Thursday, December 25, 2014

Movies and the U.S. Constitution: The Constitutions of Clarendon (1164) and Magna Carta (1215): Ironclad

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.

The Constitutions of Clarendon (1164) and Magna Carta (1215)

3.    Ironclad (Film, 2011): set in 1215

Relevance to the US Constitution

A.            Rule of Law.  The biggest confusion in this movie is the alignment of the Knights Templar.  King John was seeking to use the absolute power of the Pope to give himself absolute power in England and to avoid having to submit to the Magna Carta (John's view would later become known as the "Divine Right of Kings").  The Knights of Templar were defenders of the Papal authoritarianism, and by extension King John not having to submit to the Magna Carta.   The movie confusedly shows Knights Templar on both sides.  While this may have been the case, the Knights Templar on the barons' side would have been seeking to leave the order.

The Magna Carta was the curtailment of King John's power and the requirement that he submit to the law.  It followed the Constitutions of Clarendon which had required Papal authorities in England charged with crimes to submit to secular legal courts.   These documents still today are used in Britain and the United States and other English-speaking countries, to refer to establishment of the concept that any leader or official is not "above the law" and to the statement of that law to which the leader must submit (or seek change through lawful process).  

The movie has been criticized for a number of historical inaccuracies, including the misalignment of the Knights Templar and the fact that John actually won the battle at Rochester Castle, although he would later lose the war, so to speak, and have to submit to the Magna Carta terms, as would all Kings after a series of back-and-forth battles ending in 1297.

B.            Use of the Term “Person”: This is not really addressed in the movie.  No women are depicted fighting in the movie or exercising agency.  No women are barons or earls.  The Magna Carta does use the term "person", but it also uses the term "man", particularly the term "free man".  It also recognizes specific rights of widows to prevent the King or Church taking their land,  however, or being required to remarry.   This was part of a recognition that an unmarried woman did not have only the choices of marriage or joining a convent and could hold economic and political status as a single woman.   Rights of married women are not addressed.  It also curtails witness testimony of women in murder cases, except for testimony involving the woman's husband's murder.

Previous:  After the Norman Conquest of 1066: Queens (or Not?) and Cognatic Descent (Round One): Pillars of the Earth


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