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Len Biddlecombe pens a piece for Magna Carta celebrations


The Magna Carta.

Anniversaries are important so remember them each year
Some of them are sorrowful, some of them are dear.
We all celebrate our birthdays they make us feel so glad
Remembering the years gone by and all the fun we’ve had.
Wedding anniversaries recalling years with pride,
Others bring back sadness on dates a loved one died.
We all celebrate at Christmas with gifts we like to get,
Remembrance day in November we never must forget,
Every year we have our thoughts when this day arrives
Of all the many thousands who sadly lost their lives.

Going back in history to the thirteenth century
There’s one important date or so it seems to me
Often it’s forgotten which sadly seems a shame
Perhaps the pace of modern life should really take the blame.
King Henry the second ruled our land from 1154,
He was one of our greatest Kings for thirty-five years or more.
Restoring order after anarchy, slowly settling the country down
Introducing many legal reforms after Stephen usurped the crown.
He quarrelled with the Church which brought about his downfall
When Thomas a Becket was murdered the clergy led the call
For a rebellion here in England where he had to stand alone
Subsequently defeated, his son came to the throne.
Known as Richard the Lionheart but alas his reign was brief
Killed in bloody battle his brother John was his relief.
He began his reign disastrously when he lost a war with France
Then lost all rights to Normandy he didn’t have a chance.
Following a quarrel that he forced upon the Pope
The Barons then deserted him leaving very little hope.
Unless he got them on his side by agreeing to a charter
Detailed and very lengthy which was called the ‘Magna Carta.’
It was duly signed in Surrey at a place called Runnymede.
In the history of our country, it was to be a vital deed
But what exactly did it contain that made it of great consequence,
John knew he had to regain the Barons support so it made good sense.

There were all of 63 clauses of liberties, rights and more
Though to this day there are just three that remain in English law.
The most important says that no free man shall ever lose the right,
To be imprisoned or lose possessions without a legal fight,
A fair trial in a court of peers with justice for his crime
A clause that exists till this day having stood the test of time.
This applied both to the King and to the Barons too
And all men in our country whatever they may do.
Others that were included were about ownership of land,
The regulation of the Justice system for all to understand.
The medieval taxes that no longer exist today,
Removal of certain fish weirs in the Thames and river Medway,
Dismissal of some royal servants to be made in a way that’s fair,
The standardisation of weights and measures dealt with every care,
No taxes could be demanded without the general consent
Of the Barons and the churchmen who needed to be content,
The re-establishment of privileges that were previously lost,
Offences to be governed to ensure the fines would cost
An amount the offender could afford to pay without losing his livelihood
And a widow should not be made to re-marry unless she felt she should.
It also promised the protection of church rights justly meant
And the Barons must be protected from illegal imprisonment.
The Barons were a group of men, the Government of the day
Led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, determined to have their way
This satisfied the Barons and they restored their peace with John
It was a clever move by the king which allowed him to carry on.
This all happened on the 15th of June 1215 was the year
John was safely back in power to rule on without fear.
The Magna Carta took its place in history it would stand
As a statement of civil liberties, laws and customs of our land.
Unfortunately, John could not rest, further conflict was soon made
Once more against the Barons who asked Louis of France for aid.
John lost his life at Newark in Nottinghamshire during 1216,
Although famous for the Magna Carta how sad his reign had been.
Many copies of the document were issued in the Kingdom so they say
But alas only four copies survived and can be seen today.

Two at the British library one at Cathedrals at Lincoln and Salisbury
Show that most of its contents no longer apply and are now just history.
Three clauses still remain which will make absolutely sure
That crimes and their punishments will be fair in English law.
Henry the third succeeded him and history has told
That he was just a minor being only nine years old!
The land was ruled by William Marshall and Hubert de Burgh, a sage
Until the year 1227 when the young King Henry finally came of age.
He reigned for all of fifty-six years and they say he always planned
To bring in many foreigners to help him run the land.
In 1258, the Barons forced him to hand over his control
They became the Government and sadly he lost his role.
A little later war broke out and Henry suffered grave defeat
He was to be imprisoned and his downfall was complete,
But his son Edward turned the tables at the eleventh hour
And during the rest of Henry’s reign Edward was the power.
He upheld the Magna Carta and it’s very true to say
It became a most important document, the forerunner of law today.
So let’s uphold the memory of something that’s stood the test of time
It’s the backbone of our legal system, justice for every crime
This charter of rights and privileges that everyone should know
Outlined the path of freedom eight hundred years ago.

© Len Biddlecombe 2015

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