Friday, March 13, 2015

Magna Carta Exhibition Celebrates 800 Years - London at the British Library

A copy of the 1297 version of the
Magna Carta.
The "Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy" has just opened at the British Library in London. It is the largest-ever exhibition about Magna Carta, open until September 1.

Celebrate the 800th anniversary of the document sealed June 15, 1215 at Runnymede. Find out why this agreement between King John and 40 rebel barons - despite its failure as a peace-making document - has had such influence and how it is reinterpreted in today's global context.

Magna Carta has evolved from a political peace treaty to an international symbol of individual freedoms. FDR in his Inaugural Address in the fateful year 1941 said:
The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history ... It was written in Magna Carta.
Although Magna Carta's nullification failed to resolve the conflict between King John and his barons, it was reissued several times after his death. It has come to symbolize democracy and human rights.

Lord Denning, an Oxford-educated lawyer who became Britain's best-known judge of the 20th century, has called Magna Carta
the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.
Its precedent has been used - and abused often.  Most famously, it has been invoked to assert the primacy of Parliament against the King and of colonies against British royal power.

The American Bill of Rights, added to the U.S. Constitution
 in the form of Amendments.
Charles I, in particular, was fearful of the Magna Carta's use in the questioning by Roundheads of his divine right to rule Britain.

However, Oliver Cromwell in fact professed not to care about Magna Carta - he called the document "Magna Farta".

He asserted instead the primacy of Parliament by creating a New Model Army, defeating the King's troops and cutting off Charles I's head.

Astonishingly, no British monarch since Charles I  has relied exclusively on the divine right to rule in responding to Parliamentary restraints on the Crown.

The exhibit includes two of the four 1297 versions of the Magna Carta (all four were displayed for one day, February 3 at the British Library).

The influence of Magna Carta on the American colonies in the creation of their Constitution is one of the ways that it can claim importance. The exhibition includes Jefferson’s copy of the Declaration of Independence and one of the original copies of the Bill of Rights, the Amendments to the Constitution added by the Congress sitting in New York City.

101 Years Ago - The Continuing Relevance of Magna Carta
The original Magna Carta, although drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, was nullified within three months by Pope Innocent III , whose papacy lasted from 1198 to 1216. He was the most powerful of the medieval popes.

The Pope's nullification of Magna Carta, which created the very civil war in England that it was created to avert, can be seen as of a piece with Innocent III's  disastrous crusades and inquisitions.

He was infatuated with his self-perceived role the middleman between God and all of the world's Christian monarchs.

His crusades were highlighted by the drunken slaughter by crusaders of their fellow Christians in Constantinople in 1204, making permanent the tragic schism between Eastern and Western Christian churches.

St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic gained adherents during Innocent III's papacy, advocating a different way. Note that Innocent III himself was never sainted and that the current Pope has taken the name of St. Francis, suggesting that history has not taken kindly to Innocent III.

The exhibition of the named documents is accompanied by relevant paintings, maps, statues and royal relics. Take part in the conversation at #MagnaCarta. Book here now to schedule a visit.