Thursday, 29 January 2015

Writing - Magna Carta and society.

This week a new, left wing party has won the Greek elections and formed a government with a far right party. The campaigning towards the General Election in the UK is well under way with the main parties tied with a predicted 36/37% of the vote each. The smaller parties having less representation but in total they will make up a significant minority and probably hold a balance of power in a hung parliament. Much of this uncertainty is as a result of the political classes becoming more divorced from the lives of ordinary people.

This is not a symptom that resides exclusively with the UK

In 1215 King John signed the Magna Carta on the banks of the River Thames at Runnymede under some pressure from the rebellious barons.
It was these 100 or so earls and barons that dominated a very unequal society. The Magna Carta was a very aggressive document that sought to discriminate against unfree peasants and women, and gave less to towns and knights than they might have hoped.

Even London was discriminated against along with other towns although they felt they deserved better. This was deliberate because the King levied tallage, a form of arbitrary tax levelled against towns, and the barons were worried that if they limited the king's right to tallage then their own similar rights would be affected. Knights were of a lower rank than the barons and often administered the barons lands and people. When it came to discriminating against the unfree peasants on whose labours their wealth depended, the barons and knights were ruthlessly united.

The bottom line is much the same today but instead of earls and barons we have large corporations and an elite sprung from a privileged education system, which is usually unavailable to the ordinary people because of cost. There are variations on this form of rule across the world and although the names may be different the outcome is the same.

I will include more information on this subject in my next blog but at this stage it is worth remarking about the value of such history to today's writer. Given that it would be a historical novel that was created the history concerning the Magna Carta and the description of life 800 years ago is a rich resource. Hilary Mantel took the history surrounding a man at Henry VIII's court and created her two awarding winning stories, Wolf Hall and 'Bring up the Bodies'.
In her books she took the historical facts and hung 'life' on the characters producing a version of the relationships and life at court almost five hundred years ago.
To do the same with the Magna Carta would be an equally hard task in researching into a past three hundred years earlier, but as a writer used to working on relationships not impossible. It would be a challenge.

God Bless