Magna Charta, The
by James Daugherty
Some books recommended by TheGreatBooks.com are not classics, but are still quite helpful for participating in the Great Conversation. The Magna Charta by James Daugherty falls into this category.
Ideally, students would read this work while still in junior high. It is easily accessible, and although it is well-written, its prose is not so beautiful that students who read it early will fail to appreciate it. It includes excellent illustrations by the author, and has the look and feel of a “young adult” book.
That said, students need to understand the history and the significance of the Magna Charta, and I know no better book for achieving that goal. I like all of Daugherty’s work—I’m forever searching for his hardback books in used book stores—but his most important book from a teacher’s standpoint is The Magna Charta.
You probably remember who signed the Magna Charta (King John), but do you remember who “authored” it? Would you believe it is the same man who first assigned chapters and verses to the Bible? History reminds us of the villain of the story—the king who was so arbitrary and so selfish that he stole objects from the Catholic Church for his private collection—but most of us have never heard of the hero, Stephen Langton.
Langton was not King John’s choice for the Archbishop of Canterbury, but he was Rome’s choice. Consequently, Langton waited six years for the king to submit to the pope and allow him into England. After assuming his archbishopric, Langton quickly discovered an older charter that he used as the foundation for the Magna Charta, which King John was forced to sign on June 15th, 1215.
Ironically, the pope was displeased with Langton’s work. He promptly annulled the Magna Charta, forbidding the king under penalty of excommunication from adhering to the agreement. Langton was forced to return to Rome to explain his actions and beg forgiveness.
It’s an odd situation: the hero of the story, who laid the foundation for individual rights, is forced to apologize for inflicting injuries on a greedy, willful king—and then he is promptly forgotten by history. But Christian students shouldn’t forget.
by Jeff Baldwin