RSS

800 years and still trying to get it right…

16 Jun

The Greeks get a lot of credit (that’s the ancient ones, not the current crop, who couldn’t get credit off a loan shark moonlighting from Wonga.com) by which I mean that they are frequently praised for their radical ideas and enlightened attitudes, not to mention the fact they invented all sorts of cutting edge technology and pioneered everything from philosophy and medicine to sport and open sexuality.
But if there’s one thing that they really are the godfathers of, it’s democracy.

The first historical reference to proto-democracy is widely thought to be from sixth century Athens (508 BC is the generally accepted date of adopting the system) and their society seems to have been run with at least a token attempt to involve ordinary people in the decision-making process.

image
Cleisthenes – “Democracy, yep, my idea.”

Which isn’t to say that other societies didn’t have the same idea.
Star of the original superhero epic, Gilgamesh, (who I have written about before) didn’t wield the same autocratic powers that many of his contemporaries bestowed upon themselves, instead preferring a more consultative form of rule, nearly 1500 years before the Greeks tried it.

Then there were the Indian republics (or “ganas”) which were active at almost the same time Cleisthenes was having his big idea in Greece. They were governed by a monarch, but in concordance with a council of free men who could speak out on issues that affected the common people.

And then of course, there were the Romans.
Their common citizens (the “plebs”, as they were collectively known) were allowed to weigh in on topics that concerned them, at least until Octavius got all full of himself and made himself emperor in 27 BC. After that, things took a bit of a dive, democracy-wise.

But it’s not just the ancients who should be getting all the plaudits for attempting to make the world a fairer place to live in.
As far back as the 9th century, the Isle of Man set up the Tynwald, which still has the honour of being considered the longest sitting continuous parliament in the world.
Not far behind are the Icelandic Allthing, set up in the tenth century, along with the fabulously named Thing of all Swedes in, you guessed it, Sweden, which ran from the early 11th century onwards.

Which brings me to us, the English.
I know, I know, we’re quite keen on taking credit for being at the leading edge of world events (winning wars, beginning industrial revolutions, enslaving millions to an empire, inventing cricket etc..) even when it’s not always strictly accurate, historically speaking. But I think we have a pretty reasonable claim for bringing fair play and democracy to the modern world.

Twice, in fact.

2015 is the eight hundredth anniversary of the “grand charter” drawn up by King John, the document that was meant to remove absolute power from the monarchy and give the common man a say in the running of the country, The Magna Carta.
All of which would have been very laudable, if it wasn’t for the fact that His Majesty was, not to put too fine a point on it, a complete bastard.
image
King John – “Who are you calling a bastard, you peasant?”

I’m sure John’s historians would have us believe that the idea of a people’s charter was brought about by a beneficent monarch who wanted his subjects to take some control over their lives, largely for their own good, but sadly this wasn’t even close to being the case.

Because to say that John was a good king, with his subjects’ best interests at heart, would not only be hugely inaccurate, it would also be missing the opportunity to use words like “sadist” and “greedy megalomaniac”.
Here was a man who thought nothing of having his nephew murdered; of sexually preying on the wives and daughters of his closest allies in the nobility; of starving to death the family of a formerly close companion and, last but by no means least, using prohibitively high taxes to keep his baronial landowners in check.
These same barons, fed up with paying out massive levies to the king, finally forced him, in 1215, to draw up the Magna Carta, revoking his right to rule with absolute power.

image
The Magna Carta, yesterday.

But as we know, absolute power corrupts absolutely and, barely two months later, John went to Pope Innocent III, who used a papal bull to reverse the charter, claiming it was “illegal, unjust, harmful to royal rights and shameful to the English people”.

What the “English people” thought of this move went unrecorded, although I suspect there was a fair amount of plebian grumbling about backhanders to the Vatican at the time.

The good news (for everyone but the king) was that within a year, John was dead, either from dysentery or, if you choose to believe the contemporaneous rumours, from poisoning by an unhappy nobleman. Yet it took another decade for his successor, his son Henry III, to reinstate the charter that his father had abortively introduced.

Indeed, on John’s death in 1216, a monk called Matthew Paris – in those days, monks often doubled as sort of early journalists – said of the king;
“Foul as it is, Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John”
So it’s fair to say he was not a popular man, by any standards.

But on the other hand, he did give us the blueprint for a society that makes us (theoretically) all equal under the law, including royalty.

So when somebody tells you that we should thank Good King John for providing us with equality and enlightenment, take it with a pinch of salt and remember that many rulers had attempted to give the same thing to their subjects, often with greater tolerance and integrity, many hundreds of years previously.

