“Hi there and welcome to episode 149 of ‘The Writing Guy’ podcast. We’re getting there, aren’t we, wherever ‘there’ is! I’m Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals to find their voice, write Human and get the results they want from the words they write.
Today is the 15th of June. This morning, thinking about what I was going to do for today’s podcast, I was drawing a bit of a blank — until I looked in my On This Day book, an almanac of word events — of world events (or maybe word events as well). And of course today is a very significant day in the history of the British Isles, particularly England and English history.
Let me give you a clue. I’m going to read something to you. It’s in Latin.
So forgive my Latin pronunciation. It’s very short and then, don’t worry, don’t switch off or switch away or whatever, ‘cos I’m going to give you the translation, but you need to guess why on earth am I reading to you a sentence in Latin, and then obviously it will be A Grand Reveal. The opening clause of this important historical document (Hint! Hint!) reads as follows:
Johannes del gracia rex Anglie, dominus Hibernie, dux Normannie, Aquitannie et comes Andegavie, archiepiscopis, episcopis, abbatibus, comitibus, baronibus, justiciariis, forestariis, vicecomitibus, prepositis, ministris et omnibus ballivis et fidelibus suis salutem.
And here’s yet another clue, in the translation:
John, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Normandy in Aquitaine, and count of Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and all his bailiffs and faithful subjects, greeting.
What do the words mean?
Any guesses to what this hugely significant document was? It is of course Magna Carta, on which on this day, June the 15th — on the banks of the River Thames near Windsor in a meadow called Runnymede — June the 15th 2015, King John I of England, affixed his royal wax seal. The document’s full name was Magna Carta Libertatum, mediaeval Latin for ‘Great Charter of Freedoms’, commonly called Magna Carta, drafted by somebody called Stephen Langton, the then Archbishop of Canterbury.
And the purpose of this document was to make peace between unpopular King John, you know, often referred to as Wicked or Evil, Nasty King John, and a group of rebel barons. It promised the protection of church rights, to keep the church free. It promised to protect the Barons from illegal imprisonment, give them access to swift justice and put limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons. Now, as history would later show, neither side actually stood behind their commitments, and the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, leading to the First Barons War (1216-1217). And then it got reissued by his young son, Henry III in 1216, but my understanding is it got watered down.
But at the end of the First Barons War in 1217, it formed past part of the Lambeth peace treaty. And, you know, as the fledgling English parliament passed new laws it lost a lot of its practical significance. Interestingly (and rather sort of amusingly) it really wasn’t about the Barons being altruistic and selfless and wanting to protect the common man. It was really about protecting themselves. It was baronial self-protection. I don’t think they really gave two figs about the common man in the street or the villein in the fields! It was really about protecting them.
Nonetheless, it’s regarded by many — I’m just looking in Wikipedia as to what Lord Denning said, the famous Lord Denning, English lawyer and judge, who described Magna Carta as ‘the greatest constitutional document of all time…the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot’. [Some elevated, 21-gun-salute language from the great man, there! Ed.]
There are four copies in existence: two in the British Library, one at Lincoln Castle and one at Salisbury Cathedral. And I was there or near there the other day when I visited Stonehenge, which I’ve spoken about.
What’s the relevance for us as writers?
Obviously we’re — I was gonna say we’re not writing in Latin, unless we’re drafting very archaic kind of constitutional law, as a sort of constitutional lawyer, but even then I would imagine that it’s pretty archaic — nonetheless, it shows that, in order to create and then preserve freedoms, things need to be written down. The written word is a much more permanent record of what was agreed between two disputing parties obviously than the spoken word. Yet, despite that, as I mentioned, history has shown even that wasn’t really enough to hold both parties to their commitments, But it did serve as a model and as an inspiration to other fledgling democracies, notably the US, the founding fathers of the American Declaration of Independence, as I understand it.
Where would we be without the written word?
It’s likely that we would still be running around as hunter-gatherers, eating each other and beating each other up and killing each other. So for me, the written word is probably man’s greatest invention, and the invention that has most promoted modern civilization.
So let’s leave it there for now. And if any of you Latin scholars out there would like to correct my pronunciation, you know where to find me.
Thanks for listening and I’ll see you tomorrow for episode 150, a bit of a landmark. Thanks for listening. Bye now.”
If you’d like to take your writing to the next level of quality, impact and results, let’s jump on a call and have a chat. You can book your slot here: https://calendly.com/scottkeyser91/
Transcribed by https://otter.ai