Eight centuries ago, your ancestor, a gallant knight, came with a group of knights as gallant as he, to challenge King John and to wrest from him the crushed liberties of his Anglo-Saxon subjects.
In the meadow of Runnemede they assembled, dauntless and determined. This place had for generations been a favorite meeting place of kings in council and was, in 1215, already a memorable spot. Here under an ancient and venerated oak, whose boughs and branches had looked down on the ceremonies of Druids, at a spot where the valley of the Thames widens out in quiet beauty, the Saxon kings had been wont to gather their people about them to discuss questions of more than usual importance.
On the side of the Barons came a great concourse of the nobility of England. With the King came some four-and-twenty-persons, most of whom despised him, and were merely his advisers in form.
The Barons embodied their demands in the form of a Royal Grant. When the draft was read out to him, John swore furiously. But the only alternative was the loss of his kingdom. So, on that great day, and in that great company, the King conceded, and solemnly set his seal to Magna Charta.
In doing so, he pledged himself:
To maintain the Church in its rights
To relieve the Barons of oppressive obligations as vassals of the crown—of which the Barons, in their turn, pledged themselves to relieve their vassals, THE PEOPLE
To respect the liberties of London and all other cities and boroughs
To protect foreign merchants who came to England
To imprison no man without a fair trial
To sell, delay, or deny justice to none.
As the Barons knew his falsehood well, they further required as their securities:
That he should send out of his kingdom all his foreign troops
That for two months they should hold possession of the city of London
That five-and-twenty of their body, chosen by themselves, should be a lawful committee to watch the keeping of the charter, and
To make war upon him if he broke it.
All this he was obliged to yield. He sealed the charter and departed from that splendid assembly. When he got home to Windsor Castle, it is said he was quite a madman in his helpless fury.
One may not change the intellectual or spiritual qualities of his ancestors, but may emulate those that were worthy, and lay foundation for the most exalted characteristics among his descendants.
Shall we be careless of this heritage?
Shall we not prize and honor it?
Shall we not hold it as a sacred trust from which glorious results shall continue to stimulate the world?
Lest the world forget, let us pause and remember:
The Barons’ success changed the outlook for all mankind, and the lineal descendants of those knights brought later to America the priceless results of that day, and so handed down this heritage to their descendants, keeping alive the memory and spirit of
JUNE 15, 1215.
(Image from Wikipedia: John of England signs Magna Carta. Image from Cassell's History of England - Century Edition - published circa 1902)