Thursday, December 25, 2014

Movies and the U.S. Constitution: After the Norman Conquest of 1066: Queens (or Not?) and Cognatic Descent (Round One): Pillars of the Earth

This is part of a series of posts following this summary of movies that provide a chronological history of the U.S. Constitution.  Here's the summary.

After the Norman Conquest of 1066:

2.    Pillars of the Earth [Starz miniseries, 2010]: set in about 1135-1154

Relevance to the US Constitution

 A.            Rule of Law.  This period in English history is called "the Anarchy".  There is not much depiction in the miniseries of the role of law and its relationship to the power of any leader.
B.            Use of the Term "Person" Rather Than "Man or Woman" in Fundamental Rights and Responsibilities.   The establishment of Catholicism in England in the Norman Conquest and the displacement of the Anglo-Norse-Breton- Saxon leadership with Norman French leadership means women  became subjugated and disenfranchised in an institutionalized way.   This is depicted in the positions of Ellen and Mathilda.

Ellen is the educated daughter of a knight, who lives in the woods after leaving a convent and having a child with a French minstrel who witnessed the sinking of the White Ship and was executed before the child was born.   Her oppression is shown as giving her nothing to lose, which in turn paradoxically gives her very threatening power, as is shown by her stating that she predicts particular harms to the Norman French and Catholic men in power, which in this fictional aspect of the miniseries, come to fruition.  The identification of women like this as "witches", a title she accepts and exploits, is depicted.

Mathilda is the only surviving child of King Henry, and was married to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry, of the Salian dynasty (a Frankish and German line).  HRE Henry has died by the time of the miniseries, and she is married to Geoffrey of Anjou, Normandy, and has a son with him.  Her father, King Henry of England and Normandy, identifies her as the ruler who will follow him and secures agreement from many people of this, however, a male cousin, Stephen, although he had agreed to her ruling, takes power with the support of the Catholic Church.   This later would form the basis of "Salic Law", which was used in continental Europe to prevent daughters from succeeding to the throne to hold full power in their own name, in contrast to the later developing history in Britain, as we shall see.  Although not depicted in the miniseries, Mathilda eventually submits fully to Catholicism.  Her son, Henry II, does eventually become King of England, however, after long wars with Stephen. 

Henry II had battles with the Catholic Church, and during his reign Catholic clergy charged with crimes became subject to secular prosecution, a concept documented in the Constitutions of Clarendon.  This put him at odds with Thomas A. Becket, who was loyal to the authoritarian Pope.  In the US today, there is a "Becket Fund" that finances litigation seeking to establish an authoritarian power of churches and to prevent their having to submit to the law.

The Constitutions of Clarendon then presaged the Magna Carta, a topic of the next movie on the list. 

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