Advertisements
 
7 Comments

Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Blogging, Humour, News, Social comment, Video

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 responses to “800 years and still trying to get it right…

  1. Ian Cochrane

    June 18, 2015 at 09:45

    loved it Dale. & so nice to see a clergyman with his holy finger on the real pulse of things –
    “Foul as it is, Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John”

     
    • dalecooper57

      June 18, 2015 at 10:30

      Cheers Ian, it’s a while since I did a piece like this, forgotten how much I enjoyed the research side of it.

       
  2. loricarlson66

    July 2, 2015 at 12:12

    Great history lessons here.. some of which I knew, much I did not. Always one for a spot of history 😀

     
    • dalecooper57

      July 2, 2015 at 12:39

      Thank you. Every day’s a school day. ;~}

       
      • loricarlson66

        July 2, 2015 at 19:23

        You are welcome… yes, learning something new every day keeps the brain sharp 😀

         
  3. David Otto (@otto3663)

    May 2, 2016 at 22:49

    Isn’t it bitterly ironic that the ‘Home of Democracy” is now a socialist cesspool that had to steal money from it’s own citizens bank accounts and is nothing more than a protectorate of the EU. There was nothing ‘good’ about King John – he disregarded the Magna Carta before the ink was dry. He was a murdering POS and the whole country hated him. Comparing today’s morals and the easy life we have to the nightmare of daily life for the average person 200 years ago and beyond. Slavery was commonplace for millineia – that’s how it was. Slavery is a morally repugnant business and disgusting practice and according to the UN about 27 million people are enslaved as I write this – mostly Muslim slave traders from the continent of Africa enslaving anyone they can. I also find it a bit unsettling the forgotten white slaves in history. There were more white slaves/indentured servants in pre Civil War US than black slaves. The Irish, Scots and many in that area were kidnapped for centuries before America was even thought of and sold into slavery. In ancient Rome more than 1 in 3 people were slaves. Black people from Africa that were enslaved by people in America don’t have the corner on being a slave. Not only that – why does Brazil NEVER get any admonition? A full 30% more slaves from Africa were brought to Brazil than the United States – yet Brazil remains unscathed by history revisionists. Not even Portugal who originally bought them from Africa from black slave traders who went into the jungle and pulled natives from their villages to sell to white slave traders for distant lands.

     
    • dalecooper57

      May 2, 2016 at 23:04

      All very good points. Thank you for taking the time to comment so comprehensively, I appreciate your contribution.

       

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
Little Fears

Tales of whimsy, humour and courgettes

JOHNNY SPANGLES

The random thoughts of a very rotten potato on travel, art, sport, bad dogs, good cats and other fake news...

The Lessons

that time forgot to teach

SOZ SATIRE

The Best of British Bullshit

Step-Parent's Sanctuary

The Stories Behind those (not so) Perfect Family Photos

Ellenbest24

words and scribble.

sloppybuddhist

hedy bach photography mixed stories and music

Isabella Morgan

Opinions not otherwise specified

A Life in Transition

Poetry & Fiction

The Bee Writes...

.... don't expect anything...not even the unexpected...

Author Kyle Perkins

The latest and greatest of my documented daydreams

Luca Sartoni

Protector of Asynchronicity at Automattic

ONE MORE SHOT PLEASE

Immortalize Every Moment. Express With Panache.

Pages That Rustle

The journey from words to stories.

trickyemotions

For your mind only!

Waruni Anuruddhika

Film and photography

An Artist's Path

A space for creative seekers.

3nions

Learn WordPress & SEO from the beginning...

Tyler Charles Austen

Foul mouthed, Queer and Angry

balloonfacetrace

The facepainting and balloon twisting lady

Jamaica Ponder

...only a little bit famous

Art by Rob Goldstein

There is no common truth

Kristin King Author

True Story...

bluchickenninja

graphic designer // bibliophile // geek

thegirlwhofearoblivion

To Share, To Connect, To Create, To Inspire.

unbolt me

the literary asylum

swo8

Music means something

Broken Castles

Shattered long ago...

Joshi Daniel Photography

Images of People Photoblog

iamthemilk

Every day I'm jugglin'.

The Write Project

"The answer is to write." - Richard Rhodes

b e t u n a d a

I'm interested in THE GLUE BETWEEN THINGS. "Back on planet URTH" i search for and study desert wombats and inukThingies (they're like inukshuks) while rambling in the high desert of western Colorawdough.

Seabornen

enthusiast photography

BizChair Square

Stop Yearning, Start Earning

Sass and Sauce

A dash of sass, a dollop of sauce!

The Dissatis Faction

An immersive curation of culture for artists and wanderers of the web

A Whispered Wind

The Works of Lori Carlson

A Momma's View

My thoughts about homeschooling, health and fitness, being an expat, kids and just life in general. My personal Lifestyle Blog!

%d bloggers like this: