Thirteen copies were written, at least,
And probably many more –
All passed from bishop to sheriff to lord,
And pinned-up, read, and, finally, stored,
Then rotted or burned or thoroughly creased,
Until we were left with four.
But then, for many centuries,
Their words were out-of-date –
Their scutages and fishing-weirs
Belonged to long-forgotten years,
And busy parli’mentaries
Have moved on the debate.
Their Latin text is cramped and clipped,
With not an inch to spare.
And just like half the baron knights,
We cannot even read the rights
We’re gifted by this foreign script –
We have to trust they’re there.
But so what if the parchments fade ?
They’re passing, mortal things –
It ain’t the laws that they imparted,
But the movement that they started –
In their image we are made,
Who bow to laws, not kings.
“We will remove entirely the kinsmen of Gerard d’Athée from their bailiwicks, so that in future they may hold no bailiwick in England. We will remove from the kingdom all foreign knights who have come to the detriment of the kingdom.” – Magna Carta, 1215
English rights for English barons:
That was the cry at liberty’s birth –
And though they’d gag at the thought, would the barons,
Their rights would trickle down to the serfs.
Slowly, slowly, and bloody hard-won,
Till the days of the tyrant-kings were done.
But nothing but exile for Gerard d’Athée,
Farewell to Engelard, can’t let you stay,
Goodbye to Guy, and to Guy, too-da-loo,
Au revoir, Peter, and Andrew, adieu,
And Geoffrey and Geoffrey, you’re fate is the same:
Deported by charter in liberty’s name.
And Philip (and brothers), return to your sires,
Ex-Sheriff of Derby- and Nottingham- shires,
So there it was: the English disease:
Scraping-up some scapegoats for their sleeping in our bed.
But never for a moment did we get up off our knees
To kick out at the barons – so we kicked the French instead.
This lack of disquiet from locals is telling:
Just tugging at forelocks instead of rebelling.
But surely things have improved ?
It isn’t as though the world hasn’t moved:
It started a wave that has kept rolling on,
So we’ve far more rights now than had even King John.
But all the un-English may find us less caring,
For English-born freedoms were not made for sharing.
So tell, Magna Carta: just what are you for ?,
But a thing to suspend when we’re neck-deep in war.
Note that in the original, the clauses were not numbered. The first to do so was George Ferrers’ English translation of 1534, while the modern numbering dates from William Blackstone in 1759.
Once-a-time, when castles wore a crown of battlements,
Their merlons hid the archers in the toothy parapet –
And when the peasantry came by to pay their serf-and-chattel-rents,
It wasn’t solid walls that awed them, but the holes that made a net.
If only they had known how they were more for show and ostentation,
Arrow slits too small to use, and windows big and weak –
A single siege would give the lie to strength in crenellation
But who would dare declare their home as battle-less and meek ?
To be clear, battlements are very effective when their big enough, but by the time of Bodiam (1385) and Herstmonceux (1441) things were on the slide.
I never thought Catastrophe
Would be as beautiful as this,
That Ragnarok at sunset
Is a moment of such bliss.
So peaceful is Apocalypse,
So languid is the End of Time –
The Armageddons come and go,
But were they ever this sublime ?
So come, my dear,
Come and let us stroll awhile,
To seek the lesser-spotted troll
That builds its nest beneath the stile,
As angels circle with the hawks,
And demons gad on Sunday walks,
And banshees squawk and phantoms play
And the Ending of the World’s a world away.
We’re told and told we’re living through
The cataclysmic Final Days:
Where wrath is wrought on wretched waifs
Who sup with Jews and gays.
Yet brimstone seems in short supply,
And so too human sacrifice –
Just people getting on with lives
Amid the unseen Antichrist.
So come, my dear,
Come and let us wend a path
That takes us further round the bend
To promised bloody aftermath.
Let’s walk with blacks and greens and reds
Before the sky falls on our heads,
And, hand-in-hand, let’s thread our way
Through the law-abiding wastes of Judgement Day.
A long-dead king is promenading
Before he gets re-buried in state
A tyrant, even if not the monster
That the Tudors tried to create.
But wait –
We’re missing the beauty here,
We’re too consumed with republican hate:
“Take a good look, Liz” we’re so busy gloating,
“Take a good look at ev’ry king’s fate”.
So a long-lost king was dug out of the ground –
So what ?
But how do we know whose bones we have found
Despite some five hundred years of rot ? That is the beauty we’re missing, I say –
The beauty of DNA !
It shows us just who’s our forebear or grandson –
And surely that’s all worth a king’s ransom !
And where were such secrets first teased from their source ?
Why, right here in Leicester, of course !
Charlemagne, Charlemagne, where did you go ?
Where is your kingdom and afterglow ?
Where is the Bede now, or Alfred the Great ?
Wherefore the burgeoning Byzantine state ?
What of iconoclasts spoiling the feast ?
What of the Slavs who are ruling the East ?
What of the Vikings’ unstoppable force ?
Just when will Lindisfarne fall to the Norse ?
Three hundred years, and none of it happened.
Three hundred years, and all lived in one day.
All of that history, artwork and trappings
Are nothing but forgeries, fooling away.
Nothing but myths and mistakes in the dating,
With stories conflating,
And years gone astray.
Charlemagne, Charlemagne, where is your reign ?
Where are the Arabs all storming through Spain ?
Where are the monks and the plainchants they sing ?
When will they bury the Sutton Hoo king ?
