Archive for the ‘13th Century’ Category

July and rights: a Pennsylvania pursuit?

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

July 4. July 14. These two dates mark July as an essential month in the history of human rights.

Equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Year-around Celebrating Independence, 2009, New York State

It all started in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776. Or did it?

Obviously, the Declaration of Independence did not happen overnight. The quest for independence in the British colonies started in the 1770’s, inspired by principles proclaimed in England at the end of the 17th century.

Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson - the last two later to become Presidents of the new United States of America - , are some of the important players in the fight the American Colonies led for their independence from the British rule .

Initially, the American colonists were asking to be granted the rights of Englishmen by the British Crown.  In 1774, in A Summary View of the Rights of British America, Jefferson explains:

These are our grievances, which we have thus laid before his Majesty, with that freedom of language and sentiment which becomes a free people claiming their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their Chief Magistrate. (Jefferson, 1774, in Koch et Peden, 1944 : 310)

Soon, beyond the rights of Englishmen, the colonists will be fighting for independence. In Common Sense, the first edition of which is published in Philadelphia in January 1776, Thomas Paine called… for the creation of a republican government – based entirely on the representation of the people – in a newly independent America, and a written constitution guaranteeing the rights of persons and property and establishing freedom of religion… Paine transformed the struggle over the rights of Englishmen into a contest with a meaning for all mankind. (Foner, 1984 : 10)

Himself an Englishman, and a friend of Benjamin Franklin, Paine had recently migrated to the colonies. Common Sense poignantly pleads for a free America, independent from the tyrannic rule to which it is then submitted. O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind. (Paine, 1776 : Chapter V)

A free America will obey the rule of law. But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King. (Paine, 1768 : Chapter V)

Remembering Revolutionary Soldiers, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Remembering Revolutionary Soldiers, Sleepy Hollow, NY

And independence will affect future generations. The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth. ‘Tis not the affair of a city, a country, a province, or a kingdom, but of a continent of at least one eighth part of the habitable globe. ‘Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected, even to the end of time, by the proceedings now.

The same year, on 12 June 1776, the Virginia Constitutional Convention adopts the Virginia Bill of Rights, drafted by George Mason.

A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free convention which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government. (Virginia Bill of Rights, 1776)

Section 1 proclaims freedom and independence.

Section 1. That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. (Virginia Bill of Rights, 1776)

While the right to property is one of the first to be claimed, the right to justice, derived from Habeas Corpus is not mentioned until Section 8.

Section 8. That in all capital or criminal prosecutions a man has a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of twelve men of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty; nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself

And then comes freedom of the press.

Section 12. That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.

The Virginia Bill of Rights also recalls core values and principles:

Section 15. That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

Rights however are not granted to all citizens, but to the rich planters. This Virginia document was deeply conservative, keeping power in the hands of the planter oligarchy that had dominated Virginia for a century and a half and upholding the status quo. Mason’s declaration retained the property-owning qualification for voting, keeping power in the hands of fewer than one percent of the population. (Randall, 1993 : 268)

July, 4 2009, Poconos, Pennsylvania

July, 4 2009, Poconos, Pennsylvania

Meanwhile, 56 delegates, representing the 13 colonies are meeting in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of the seven delegates from Virginia, Thomas Jefferson is asked to prepare the first draft of a Declaration of Independence. Between 11 and 28 June, Jefferson summarizes ideals expressed by John Locke and others: the first part of the draft is strongly influenced by the Virginia text. This draft is reviewed by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.

On 2 July, the Continental Congress begins its review of the text, which is finally adopted in the late morning of July 4, less than a month after the Virginia Bill of Rights. Delegates unanimously proclaim their independence from the British Crown.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. »

While for the Virginia Bill of Rights men are free and independent by nature, the Declaration of Independence recognizes these inalienable rights as given to them by their Creator. Some claim that the first Jefferson draft read We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable and that Benjamin Franklin suggested to replace the words sacred and undeniable by the words self-evident.

The Declaration of Independence does not define rights as precisely as the Virginia Bill of Rights does. Neither did it have to. With indepence proclaimed, the Virginia Bill of Rights served as a model for similar Bills of Rights, which were promptly adopted by the other colonies. The Virginia text also formed the basis of the 1789 American Bill of Rights.

