800 Years and Still Going Strong

Posted by by Janet Dooley on 4 January 2012 in category in Tudors in Popular Culture - 0 0 Comments

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the writing of the Magna Carta, a document that first limited royal power, giving certain rights to the subjects of England. The Magna Carta was one of the inspirations for The United States' Declaration of Independence, the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and several other world documents that declare for individual rights and freedoms.

As you might imagine, England is doing its best to celebrate this historic marker including issuing a special coin from the British Royal Mint.

But hey, it's not a party until something gets broken!

The official Magna Carta coin issued by the Royal Mint.

The controversial artwork depicting King John "signing" the Magna Carta. Medieval kings "sealed" their documents with a royal wax seal rather than signing them. However, the intended political result is the same.


The framing of the official coin includes a photo of King John (the son of Henry II and a very, very bad king!) "signing" the Magna Carta with a quill. The only thing is, King John never signed the Magna Carta. He "sealed" it with the official seal of the king (and even that was probably done by an underling). Several British historians have taken exception to this depiction (or course, they did). But does it matter?

What matters is that less than two weeks after the Magna Carta was "sealed", England plunged into the very civil war that the Magna Carta had hoped to prevent. The MC itself, while limiting royal power, really only helped the nobility of England. Common people had no more rights than they had before (something it had in common with the Declaration of Independence). And by the time Henry VIII came around? Somehow that limit on royal power had been forgotten. While technically Sir Thomas More, Queen Katherine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn...as well as many, many more...had their day in court, it was a very biased court. What the king wanted, the king got. But as playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote "The pen is mightier than the sword." Indeed it is. Eventually. While the ideas first given voice in the Magna Carta didn't help any of King Henry VIII's victims, the idea of free speech and individual rights did eventually take hold. Now every troll on the Internet has the opportunity to voice his/her opinion no matter how intelligent or how ignorant. Our founding fathers (and their founding fathers) would be proud. Maybe.

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