Ladies Of The Magna Carta is a non-fiction book about a selection of women who either lived around the time of the 1215 Magna Carta, or women who were affected, influenced by or made use of the clauses within the document.
Almost all were members of the peerage or the royal families of England, Scotland and Wales. For instance, there are chapters for Nicholaa de la Haye, Ela of Salisbury as well as the daughters of King John, to name just a few that were talked about in this book.
The author sets the scene of the era with an introduction to King John, including how he got to the throne and what led to the barons’ demand for the Magna Carta document. In the appendix, there is a copy of all sixty-three of its clauses as well as a list of the barons chosen to enforce it.
Although at the time the Magna Carta document was almost immediately ignored by the king, it was re-enforced upon his death and it became a very important document, as it meant that future kings could no longer be above the law and therefore could no longer seize lands and goods without the proper legal writs in place. It is said that the Magna Carta started England on the road to a democratic government.
I thought the subject matter was fascinating; I live just a few miles from King John’s castle in Odiham, where it is said the king set out from when he went to Runnymede to sign the document. The author has done a remarkable job of piecing together the lives of so many women in this early medieval period when documentation about women was rare; in fact, often it was through their fathers, brothers and husbands that the author found details of many of these women during her research.
Then there is the complication of popular women’s names, such as Eleanor, Joan, Matilda and Isabel appearing many times, although I thought that the author did a good job of differentiating between them. It did mean some overlapping of details in places, but it was often needed to show the full lifeline of each of the women.
This book would make ideal research material for writers of historical fiction set in this era, or I could recommend it to readers who have an interest in King John and the famous Magna Carta.
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Magna Carta clause 39: No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.
This clause in Magna Carta was in response to the appalling imprisonment and starvation of Matilda de Braose, the wife of one of King John’s barons. Matilda was not the only woman who influenced, or was influenced by, the 1215 Charter of Liberties, now known as Magna Carta. Women from many of the great families of England were affected by the far-reaching legacy of Magna Carta, from their experiences in the civil war and as hostages, to calling on its use to protect their property and rights as widows. Ladies of Magna Carta looks into the relationships – through marriage and blood – of the various noble families and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken.
Including the royal families of England and Scotland, the Marshals, the Warennes, the Braoses and more, Ladies of Magna Carta focuses on the roles played by the women of the great families whose influences and experiences have reached far beyond the thirteenth century.