Where are the famines and smallpox and worse ?
Where are they writing their epics and verse ?
Where are they building their towers of bells ?
Where are they gilding the Vellum of Kells ?
Three hundred years, and none are correct –
Just three hundred years in the stroke of a pen.
All of that history – tattered and wrecked;
It’s either invented or happened elsewhen.
Nothing but legends and lack of hard data,
To make us all later, millennial men.
But three hundred years…
How many lives in those three hundred years ?
How many folks with their hopes and their fears ?
How many lovers, and soldiers, and seers ?
We shouldn’t ignore them, we shouldn’t mistreat them,
Or else we’ll be doomed to forever repeat them.
The Phantom Time Hypothesis is a conspiracy theory that purports that the period of history in Europe between HE 10614–10911 did not actually exist.
Complete bollocks, of course. Take away those years and the positions of the planets and the dates of eclipses as recorded in antiquity, and calculated backwards from today, wouldn’t line up. Oh, and the ancient Chinese would have to be in on it as well.
The ancient Greeks were pretty clever,
Worked out that the Earth was round
From shadows cast by poles at noon
And by the earth upon the Moon,
And how the sky was put together
Just from watching from the ground,
And some who guessed a central Sun
About which all the planets run.
But then along came Aristotle,
Then along came Ptolemy –
And they alone would set the tone
Till their mistakes were set in stone.
The hand is dead, but still can throttle,
Piously and solemnly,
Of any thought that might get out –
So hush the whisper, choke the doubt.
But still, but still,
The more we looked, the more we saw –
The though the heavens mostly draw
Upon the Ptolemaic law,
They sometimes would exert their will
That rubbed enquiring watchers raw.
You see, the ancient Greeks well knew
That crystal dome and ev’ry gem
That all the night, without a rest,
Would wheel above from East to West.
And like the stars, the planets, too –
Though slower, losing ground on them.
Except…well, that’s where trouble lies,
With yearly yet unruly skies.
Because they each would switch their motion, With the stars, and overtaking !
Week by week, the Greeks would trace
The way the planets dance and race.
So Ptolemy proposed a notion,
Saved the universe from breaking –
Sure it was all fudge and spin,
But epicyles for the win !
But here’s the thing –
For all its complex shells and reels,
For all its windmills within wheels,
It somehow kinda always deals
With accurate positioning,
As though the sums would guide their heels.
So if the Greeks were badly off,
Well, spare that scoff – they did their best
With nothing but a pair of eyes
To theorise what they can’t test.
But did they ever pinch their gaze
And mutter at the tangled ways
In which the heavens spend their days ?
Did even Ptolemy have doubt
And long to hack the deadwood out ?
The Romans, though they changed the names
(So Krios now Aries, and Ares now Mars),
They kept the skies just as before,
For fourteen hundred years or more.
And though the planets’ little games
Were thought as written in the stars –
A monk proposed a new appraiser,
Slashing bunkum with his razor.
Simple answers, they’re what matter !
Less is more than meets the eye –
If two proposals have to fight,
The simplest one is often right.
And all those epicycles clatter
With a clean, efficient sky –
Forget the Church and ancient stuff,
Copernicus has had enough !
And yet, and yet,
Despite his perfect circles round
His central sun, we quickly found
Like Ptolemy’s, they ran aground,
Till Kepler and ellipses met –
And suddenly, the maths was sound.
Truth be told, Copernicus
Had little proof on which to base
His unbound Earth and steadfast Sun –
In faith alone, his planets spun.
But still the world must turn, and thus,
Young Galileo took his place –
Perhaps with fewer facts than hope,
But this time with a telescope.
And in the eyepiece, clear as night,
The moons of Jupiter were seen –
As though the planet gave them birth –
And not in orbit round the Earth !
And better yet, the startling sight
Of Venus phasing inbetween
A smaller full and larger new –
And then the revolution flew !
So here’s the thing –
With claims of modern matter dark,
And energy with unseen spark –
Has it the proof of string and quark ?
Or do they chase around a ring
To make the model fit the mark ?
And like Copernicus, they could be right,
Despite a lack of evidence.
Or like old Ptolemy, they could be wrong,
Yet strong in their defence –
His theory held up, truth to tell,
In matching observations well –
But oh, it was a complex hell !
So scientists, and heaven-gazers,
Never lose your sharpest razors !
The Tudors – always the bloody Tudors !
I’m sick of the Tudors, sick of their tricks –
Bloody Marys and bloody Henrys,
And bloody Bess and her politics,
And wimpy Eddy, and snow-white Jane –
Tudors bloody Tudors – since I was six.
Papists in priestholes, Proddies in the Tower
And the heroes end up dead and the villains stay in power.
Ev’ryone’s a bastard,
Anyone who’s Tudor –
Henry’s shagging ev’ryone,
But Bess, no-one has screwed her.
Both have shafted England,
Made the whole place prude-er.
The Tudors: bloody Tyndale and Shakespeare,
The bloody Armada and Raleigh and Drake,
The bloody plots and the bloody spies,
And witches burned at the bloody stake,
And Irish, Jews and Gypsies shunned –
Nasty bloody Tudors – more than I can take !
Monks changing habits and monarchs swapping spouses –
A-ring-a-ring of roses and a plague on all their houses !
Ev’ryone’s a bastard,
Ev’ryone’s a bluff:
Ev’ryone in sackcloth,
Or codpiece, hose and ruff.
Who will spare our England
Once we’ve had enough ?