The British Library is bringing together all four existing versions of that great document but, it seems, only for one day. There is a ballot for 1,215 people "to be part of history" and to take advantage of "the unique opportunity to see all four Magna Carta documents at the British Library in London". Despite those words I considered taking part in the ballot but abandoned that idea when I read about the circus I would have to submit to, should I win (an unlikely event but one must consider all possibilities.
On arrival, winners will be welcomed to the British Library by historian and TV presenter Dan Jones, who will explain the history and significance of Magna Carta. To the sound of live medieval music in the British Library’s entrance hall, winners will then be taken by costumed characters from the 13th century to view the four original Magna Carta manuscripts on display together for the first time.One can only hope that there will be other exhibitions and events without the faux mediaeval atmosphere.
In the meantime, this blog will indulge in some random thoughts on the subject of the Great Charter and related events. The first random thought came to me as I considered other countries in which similar documents were produced, one of them, Hungary, then a great kingdom, where the magnates forced King Andrew II to sign The Golden Bull in 1222. (Here is a somewhat more romantic view of the event that reminds one of many a comment about the Magna Carta.) The notion of The Golden Bull being Hungary's Magna Carta is not particularly odd as anyone who compares the Articles of the two documents can see. Of course, what with the Mongol invasion, subsequent wars and the Ottoman occupation, Hungary's history turned out to be somewhat different from England's though even the latter saw the imposition of authoritarian government under the Tudors as well as a civil war or two. Here is what the historian László Kontler says on the subject in his carefully argued book, A History of Hungary.
In 1222, the country-wide movement of the servientes compelled Andrew II to issue the famous Golden Bull, sometimes mentioned as a counterpart of the English Magna Carta of 1215. Most of its thirty articles concerned the encroachment of the king and his barons and the unlawfulness of these as well as the alienation of large royal estates, but the ones most important for posterity decreed the uniform rights and privileges of the nobility: the exemption from taxes and from quartering troops, from the jurisdiction of others than the king and thepalatine, the freedom of the servientes from harassment by the barons, the requirement of a legal warrant to detain them, etc. An additional clause invested the secular and ecclesiastical lords with a right of resistance in case the aforementioned were violated by the king; a clause rarely invoked during the rest of the Middle Ages, but all the more often during the long period of Hungary's association with the House of Habsburg. However much of a mere plot the movement of the servientes, and however rudimentary the Golden Bull was, these were the beginnings of a process in which the idea of communitas regni became influential in Hungary and an estates based parliamentarianism developed, and groups outside the royal council had access to policy-making (for the first time at the assembly of 1277).Clearly, a few explanations are needed. Who were the servitas, for instance? Back to László Kontler's book:
Of the many opposition movements [to Andrew II] the most important was that of the so-called royal servientes. "Servants" by name, they were in fact the freest agents in a society where even the relatively independent jobbágy warriors were high-placed subjects within the manorial system; the servientes themselvese were landlords, small or great, and possessed subjects, few or many, and called themselvess "servants of the king" because it was only to the king that they owed service and obedience - not as their landlord but as the ruler of the country.The concepts and ideas are not unfamiliar to those who know English mediaeval history and neither is that of communitas regni: as this dictionary of mediaeval legal terms explains it is "the Community of the Realm; the general representation of the nation in Parliament".
There were some differences, obviously, one of which was the murder of Queen Gertrude, Andrew II's German wife who had brought with her, as was usual, large numbers of courtiers and relatives, whose influence and privileges were resented by the Magyar nobility of whatever status. This story is told (somewhat romantically and patriotically) in József Katona's play Bánk bán (1819) that was performed at the National Theatre on March 15,1848 and in the opera by Ferenc Erkel (1861) that was performed in the Opera House on a crucial day in 1956. The opera has a very fine patriotic aria sung by Bánk bán himself.
None of this aims to diminish the importance of Magna Carta. Indeed, it is possible, as Wikipedia says, that "[i]t may even have been inspired by Magna Carta, as its greatest supporters met with exiled Magna Carta leaders such as Robert Fitzwalter during the Fifth Crusade". And that would make the influence of the Great Charter even more obvious.