Did Magna Carta die in vain?

Posted on September 9, 2012

Today’s news of David Cameron’s trouble remembering what Magna Carta means on theLetterman Show inevitably recalls Tony Hancock’s classic “Twelve Angry Men” episode of Hancock’s Half Hour:

With the immortal words:

Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?

Hancock reduced the audience to gales of laughter, and secured yet another entry in the annals of comedy history.

And yet, there’s also something rather sad about that clip, echoing down from 1959. If a prime time comedy show made that gag today, how many people in the audience would laugh and how many would be left scratching their heads over what it meant?

If you go to Runnymede, where Magna Carta was signed – laying the foundation stone of English freedom – you will find a memorial. Its inscription reads

“To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of Freedom Under Law”

But it was not erected by the British public, or by our Parliamentarians, or our legal institutions. It was put there by the American Bar Association who, it seems, value Magna Carta more than we do.

Perhaps Hancock was right – Magna Carta means nothing to us. She died in vain.



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Categories: Opinion, Politics, Westminster


7 Responses

  1. IanVisits:

    I wonder how many people mocking David Cameron are reading Wikipedia today and learning that “the” Magna Carta is actually a collection of different documents and that most of what they enacted has been repealed?

    I wonder how many will learn about the anex document, the Carta de Foresta which arguably had a far greater impact on ordinary peoples lives?

    I’ll never mock people for not knowing about the Magna Carta – it is a fairly confusing bit of history that has developed a level of mythos in English history which it really doesn’t deserve.

    27.09.2012 10:25 Reply

    • Tony Butler:

      Parliament, has no authority to abrogate Magna carta or the Bill of Rights.
      All Monarchs and their governments are bound by the Coronation Oath, sworn by the incoming monarch.
      The Magna Carta – Winston Churchill
      “Here is a law which is above the King and Parliament, and which even He and They must not and may not legally break. And in the event they or anyone else were to try to abrogate it, such attempt at abrogation shall have no force nor effect and can be safely ignored with no legal ill effect. In addition, in the event of successful attempts at abrogation of such liberties, customs, or rights, the King has commanded and do hereby compel any and all subjects to swear oath to join the barons to assail the properties and persons and families of those (saving the King, Queen and the royal children) who had successfully completed such abrogation, including but not limited to that of the individual Members of Parliament who had voted in favour of any such successful attempts at abrogation. This reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general charter is the great work of Magna Carta; and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it.”
      The maggots infesting Parliament, have abrogated our rights and freedoms by allowing the EU power over us – unlawfully.

      01.11.2012 16:50 Reply

      • Rakesh:

        In the British peerage syestm, barons rank below viscounts, and form the lowest rank in the peerage. A female of baronial rank has the honorific baroness. A baron may hold a barony (plural baronies), if the title relates originally to a feudal barony by tenure, although such tenure is now obsolete in England and any such titles are now held in gross, if they survive at all, as very few do, sometimes along with some vestigial manorial rights, or by grand serjeanty.William I introduced baron as a rank into England to distinguish the men who had pledged their loyalty to him (see Feudalism). Previously, in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England, the king’s companions held the title of earls and in Scotland, the title of thane. All who held their barony in chief of the king (that is, directly from William and his successors) became alike barones regis (barons of the king), bound to perform a stipulated service, and welcome to attend his council. Before long, the greatest of the nobles, especially in the marches, such as the Earls of Chester or the Bishops of Durham, might refer to their own tenants as barons , where lesser magnates spoke simply of their men (homines).Initially those who held land direct of the crown by military service, from earls downwards, all alike bore the title of baron, but under Henry II, the Dialogus de Scaccario already distinguished greater (who held in baroniam by knights’ service) or lesser baronies (generally smaller single manors). Within a century of the Norman Conquest, as in Thomas Becket’s case (1164), there arose the practice of sending to each greater baron a special summons to the council that evolved into the House of Lords, while the lesser barons, Magna Carta (1215) stipulated, would receive summons only in general, through the sheriffs. Thus appeared a definite distinction, which eventually had the effect of restricting to the greater barons the rights and privileges of peerage.Later, the sovereign could create a new barony in one of two ways: by a writ of summons directing someone to Parliament, or by letters patent. Writs of summons featured in medieval times, but creation by letters patent has become the norm. Baronies thus no longer directly relate to land ownership, following the Modus Tenendi Parliamenta (1419), the Feudal Tenure Act (1662), and the Fines and Recoveries Act (1834) which enabled such titles to be dis-entailed.In the twentieth century Britain introduced the concept of non-hereditary life peers. All appointees to this distinction have taken place at the rank of baron.In addition, Baronies are often subsidiary titles, thus being used as courtesy titles by the eldest sons of earls.

        08.12.2012 15:55 Reply

  2. lfb:

    There are those who believe, that as Magna Carta was signed before Parliament existed, it cannot be repealed. In 1297, I believe, parliament copied it into statute. It is this statute that has been repealed amended etc not the original contract between the Barons and the Crown.

    27.09.2012 11:18 Reply

  3. Paul Perrin:

    ‘Magna Carta’ is symbolic of the English being, by default, free – only bound by laws restricting freedoms – this contrasts with Continentals who are by default bound, only free to do what the law specifically permits them to do.

    That is the thing that is essential to know, and a precious right/principle that we must never surrender.

    27.09.2012 13:05 Reply

    • Furor Teutonicus:

      XX this contrasts with Continentals who are by default bound, only free to do what the law specifically permits them to do.XX

      Rubbish! Think of the impossibility of running such a legal system

      I cross the road and step off with my left foot first. Can I therfore be arrested, because the “law does not say you can do that”?

      Why is the most seen sign in Germany “XYZ’ VERBOTTEN”. If your theory was true, it would be “XYZ’ ERLAUBT.” ?

      Art: 2 I GG. (Grundgesetz) “Jeder kann tun und lassen was er will.
      ” Each person can do, and let be done, what he wishes, UNLESS it is against the law”.

      Art 104 GG. “Danach kann die Freiheit der Person nur aufgrund eines förmlichenGesetzes und nur unter Beachtung der darin vorgeschriebenen Formen beschränkt werden.”
      The freedom of the person can only be taken away through a formal law, and under the conditions set out under that law.” (It has been found by appeal, that in this case “freedom from arrest” can also be taken to mean any legal penalty. So, NO one may be arrested, or be penalised for any act, or ommission, for which there is no law.)

      Now, what was that rubbish you were spouting again?

      28.09.2012 08:36 Reply

  4. Therealguyfaux:

    Weeks late, I find this video, and now you’re set me to thinking– did Tony Hancock know Alfred Molina’s mum, by any chance? Not sayin’, just sayin’…Sorta like Hugh Laurie and Owen Jones’s mum, too…

    18.10.2012 18:23 Reply

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