This year we celebrate the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta and celebrate we must, not only because of its historical significance but also because we have a local connection.
One of the 25 Barons who was a party to the Great Charter was Roger de Montbegon of Hornby Castle.
Roger was one of the hardline opponents to King John, known to contemporaries as “the Northerners”. He was one of the first Barons to resist payment to the King of taxes in lieu of military service, a kind of test case for the extent of the right of the Sovereign to exercise authority over the people.
It was this battle of wills between the King and the Barons which led to the sealing of the legal document - the Great Charter of Liberties - which was intended to set out and in effect curtail the power of the King representing the Nation State over the Barons representing the people. The Magna Carta is now recognised as the foundation of the fundamental civil liberties enjoyed by democratic nations across the world.
However, reading the Magna Carta is a shock in terms of the less noble aspects of what it says. A stark reminder of the position of women in medieval England is that one clause makes clear that “at her husband’s death a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once” which is reassuring but then “she may remain in her husband’s house for 40 days after his death”, which is not so reassuring.
But bringing 21st Century sensibilities to a 12th Century document aside, the building blocks of civilised society are in there:
“In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses as to the truthful it” and “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice” are cornerstones of our human rights and why the Magna Carta is revered as the document which first gave constitutional clout to the truth that freedom is secured under the rule of law and no one is above the law.
Hurrah to that and hurrah that Roger from Hornby - an awkward Northerner - was instrumental in bringing it about.