Don’t forget the ladies

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Women watching a march of the Ligue, Paris, 16th Century

Women watching a march of the Ligue, Paris, 16th Century

And what about women’s rights or the human rights of women? International Women’s Day is this week, an invitation to reflect on the rights of women.

Well, since my last post was about the Magna Carta, maybe we can start our quick overview right there.

Women are indeed mentioned, sometimes en passant, as in the article specifying the three exceptional reasons that would authorize the imposition of an aid, one of which being when the King would marry his eldest daughter.

As a matter of fact, it is mainly in relation to the issue of marriage that women are mentioned in early texts dealing with human rights. This is the area where they are allowed, or not - most frequently not -, to exert some level of free will.

The Magna Carta is no exception. Article 8 - we have seen this reflects a strong preoccupation for the subject - rules:

8. No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she prefers to live without a husband; provided always that she gives security not to marry without our consent if she holds of us, or without the consent of the lord of whom she holds, if she holds of another.

If women therefore have some limited level of freedom when it comes to marriage, their words has little legal value, as evidenced by Article 54

54. No one shall be arrested or imprisoned upon the appeal of a woman, for the death of any other than her husband.

The age of discovery and Renaissance in Europe allow women to play more important roles. Not all women, but some really powerful women make their mark, a position of power that is frequently the result of their marriage. Marriage is a way to secure alliances, end conflicts, acquire land, protect inheritance, and women are given little choice as to who their husbands - sometimes two or three, as life expectancy is rather short then -  will be.

The discovery of America, and the Reconquista over the Alhambra are associated to Isabella, Queen of Castille. It is in her own right, but together with her husband, King of Aragon, that Queen Isabella allows Christopher Columbus to set on his expedition, and it is in the name of the two Catholic Sovereigns that the Alhambra is conquered. Both events happened in 1492.

It is also in 1492 that Marguerite de Navarre was born, in Angouleme, the daughter of a 15-year old Louise de Savoie who became a widow at 19, after having given birth to a son, Francis, later Francis I, King of France. By decree of French King Louis XII, the highly educated Marguerite is forced to marry a practically illiterate Charles of Alencon, to ensure that the county of Armagnac stays in the family.

After his death, she remarries the King of Navarre, and as sister to the King of France, Marguerite de Navarre became the most influential woman in France. She had her own salon, corresponded with scholars, such as Erasmus, and wrote poems, plays and stories.

Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre

Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

Her most famous work is the Heptameron, but the one that caused her the most trouble was Miroir de l’âme pécheresse, which was condemned by the conservative Sorbonne as heretic. This, she wrote in 1531 shortly after the death of her infant son, the only son she had at the then advanced age of 38.

Her daughter Jeanne d’Albret is married against her will at 13. The story goes that she had to be bodily carried to the altar. After four years, the marriage is annulled and she later remarried Antoine de Bourbon. As Queen of Navarre, she declares Calvinism the official religion of Navarre. Her son, King Henry III of Navarre, later to become King of France as Henry IV,  married another Marguerite, Marguerite de Valois, sister to three kings of France. It is on the occasion of their wedding, that a large number of Protestants who had came to Paris were murdered during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, on 24 August 1572, along with several other thousand Protestants in Paris and throughout the country.

While these women, as daughters or sisters of kings, benefited from excellent education, they enjoyed limited freedom, being made to marry in the interest of the kingdom. Marguerite de Valois is featured in Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 novel, named after her, Queen Margot.

At some point in the novel, Queen Marguerite agrees with her mother, Queen Catherine de Medici, about how fortunate men are to be free to run, while women have to stay in the palace and wait. She then explains that it is not her personal fate she is so concerned about, but more the general condition of women.

This would seem to be more of a 19th century comment, attributed to a 16th century woman, similarly to the transposition I described with Rozema’s adaptation of Mansfield Park.

It is difficult to know what the feelings of women were at the time, as the writings of female authors, such as Marguerite de Navarre reflect the feelings of exceptional women, exceptional in the sense of their fortune and education, at a time when education was for the most part reserved to men, although Renaissance certainly brought a change to this.

