Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Magna Carta

Today is the 800th anniversary of the ceremony at Runnymede which is often misrepresented as King John sealing ( or worse, signing ) Magna Carta. As Sir James Holt argued we should rather see the day as the occasion for the nobles to renew their homage to the King in return for the agreement between them and written up in the  numerous copies of the Great Charter., which were quite possibly handed out to those present as well as sent to the various bodies such as cathedral chapters which still, in some cases, hold them.

Today at Runnymede The Queen, who is the 23x great granddaughter of King John, and the great and the good from both Britain and the United States (which these days makes more of Magna Carta than we do on this side of the Atlantic ) assembled to commemorate the events of 1215 and to celebrate the text granted by the King. What King John might have thought of it all , or even the barons or clergy, is something to speculate about.

historians these days are somewhat divided as to whether the 1215 Magna Carta was a peace treaty that failed - in the autumn Pope Innocent III annulled it as extorted by force from his vassal King John, and a civil war ensued until 1217 -  or whether, as Holt interpreted it in his standard work, it was a significant development, similar to, but in advance of European parallels. There is doubtless some truth in both arguments, but the significance of Magna Carta as something to reissue as pledge of good governance, as happened in 1216, 1217, 1225 and 1297, suggests it acquired prestige early ion which lifts it above the failed peace treaty into a statement of good principle to be appealed to and reaffirmed.a

 The Salisbury copy of Magna Carta


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