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PostMagna Carta Tutorial--and an Illustrious Ashby Ancestor (Timothy Ashby, South Africa, 12/07/17 3:12 am)
The Magna Carta was primarily drafted as a peace treaty as civil war was raging in England during 1215 and King John feared being defeated and either exiled or beheaded. (He had also been excommunicated by the Pope and apparently ardently believed that he was doomed to eternal hell fire if he didn't make amends.)
As the rebels held London, the meadow at Runnymede was chosen as neutral ground on which to meet the rebellious barons. Actually, the original document accepted on June 15, 1215 was called "The Articles of the Barons," but this document contained most of the terms that appeared in the actual Great Charter issued four days later. In my opinion, the Magna Carta was the first written constitution in European history and despite its flaws, laid the foundation for parliamentary democracy in England. I visited Runnymede last summer and doubt if it has changed much in 700 years.
In feudal times, property was paramount, and many of the charter's 63 clauses codified property rights of barons and other powerful citizens. So it is true that the benefits of Magna Carta were reserved for the elite classes for some four hundred years during which the majority of English citizens lacked a voice in government. However, in the 17th century two defining acts of English legislation--the Petition of Right (1628) and the Habeas Corpus Act (1679)--referred to Clause 39 of the Magna Carta, which states that "no free man shall be...imprisoned or disseised [dispossessed]... except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land," and to Clause 40 ("To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice"). These acts greatly influenced the framers of the US Constitution, especially the first ten amendments which formed the Bill of Rights.
Regarding the Tower of London--my ancestor Thomas Ashby of Quenby (1340-1416) bribed or otherwise persuaded the local elites in Leicestershire to elect him the county coroner in 1378. In medieval England coroners were Crown officials who held financial powers and conducted some judicial investigations in order to counterbalance the power of the high sheriffs. They also essentially probated estates, which Thomas used to his personal advantage. Unlike Robin Hood in neighboring Nottinghamshire, Thomas Ashby stole from the poor to give to the rich. After many years of complaints made to the King about his bad behavior, Thomas was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the early 15th century. As he was an old man then (by medieval standards) one would have expected him to die in the Tower even if he kept his head attached to his shoulders. However, after about a year of incarceration, he was released (probably through more bribes) and returned to Leicestershire, dying peacefully in his bed.
In his Will he left a bequest to a local monastery so that the monks "in perpetuity" would pray for his (decidedly soiled) soul.
JE comments: Tim Ashby's family tree has the most fascinating boughs, branches, and foliage! WAISers will recall that an Ashby ancestor served on General Washington's staff, and several Virginian forebears fought for the US Confederacy.
I'm not one to boast, but does WAISworld know I'm a direct descendant of Charlemagne? (If you missed it some months ago, we learned that everyone is descended from Charlemagne.)
Ol' Thomas Ashby needed a publicist. He wasn't stealing from the poor. He was actually a "supply-side coroner"!