These exceptional women evolved in a limited circle, frequently related through the marriages arranged between member of the royal families of Europe. Queen Claude de France, Marguerite de Navarre’s sister in law is another example. The daughter of Louis XII of France and Anne de Bretagne, Claude was to inherit the Duchy of Brittany from her mother. With the intention of keeping Brittany separate from the French crown, Anne decided to marry her daughter to Charles of Spain who was to become Charles V. French nobles reacted and convinced King Louis XII to marry Claude to Francis, later Francis I of France. At 7, she became engaged, and married at 15, thus ensuring that Brittany would remain part of France.

Education for women was perceived to be necessary to ensure a good marriage. It is to further her education that Ann Boleyn is sent to the French court, where she becomes a lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude. There she meets Marguerite de Navarre, who is said to have given her a copy of the Miroir de l’âme pécheresse.

It is seldom that women could refuse the marriage that had been arranged for them. Even more difficult was it to refuse to become the King’s mistress. Back at the court of England, Anne refused to become King Henry VIII’s mistress, which prompted the King to secure an annulment for his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Following a long dispute and the refusal of the Pope to grant an annulment, the King decided to break with Rome, and took control over the Church of England.

Anne became Henry VIII’s second wife and in 1533 gave birth to Elizabeth. After she had failed to produce a male heir to the throne, the King had her arrested and executed, in 1536. Twenty-two years later, in 1558, Elizabeth succeeded the Catholic Mary Tudor, her half-sister, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, as Queen of England.

Princess Elizabeth’s education had been extensive: she studied Italian, Latin, French and Greek, and at age 11, she translated Marguerite de Navarre’s The Miroir or Glasse of the Synneful Soul, from the French, and presented it to Henry VIII’s last wife, Catherine Parr. A powerful queen, Elizabeth was able to resist repeated petitions from the English Parliament for her to be married, and became known as the Virgin Queen.

Other powerful women have helped shape European history: queens, regents, King’s mistresses, intellectuals have proven that women can think and act independently. It is not until the 18th Century, however, that women of more modest origin have fought directly for the recognition of the rights of women.

Women Political Club, French Revolution, 1790

Women Political Club, French Revolution, 1790

In my view, three women in particular defined women’s rights in the 18th Century. In the British Colonies, in a famous letter of March 1776, Don’t forget the ladies, Abigail Adams, threatened her husband of a rebellion if women’s interests were not taken into account at the time John Adams represented Massachussetts in the Continental Congress.

In 1791, Olympe de Gouges posted all over Paris her Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne, a version of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen that she had adapted to represent the rights of women.

And in 1792, in England, Mary Wollstonecraft publishes A Vindication of the Rights of Woman where she argues that if women had access to education, they could show themselves to be equal to men.

The fight for equal rights continued well into the 20th Century, with the passionate English suffragettes, as well as later fights, some countries recognizing the right of women to vote as late as 1979.

Not quite the first one… but a Great contender

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Detail of the Magna Carta

Detail of the Magna Carta

Frequently referred to as the first text that ever codified human rights, the Magna Carta was signed in June 1215, in Runnymede, near Windsor, England.

The Great Charter brought a temporary end to a long revolt against King John by his barons. A major reason for the revolt was the heavy taxes levied by the Crown, following the loss of the French territories which had drastically reduced the State income. After the barons had entered London by force, the King had to negotiate. Granting individual rights and liberties, and recognizing the right of the Church of England to freely elect its leaders, the Charter signalled the recognition of secular law by the Crown of England.

In addition to the revolt of the barons, a dispute over the right and privileges of the Roman Catholic Church had been ongoing in England. In 1206, the designation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church, became a major issue. While normally appointed by the King, the monks of Canterbury had decided they wanted to elect the Archbishop and sent their choice to Rome. The King responded by appointing his own candidate as Archbishop, John de Gray, Bishop of Norwich. In turn, Pope Innocent III designated a third choice, Cardinal Stephen Langton.

Originally from Lincolnshire, Langton had taught at the Paris Sorbonne University, with the Pope as one of his students. Like another Archbishop of Canterbury - Thomas Beckett, coincidentally (or maybe not) also a Pontigny two-year exilee -, Langton believed in the independence of the Church from the Crown.

