Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty Review

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The Magna Carta is an engrossing book that takes you back to the year 1215. It lays out the events that led to its creation perfectly that you feel like you’ve just hopped into a DeLorean and time traveled to that era. It also makes a distinction between Magna Carta (the legend) and Margna Carta (the truth). The document that nearly ended Plantagenet rule, has inspired some of the best known figures in later century, but at the core of the document is a complex story of rebellious sons, rebellious barons, autocratic and greedy kings –all of which are forgotten in favor of the legend. On the one hand there is John, who was no different from his Plantagenet predecessors (his father and brother) but who didn’t inspire the loyalty that they did and whose only survival of the dynasty was through men William Marshall who were renowned by their valor and loyalty to the crown. On the other hand, a lot of the grievances that were presented against John when he was forced to recognize the Magna Carta (previously the Unknown Charter) were the result of decades of held-back anger at his predecessors whom they thought were stepping out of line when they interfered with Church business, or in Richard’s case, raised taxes to fund his Crusade. John continued a lot of these policies, but he went a step further, angering them (and the Church) even more, and failing to keep a lot of the French territories he had inherited from his parents’ union. To make matters worse, John turned his back on the barons, not long after he had agreed to recognize the Magna Carta, and it was only through his heirs, agreeing to these reforms that England went back to Plantagenet rule.

It is a good book for Plantagenet and history buffs alike. 800 years since its creation, it continues to be one of the most important documents in history. The articles of the Magna Carta are relevant to our society because they have inspired some of the most revered documents in our nation’s history, and inspired many leaders who fought for freedom. But the Magna Carta as a whole never intended to be a charter that gave a voice to poor people or the other disenfranchised communities at the time of its creation, it was merely a way to restrict the King from taxing his people (unless he gave something in exchange, like creating programs that would create more revenue for his barons). Nonetheless, it is still important because of what it ultimately represents: rebellion, restriction on the head of government and negotiation. The King could levy taxes so as long as he gave something in return, or did something for the people (which in Magna Carta’s terms exclusively meant the nobles and other ‘free men’). Most of it, no longer matters because we have moved away from those times, and opted for more progressive laws; but it continues to have a hold on people who see as the hallmark of Western society.

“As time goes by, the Magna Carta’s name will undoubtedly continue to be hitched to causes both noble and absurd.”

It certainly will, and that is what makes it all the more interesting.

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