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1 September 2015

University of 3rd AgeMagna Carta - A (Mostly) Light-hearted look at 800 Years of History

at Tod U3A

Not content with taking over the Todmorden U3A August general meeting, some of the members presented the other members with probably the longest title of the main event yet: Magna Carta – 800 years of Local and National History presented by the U3A Tod Magnates. Twenty-eight people studied Magna Carta by means of a Royal Holloway, University of London MOOC. Then split into groups to research in their own time to finally produce the afternoon's entertainment.

Proceedings started with the serious stuff, actual history presented by Tod U3A's newly found "official" historian, David Cant. David gave a presentation on the background to the events of 1215 with some brio but giving it it's due justice and not rattling through to get to the light-hearted bits.

England at this time was a feudal society with the all-powerfull king at the top. Below the king were the barons who owed fealty to the king and were obliged to go to arms for him. Knights also were also required to fight. Below were the freemen who could hold land under tenure from their lord. Then came the serfs and villeins. All could be ordered to fight for the king. All had to get lord's permission to marry and those who held land needed permission to sell. Todmorden at this time was divided by the River Calder with half on the east bank in Yorkshire and half on the west bank in Lancashire.

England at this time was part of the Angevin empire which meant that the English crown controlled parts of France. John lost most of his French territory just before the signing of Magna Carta when he is defeated at the battle of Bouvines in 1214. This was the worst event of his reign and added to his already unpopular status. John was a very efficient administrator, hands on, moving around the kingdom with his court rather than staying in London. Despite this efficiency, he was always trying to get money.

His travelling put a strain on the barons who had to give both he and his retinue bed and board. There were several plots among barons to get rid of him, with opposition to him located mostly in the north. John upset the church and the Pope, too.

After John's defeat in France, the barons revolted in 1215 and moved on London, which was a key place as the financial capital. The people of London thought it better to support the barons rather than the king. The barons and the king met at Runnymede. John put his seal to the charter – he couldn't write – but had no intention of sticking to the agreement. He petitioned the Pope to annul it on grounds that it was against his holiness's interests. Civil war ensued and was waged between October 1215 and 1217. In 1216, the barons invited the French, to join against John but they were eventually repulsed by William Marshal, Earl of pembroke, who had stayed loyal.

John died in October, 1216 and was succeeded by his 9 year old son, Henry. William Marshal acted as regent and signed the now revised Magna Carta on Henry's behalf.

Chairman Keith Coates continued with an examination of some of the sources for what we know of King John. These are the chroniclers who, Keith pointed out, are not historians nor were they trying to give an unbiased account of the events of the times.

Proceedings then became more light-hearted. First was a sketch which was an adaptation of the one on class performed by messrs. Cleese, Corbett and Barker. Only this time it he target was the medieval hierarchy. Then it became a little more serious, but only a little. The players were all women, so rather than Magnates, they might have called themselves the Cartarettes for this piece.

Then followed a poem "King John – My Private Life", written by Glenys Halliday and read by Susan Cockroft. The shade of John went through his life, reciting the good times and the bad, finally lamenting that for all his machinations, though he is gone "that ruddy Charter lingers on!" Then Diana Forrest apprised the audience of what was going on in the rest of the world at this time. Next came a projected YouTube video in the form of a very funny Stanley Holloway-style monologue, in the same metre as The Lion and Albert by one Marriott Edgar. This drew much laughter and might have prompted some to go online to get the words and use it as their new party piece.

The final piece was a sketch written by member Alan McDonald who sadly couldn't be present due to ill health. His place was taken by David who interviewed various Charter characters in the style of Jeremy Kyle. And so an entertaining afternoon drew to a close with both performers and audience having enjoyed themselves hugely.

At the Extraordinary General Meeting held earlier, Bill Griffiths was elected treasurer unopposed to replace Roger Howard who had resigned.

The next general meeting of Todmorden U3A is at 1.30 pm on Thursday, 17 September at Central Methodists, Todmorden. The talk is by David Whatmough, entitled Gallivanting on Public Transport – A Bus Pass from Berwick to Land's End. Details of group meetings are on u3atod.org.uk or phone 01422 844713 or 01706 839176

Many thanks to John Bouttell for this report


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