLE

 

As Secretary of State, King John Christopher Grayling provided false and misleading evidence to the House of Commons regarding Judicial Review Reform, having either knowingly lied in order to try to get his bill past the Commons or fundamentally misunderstanding his own legislation.

 

The Secretary of State further provided false and misleading evidence to the Commons about probation privatisation projects in that G4S and Serco confirmed they had been granted new government work during a period when Grayling had told MPs that contracts would not be awarded   Remember SERCO are the robber barons who claimed for supervising the dead!  

 

TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS MISLED THE COMMONS AND THE PEOPLE?

 The People voted AYE 

 

 Article 2       OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE 

 

The Secretary of State has obstructed and diminished Justice by :

 

Reducing the number of people who took mental health cases from 42,000 to 523 in one year 

 

-Removing legal aid from family cases so that 2/3 of people face court alone 

 

Pricing peoplout of Employment Tribunals so that unfair employees know that they can sack their staff unlawfully 

 

Banning books in prisons until Court Action forced  him to stop 

 

Creating a two tier criminal justice

 

 TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS OBSTRUCTED JUSTICE?

The people voted AYE 

 


 

 Article 3       ABUSE OF POWER

 

The Secretary of State misused and abused his office and impaired the administration of justice, in that

 

1. He forced through a privatisation of  Probation Service with no proper impact-assessment and at great risk
2. He has brought the Ministry of Justice into disrepute by “Flogging to the floggers” (contracting with the selling of legal services to Saudi Arabia, which has despotic judicial and barbaric punishment systems)
3. Whilst holding the title of Justice Secretary, he has practiced,supported and embodied INJUSTICE, and has been defeated repeatedly in the Courts.

 

TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS ABUSED THE POWER VESTED IN HIM?

The people voted AYE

 

ARTICLE FOUR -ABUSE OF OATH OF OFFICE

 

AS Lord Chancellor King John Grayling is charged with upholding the Rule of Law  We the people have by the above articles found him guilty of misleading Parliament , obstructing justice and abuse of power.

 Do you the people therefore think he has properly discharged his constitutional duty in accordance with his oath of office to ensure the provision of services  for the efficient and effective support of the courts?

 TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS ABUSED HIS OATH OF OFFICE-HOW SAY YOU, AYE OR NO?

The People voted AYE

Lastly do we the people on this fake anniversary of the Great Charter find him to be an Upholder OF THE RULE OF LAW?  AYE OR NO ? 

The People voted No

  

KING JOHN GRAYLING WAS DULY IMPEACHED- SO SAID WE ALL!

He was then conveyed, in stocks, amidst a jeering crowd,  to the “Great Legal Summit” , wherapon the Crowd did chant “Failing Grayling -out, out, out!”

But alas, he stayed in, and the will of the people once again was overborne.

800 years after it was sealed, people still remember the Magna Carta.

Grayling, if recalled in history at all, will be remembered about as fondly as his medieval predessor, the hated King John.