On 15 June 1215, rebel barons forced King John to meet them at Runnymede. They did not trust the King, so he was not allowed to leave until his seal was attached to the charter in front of him.
This was Magna Carta. It was a revolutionary document. Never before had royal authority been so fundamentally challenged. Nearly 800 years later, two of the charter's sixty-three clauses are still a ringing expression of freedom for mankind: 'To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice'. And: 'No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or in any way ruined, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land'.
1215 - The Year of Magna Carta explores what it was like to be alive in that momentous year. Political power struggles are interwoven with other issues - fashion, food, education, medicine, religion, sex. In many areas it was a time of innovation and change. Windmills were erected, spectacles were invented. Dozens of new towns were founded. Oxford became the first university in England, and the great cathedrals of Salisbury and Lincoln were built.
Whether describing matters of state or domestic life, this is a treasure house of a book, rich in detail and full of enthralling insights into the medieval world.
Magna Carta is considered a foundation of modern freedoms, yet it is deeply rooted in the unique facts and political situation of 13th-century England. This excellent study is not only about the document itself but also about the context in which it can be fully understood. Danziger (The Year 1000) and Gillingham, professor emeritus of history at the London School of Economics, head each chapter with a passage from the Great Charter and elucidate the daily experience and issues that underlie it. While the first chapters elaborate on how both average folk and elites lived, worked, hunted, married, studied, played and went to church, later chapters get deeper into the meaning of the document itself. Marvelous details about daily life abound, while myths and misperceptions are firmly swept away. The infamous King John, who signed the Great Charter, moves slowly to center stage against the background stories of his parents, the legendary Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine; his brother Richard Lionheart; and other great figures of the day, both historical and mythical, including Robin Hood and Thomas Becket. When the reader reaches the climactic chapter, in which the barons force the Charter on John, the document has jumped off the pedestal on which tradition has placed it and become a living thing. The event itself and the details of the document show how age-old practices and last-minute concessions shaped the text (which is included in its entirety). Danziger and Gillingham make it clear that the Magna Carta was not an abstract thesis, but a brilliant response to a particular time and circumstance. Map.