King John refused to recognize the Pope’s choice, and for six years, from 1207 to 1213, in the Cistertian Abbey of Pontigny, in Burgundy, Langton waited for the King to let him into England as Archbishop. A series of retortion measures ensued from the Pope’s side, such as the interdiction of public services, including masses and marriages, and the excommunication of the King, until King John had no choice but to accept the Pope’s decision.

As head of the Church, Langton played a key role in the negotiation between the King and his barons, which led to the signature of the Charter. Because of his role, some sources have suggested that the Magna Carta was actually drafted in Pontigny during Langton’s exile, or that at least the ideas it contains were first conceived there. It is also suggested that it was Langton who knew of the Charter of Liberties issued by King Henry I when he ascended the throne in 1100. The wording of the 1215 text closely follows some articles of the earlier text, and similar rights are granted. It is the circumstances under which the texts were issued that differ majorly: the earlier text was proclaimed willingly by King Henry whereas the latter was imposed on King John by the barons.

Originally drafted in Latin, the Magna Carta was translated into English, and is today recognized as the first text codifying individual rights in England. In 1956, Sir Winston Churchill had this to say about the Charter:

Here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break. This reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general charter is the great work of Magna Carta; and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it.

Not surprisingly, the Magna Carta granted liberties to the Church first, including freedom of elections, and then to the freemen governed by the laws of England.

1. In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs for ever that the English church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate; and we will that it be thus observed; which is apparent from this that the freedom of elections, which is reckoned most important and very essential to the English church, we, of our pure and unconstrained will, did grant, and did by our charter confirm and did obtain the ratification of the same from our lord, Pope Innocent III, before the quarrel arose between us and our barons: and this we will observe, and our will is that it be observed in good faith by our heirs for ever. We have also granted to all freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs for ever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs for ever.

Some of the articles are extremely specific, such as the article giving an actual figure for the fee earls, barons, or knights have to pay to the Crown before being able to receive their inheritance.

2. If any of our earls or barons, or others holding of us in chief by military service shall have died, and at the time of his death his heir shall be of full age and owe ” relief”  he shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient relief, namely the heir or heirs of an earl, 100 pounds for a whole earl’s barony; the heir or heirs of a baron, 100 pounds for a whole barony; the heir or heirs of a knight, 100 shillings at most for a whole knight’s fee; and whoever owes less let him give less, according to the ancient custom of fiefs.

Sixty-three articles in total spell out the rights and liberties granted by King John, which include anti-corruption and fair trade clauses as well as the right for widows not to remarry against their will. Great attention was paid to address any potential issue of concern. As an example, in three  cases only can feudal taxes be imposed:

12. No scutage nor aid shall be imposed on our kingdom, unless by common counsel of our kingdom, except for ransoming our person, for making our eldest son a knight, and for once marrying our eldest daughter; and for these there shall not be levied more than a reasonable aid.

Also worth noting is the order in which the various rights are listed. The essential rights to justice and to a fair trial are mentioned towards the end .

39. No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land..

40. To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.

Going beyond just rights, the Magna Carta also serves to promote standards, such as the standardization of weights and measures which comes as article 35, before the right to justice. This demonstrated a forward-looking vision compared to other parts of Europe. France for one only adopted similar measures with the Décret relatif aux poids et aux mesures during the revolution, on 18 germinal an 3 (7 April 1795).

35. Let there be one measure of wine throughout our whole realm; and one measure of ale; and one measure of corn, to wit, ” the London quarter;”  and one width of cloth (whether dyed, or russet, or “halberget” ), to wit, two ells within the selvages; of weights also let it be as of measures.

If the Charter brings an end to the conflict between the King and his barons, some are not forgiven and are individually named.

50. We will entirely remove from their bailiwicks, the relations of Gerard Athee (so that in future they shall have no bailiwick in England); namely, Engelard of Cigogne, Peter, Guy, and Andrew of Chanceaux, Guy of Cigogne, Geoffrey of Martigny with his brothers, Philip Mark with his brothers and his nephew Geoffrey, and the whole brood of the same.

Even though King John did not respect the Charter - he actually died one year after signing it-, the text was reissued in 1216, 1217, and 1225, then in 1297 and it became the source of other legal texts. With a total of 4,699 words, the Magna Carta not only provides a reference text as to the rights and freedoms of the English freemen of 1215, it also offers a fascinating picture of English society at the time.