Joined: 30 May 2013
|Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2015 9:24 pm Post subject: Magna Carta - Did She Die in Vain?
|When I saw the Google Doodle this morning, I thought it must be marking fifty years of Lego. It looked as if a cross Lego king was surrounded by other Lego characters who were also furious.
But I was wrong. It was 800 years today since King John signed Magna Carta -or sealed it - or whatever he did with it. Some pedants say he can't have signed it as he couldn't read and write. We can imagine what he would have liked to have done with it.
David Cameron came out with some guff today about how important it was. It was utterly artificial cant.
We can be sure of this because when David Letterman asked him some simple general knowledge questions on the subject a few years ago, he couldn't answer one of them. He couldn't even try to guess what Magna Carta meant.
A character in 'Only Fools and Horses' said, ''Everyone's entitled to a cup of tea. It says that in Magna Carta.'' Tony Hancock demanded plaintively if Magna Carta died in vain. They were joking. David Cameron really is that ignorant.
Somebody was complaining to me about the wall to wall paedophilia in his private boarding school. He said the only thing he had gained was that he knew when Magna Carta was signed. He didn't know why it was important or what it was about, but he did know the date.
''Was it 1215 by any chance?'' I asked sharply. He admitted that it was.'' Well, I knew that and I didn't go to boarding school!'' I exclaimed.
It was bad of me to kick away his emotional prop, but it does infuriate me that people who have been privately educated think they are better informed and more intelligent than other people.
Boris Johnson says that David Cameron did know all the answers really but he didn't want to show off his classical education. He didn't want to look like a stuck up swot. Yeah, right.
We weren't directly affected in Wales at the time, but we had reason to be glad King John had been muzzled. The border area between England and Wales was like the Wild West. We know King John took a lot of young Welsh boys hostage and then hanged them.
One of his Norman cronies William de Broase was responsible for the Abergavenny Massacre. But that's not a good enough reason to gloat that John put de Broase's widow, the ogress Maud Walbee and her son in an oubliette in Windsor Castle.
After they both starved to death, it was discovered that Maud had been driven to cannibalism in extremis. Bits of her son's flesh were found between her teeth.
It must have been another William de Broase, John's daughter Siwan was thinking of when she said, 'Wales and England and Llewelyn/ All these I'd give to see my Gwilim.'
So what is Magna Carta about, and why is it important? Frankly, it looks a lot more important now than it did at the time. As late as Shakespeare's time it was considered of no special importance. His play 'King John' does not even mention it.
The barons were only interested in their own privileges. They put in clauses about how no free man should be pushed around or arbitrarily imprisoned. But who was a free man? Perhaps most people were serfs.
Serfs had to labour on their lords' estates for no pay. They were agricultural slaves. If a serf escaped to a town, he could be brought back to face the sort of sado-masochistic extravaganza you can see in 'Mutiny on the Bounty' after which he would be branded on the cheek.
But if he avoided capture for a year and a day, he couldn't be touched. The saying was 'Town air makes a man free!'' It was not until the Black Death in Richard ii's time that serfdom began to break down. The more free men there were, the more relevant Magna Carta became.
On the face of it, Magna Carta began to put an end to forced marriages. Before that, even widows of mature age could be married off by the king at his whim. But there was a long way to go.
Whether or not the law explicitly recognised customs like the 'droit de seigneur' or 'Jus Primae Noctis' on manors, there is no doubt that it happened in practice. That is why the custom of Borough English allowed rustics' youngest sons to be their heirs. The eldest son would probably have been fathered by the lord of the manor.
This system of legalised sexual slavery did not fully end until 1991. Before that date it was held to be legally impossible to rape your own wife. The concept was held to be incoherent, like stealing your own property.
There is a lot of ephemeral and mundane junk in Magna Carta about fishing licences and rents. Then, in the middle of this garbage comes the rather beautiful line,' To no one shall we sell, to no one shall we delay, to no one shall we deny justice, truth and right.'
This is something Martin Luther King alluded to in his speeches. It's just a pity that it hasn't been taken seriously, notably in the realm of sexual offences.
In about 1980, a TV station grabbed hold of a videoed standard interview by policemen of a complainant in a rape case. They mocked and bullied the bewildered woman who was especially vulnerable as she had learning difficulties. One policeman told her, ''This is the biggest load of bollocks I've ever heard in my life.''
Somebody said, ''Did you see the news last night? I'd never go to the police to report a rape after that!'' A policeman, on a course with me, said that in those days, the police's default assumption was that a plaintiff in a rape case was undoubtedly lying. They thought their job was to pick holes in her narrative. They were oblivious to the psychological harm they were doing.
Until recently, it was traditional for judges to express outrageous opinions on rape. One learned judge said that it was well known that women and small boys were addicted to lying.
It's good to know that the shocking rape interview video is now shown to rookie police officers as an example of how not to conduct an interview with a woman who claims to have been raped. That's progress.
So what about small boys or teenage boys? Will they be taken seriously? I can remember a scout master saying it was problematic to teach girl guides outdoor skills like orienteering. If a boy gets lost, he might fall among thieves or be beaten up, but a girl could be raped.
This guy seemed to have no concept that it was possible for a male person to be raped. And yet the scouting movement is thick with paedophiles. Was this chap being wilfully ignorant?
Until 1993, the law simply did not accept that it was possible for a man or a boy to be raped. It had a concept of 'unconsensual buggery' but that didn't sound very important.
After the death of Dafydd y Dug aka Dafydd Burns, admirers paid warm tributes to him, remembering how he planned to bomb the investiture with manure. He did sound like a jolly young scamp.
Tragically, he came from a deprived background and was apparently subjected to physical and sexual abuse in borstals and perhaps at home. No one helped him to cope with this in a good way.
It looks like he might have reacted by acting out what he had experienced. In a shocking post, Alwyn ap Huw says he was raped by Dafydd y Dug when he was sixteen.
Alwyn said that he buggered him against his will while holding him in a stranglehold against the wall of Aberystwyth Theological College. Comments underneath acknowledged that Dafydd y Dug was notorious for beating people up and for sexual violence.
Without saying that I had heard anything negative about him, I asked Dafydd ap Geler Thomas if he had ever met Dafydd y Dug and what he thought of him. Dafydd exclaimed ''He was a total arsehole and he stole my hat!''
If these stories are accurate, we might ask how he got away with it so long. Alwyn ap Huw says that he reported the crime to the police. They asked him if he had had an erection during the assault. He naively answered that he had. They then said that he must have been a willing participant, and that he could himself be prosecuted for public indecency.
They must have known this was a physiological inevitability. They presumably asked all boys who made these complaints the same question. It doesn't matter if they were motivated by sheer nastiness, a misguided zeal for protecting the powerful or if they were just too lazy to do the job they were paid for.
There were laws in place to protect women and boys from sexual assault during the Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith era. But to a degree, they were a dead letter. For whatever reason, the police often decided to deny justice, truth and right to the most vulnerable in society.
Magna Carta might as well not have existed for these people. For all we know, its terms are still being breached every day in ways we have not heard of yet. So should we be celebrating Magna Carta's birthday. Or did she die in vain?
Last edited by marianneh on Tue May 02, 2017 2:59 pm; edited 1 time in total