Lecture notes from prison (I)

Some of Manu’s lectures for his students in Aiud prison survived. Few of them had been written on soles or soap bars and taken out from prison. Most of them were preserved in people’s memory.

Irrespective of their background, political prisoners had a strong interest in learning English. This is why some of Manu’s lectures were given in English. Subjects cover a broad range: history of France, England and USA, English literature, history of geographical discoveries.

The following posts will give several examples of these lecture notes collected by Gheorghe Jijie in George Manu – a Monograph.

The Magna Charta Libertatum

The Magna Charta was signed at Runnymede on June 19, 1215 by King John the Landless, at the Barons’ request.

The Magna Charta was the first form of an English Constitution. For the first time, the rights and the privileges of the barons, of the Church and of the freemen were put in writing, limiting thus the powers of the King. The Charta is considered as a regulator of the public life in a moment when the incipient forms of the political life were crystallizing in the history of England.

Four copies of the historical text were preserved, out of which two are originals: one (without royal seal) in the cathedral of Salisbury, the second (and the best preserved) in the cathedral of Lincoln, and two can be admired at the British Museum.

The Magna Charta, through its 63 clauses, was only a reconfirmation of the feudal contract between the sovereign and its vassals. The King, by brutally breaking it (through arbitrary taxation, confiscation of certain properties and annulment of certain feudal privileges) justified the Barons’ rebellion, also supported by the Church (itself in possession of a large piece of land) and by categories of the free population.

The Magna Charta represented a temporary victory of the peripheral powers against the central one (and from this point of view it was a regress) but also a break from the narrow frame of the feudal contract through the alliance the Barons made with the free citizens of towns, especially the Londoners (and from this point of view it meant a progress). Its importance varied in time. The clause regarding the freedom and the integrity of the persona of the free-men – at first sight an act of great justice – sanctioned the large number of villains, through a decrease in time of this category of the population.

This clause will gain in practical significance, and as a proof we have the fact that starting with the reign of Henry II, all monarchs reinstated the principles of the Magna Charta. Within ten years, the Magna Charta was promulgated three times: in 1216 and in 1217 (with major changes favoring the crown) and again in 1225 (when it was cut with a third). Until 1416 it had already been reconfirmed 50 times.

With the fall of feudalism, at the end of the War of the Roses, and also due to a tight link between the Crown and the bourgeoisie under the Tudors, Magna Charta became obsolete and probably ignored.

It is significant that in his “King John”, Shakespeare does not mention it. But during the conflict with the Stuarts, the Parliament rediscovered it.

For centuries in a row, it was erroneously considered the foundation of the democratic liberties in the history of the island. It was only during the 20th century that the historians interpreted it in its real light – as a juridical feudal document, through which the Barons could invoke a collective “diffidatio” had the sovereign broken the feudal contract.

We could not put an end to this brief presentation of the juridical system during the XI – XIII centuries without mentioning the legal procedures concerning women and Jews.

Feudalism limited the liberty of women, by making right to possess property dependent on the military service. Furthermore, both the civil and the church regulations specified the dependency of women to men, the former having to obey in all circumstances, otherwise threatened with physical punishments.

As far as the Jews were concerned, the first communities settled under William I, mostly in Winchester, being under the protection of the Crown, offering in exchange large amounts of money under their assumed role of moneylenders. The money was obtained from all the well-to-do social categories, at exorbitant interests. This way the Crown exerted a double financial exploitation, a direct one through Persian on the Jewish moneylenders and an indirect one on the population. The anti-Semite feelings of the towns-people, born under these circumstances, were exacerbated during the Crusades. Under the rule of Richard I pogroms took place, under the accusation of ritual crimes in York, Lincoln, Stanford. In 1290, under the rule of Edward I the Jews were expelled from the country.

 

 

 

 

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