‘English’ law and order

William (the bastard!) had won the English crown and that meant that all his descendants had a rightful claim to it. Medieval politics was always a family affair, alliances were made via marriage and a rival claim to the throne came mostly from someone who shared your DNA.  Unfortunately, the closest thing we have to that is the Miliband brothers.

The ruling barons wielded a lot of power in the 12th Century as national governments had not yet grown strong enough to rule independently so kings relied on their local armies (similar to Nigel Farage when he was UKIP leader). One of those barons was Geoffrey of Anjou. He had married well. His wife, Matilda, was the daughter of King Henry I (fourth son of William The Bastard) and together they forged the Plantagenet (French) dynasty who ruled England for over 300 years.

Geoffrey of Anjou has made a lasting impression on what we might call modern Britain. He had red hair (just like Prince Harry’s real dad) and by all accounts was a good-looking chap, he was known as ‘The Handsome’ or ‘The Fair’. If you google him then you’ll see that he could have definitely been in Kings of Leon when they moved into their ‘sexy phase’ and started to produce music that wasn’t as good as when they had beards. If you pay close attention to his shield then you will notice an animal being replicated – a lion. Symbolism was important to the medieval ruling elite and this lion was also adopted by Geoffrey’s descendants (our kings and queens) on their coats of arms. Symbolism is of course still important in today’s world and that’s why we sing about three lions on a shirt. The English lion (found only in a zoo) is still a powerful national symbol today and I’ve seen many a fully-grown man chant about it with all the English pride he can muster. However, he only does so because one morning, in the 12th Century, a ginger-French teenager decided to have them drawn on his shield. That my friends is the somewhat farcical irony of history. Unlike a vegan sausage roll from Greggs, Lions aren’t actually English and this particular one happens to be French. Furthermore, the flag of Saint George has also been adopted by many far-right political movements who wish to dramatically stem the flow of immigration into England. Saint George was Turkish and never even once set foot in England. From a historical perspective, they should definitely consider using a different flag. A French lion and a red Turkish cross. Well fuck me sideways.  

Meanwhile, in true Plantagenet back-stabbing style, Matilda’s cousin Steven had seized the English crown for himself. What a twat. This resulted in twenty years of civil war; it was a period known as ‘The Anarchy’. King Steve isn’t particularly well-known in British history, nor is this particular civil war but nonetheless it was a defining one. Eventually, Geoffrey and Matilda’s son, the soon to be Henry II, brought an army over to face cousin Steve and lay claim to his birth right. However, as the two armies faced each other, they refused to fight their fellow countrymen and the two leaders were forced to compromise. It was decided that Henry II would be next in line but he’d have to wait (Gordon Brown had similar problems with warlord Tony Blair). However, this worked out very well for the young Plantagenet upstart because about a year later King Steve conveniently died.

On the 19th December 1154 (the year after pop star Madonna was born) King Henry II was crowned. What a fucking result. This truly native Frenchmen then went about destroying the influence of our English barons. He ripped down their castles and centralised power by establishing one ‘common law’ that governed all. For the first time in its history, England had an official law that was to be used consistently throughout the whole country. The Common Law was born. The foundation of our English legal system was a text known as ‘Glanvill’. The opening line read:

“Royal power should not only be adorned with arms to fight rebels and hostile peoples but also with laws to rule its subjects in peace”.

Fuck knows what that means. Its most likely author was the quintessentially English sounding ‘Ranulf de Glanvill’ and of course it was written in Latin. But don’t let that dilute whatever version of pure Englishness you cling onto, just picture in your head those three lions on a shirt; or if you prefer, the battle shield of a ginger-French kid.

Henry II had filtered power away from the localised barons and strengthened the state; his central court was built in a place called Westminster. Newly appointed royal judges were sent out on a tour of the country (not too dissimilar to my upcoming 2019 UK Tour but probably funnier), they would meet regularly and agree to follow one another’s decisions. Suddenly, you have precedent and common practice being delivered throughout the English justice system, something Tommy Robinson still struggles to understand. This was brand new. Previously, local Baron’s courts preferred to use ‘trial by battle’ wherein the two parties would exchange blows in order to resolve the issue. The better you were at hitting people, the more justice you received. Life was simple in the good old days.

Henry II brought a sense of fair play into our laws, something that I believe defines part of who we are today. Disputes could be resolved without the need for violence (sorry Tommy); there was now a trial by jury. Once the twelve knights had been chosen, they were to swear an oath and decide between them who had the best bribe. This lay the foundations of our common law which is still practiced today. Us Brits believe we like to play by the rules, we have a strong sense of fairness and we stand in queues. Like all island nations we are fiercely proud of our independence (Scotland aside), however, the influence of mainland Europe upon our laws, customs, language and culture cannot be understated. It was a Frenchmen who established our legal system and he even had it written in Italian. The twat. No Wonder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon was so confused…