Friday, June 14, 2013

Magna Carta Day, Delaware Separation Day, and Smile Power Day

On June 15, 1215, in the meadow at Runnymede, King John of England put his royal seal on Magna Carta, revered in history as the "Great Charter" of English liberties.

But this is sugar-coated history.

Actually, it was more of a charter of the liberties of England's nobility... a peace treaty, really, because the English barons had Johnny over a barrel.

Yes, this is the same King John who was the evil prince in all the Robin Hood stories -- and he didn't improve after the end credits rolled on the Errol Flynn or even the Mel Brooks movies. Richard the Lion Heart left John with all of England and most of France in 1199 -- but John lost nearly all of France (including Normandy) in a series of wars, skirmishes and feudal missteps, leaving him with the disparaging nickname "John Lackland." In the process of squandering his inheritance, John taxed his English barons into open revolt.

John lost this war, too, and Magna Carta, all 63 provisions (in Latin, of course) was the result. Only three of these provisions remain enshrined in English law today, according to the Salisbury Cathedral website (the Cathedral has one of the four remaining copies of the original 1215 document) but this one is important:
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled. Nor will we proceed with force against him except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
Of course, John had his fingers crossed when he signed the document and he broke faith with the barons about the same time he broke camp.

Fortunately, John managed to die about a year later and a Readers' Digest condensed version of Magna Carta (missing 25 of the original 63 clauses) was soon reproclaimed in the name of his 9-year old son, Henry III.

Meanwhile, the King of France invaded England (with the connivance of a good many barons who'd been fighting John) and conquered a good chunk of the country before losing interest. Whereupon Magna Carta was again reissued, in 1217, with still more editing, and again in 1225, after Henry III managed to survive to adulthood. (One of the documents from 1217 is at England's Hereford Cathedral; some of the chronology referred to in this post, as well as the illustration at the top, comes from this linked site.) Magna Carta did not officially become a part of the laws of England in 1297 when an edition was reissued by Edward I (in exchange, of course, for a tax increase).

But, the bottom line is that none of this might have happened if King John had been less of an incompetent.

So Saturday, lift your glasses high and toast the incompetence of our leaders -- the source of our cherished liberties.

Although that sounds wrong somehow, doesn't it?

Saturday may also be considered Separation Day, commemorating that day in 1776 when Delaware proclaimed itself an independent state, repudiating at one stroke both Pennsylvania (of which it had been part) and another of King John's successors, George III. From the liked website:
On June 15th 1776, the State of Delaware was born. Until that time, Delaware had been a part of Pennsylvania which was then called "The Assembly of the Lower Counties of Pennsylvania." * * * Delaware was never recognized by the British Crown as a separate colony from Pennsylvania. Those "Lower Counties" which would become the State of Delaware, had forced a separation from the “Upper Counties” (those situated around Philadelphia) in 1704 by threatening to petition Maryland to reclaim the land that the "Lower Counties" occupied. The land had originally been part of Maryland but William Penn's colonial charter assured him that land based on the surveying of the Mason-Dixon line. Pennsylvania reluctantly agreed to allow the Lower Counties to govern themselves with their own Assembly but the two Assemblies shared a Governor.
Of course, the linked site also says that folks in Delaware choose to celebrate Separation Day on the 2nd Saturday of June -- making us a week late on this one. Nevertheless, since Saturday is the actual anniversary, we think it is probably alright to celebrate Separation Day on June 15 no matter what they do in Delaware.

If you don't agree (or if you're in Delaware) you can celebrate Smile Power Day on Saturday instead. Plaster a stupid smile on your face as you wander around in public on Saturday -- and watch as young mothers clutch their children more tightly in your presence while others cross the street to keep away from you. Or, possibly, if you can muster it, favor those you meet with a sincere smile -- and see if it's contagious.

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