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Magna Carta: The Light in The Dark Ages

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“Dark” and “light” were originally used as a metaphor by Christians to explain how people lived in the “dark” before Jesus came to the world to add “light” into people’s lives. Petrarch, an Italian scholar, used these terms of “dark” and “light” to illustrate learning, as opposed to how the Christian’s used the terms. Petrarch had the belief that the “light” was the Greek and Roman Empires, but once they were gone, Europe became “dark”. Since Petrarch’s theory of this time period being a “Dark Age”, other historians began to use the term “Dark Ages”. The “Dark Ages” were used by these historians to describe the fall of the Roman Empire and when knowledge and Roman culture was lost. From the choice of words in the term the “Dark Ages”, it caused people to have the perspective that this time period was just full of bad things. Other historians argued that the term “Dark Ages” was not the correct term for this period of time. This period of time from 400 AD to 1400 AD was argued whether it was a “Dark Age” or not. It can be proved through economy, government, and society that the “Dark Age” is not a correct term to be used.

Some historians make the argument that this time period was a “Dark Age” because of the fall of the Roman Empire and because of the rough spots during this time in history. These historians argue that this term is correct, but truthfully there are not many records from this period of time and a few of the records have been lost in history. Of the records kept, this time period can be proven not to be a “Dark Age”. Even though there were rough spots in culture when the society, politics, and economics were in a downfall, a lot of the problems caused the society to come up with new ways that improved the overall time period and future.

Magna Carta

The Magna Carta was a document that contained the rights for England’s citizens. This document originally failed in 1215 when the charter failed in his goals with the renewed Magna Carta, which caused a civil war to quickly break out. The Magna Carta was renewed later on in 1216, 1217, and 1225. After King John’s death in 1216, the throne was passed to his son, Henry III, who was nine years old at the time. Henry’s advisors and John’s successor, together, renewed the Magna Carta and removed some conditions that were not agreed upon by the public. This seemed to cause even more conflict. The Magna Carta had few downfalls that affected the king, citizens, law, and government system. The following issues all unfolded and arose after the renewed document of the Magna Carta in 1225. The Magna Carta did not stop the king from causing war without reason and it caused taxes to rise. These were important issues, but the Magna Carta established laws for everyone, and gave citizens the right to a fair trial which influenced the future laws.

Economy/ Government

The economy and government were tense because “No sheriff, constable, coroner or any other of our bailiffs is to hold pleas of our crown”. In simpler terms, nobody lower than the highest social class is allowed or able to rule with the crown. This law can be seen as unfair in many different ways. Since only certain ranked people can rule with the crown, this shows inequality and unfairness throughout the people. The discrimination towards the people can lower their self-esteem. Low self esteem is commonly known to lower work ethics, which negatively affects the economy by not as much work getting done, or the quality of the product is decreasing. The economy is affected in a bad way because there are not equal rights. Many other economies experienced inequality too, but England’s economy is negatively affected by inequality which sets it out differently than some other countries. Another way that this law can be seen as unfair is because the highest class that rules, does not usually interact with the citizens of the towns and spends most of their time with other higher classed people. By not interacting with the citizens of the towns, the King does not personally know the needs of the poor and other citizens of the town. This causes him to not be able to make the necessary changes in society. The government is affected by this because they cannot help their citizens as well as they would be able to if the government was ran by someone in the lower class who personally experiences what the citizens need. Some historians believe that this inequality and the designated Kings helps prove that this is a “Dark Age” because the government is not run the way it should and the economy suffers from it.

Even though some laws negatively affected the government, there were laws that helped the government, and influenced the future laws of the England government. For example, “The city of London is to have all its ancient liberties and customs. Moreover we wish and grant that all other cities and boroughs and vills and the barons of the Cinque Ports and all ports are to have all their liberties and free customs”. In other words, these cities had the freedom to make their own laws and customs. This influenced some of the law that are still placed today. Currently, states in the US have their own constitutions that allow them to decide some of their own laws to a certain extent. This law from the Magna Carta influenced and developed into the law that is intact now. This law that was a part of the Magna Carta helps prove that this time period was not a “Dark Age”. This law helps prove that a “Dark Age” is not a correct term because there was still some “light” like this law that helped influence and develop future laws.

There were some laws in the Magna Carta that affected the economy negatively, but there were also many laws that helped the economy. “If, however, the heir of such a person is under age, his lord is not to have custody of him and his land until he has taken homage from the heir, and after such an heir has been in custody, when he comes of age, namely at twenty-one years old, he is to have his inheritance without relief and without fine, saving that if, whilst under age, he is made a knight, his land will nonetheless remain in the custody of his lords until the aforesaid term”. In other words, if someone dies and the family member that inherited the land is below the age of twenty one, the government takes care of the land until that family member is of age. This law assists the economy because the government takes care of the land and puts it to good use that benefits the economy. The economy is benefitted by this because the government used the land for production. The land is taken care of well until the family member is old enough and mature enough to care for the land on their own. This law of the Magna Carta helps prove that the “Dark Ages” is not a correct term because this law shows “light” or good in this time period. This law shows “light” because the government takes care of their land for free until it can properly be cared for and it benefits the economy.


A law that affects the King, along with the citizens negatively is, “Heirs are to be married without disparagement,”. The definition of disparagement is to marry someone who is not apart of the same social ranking. In clarification of this law: it is not acceptable for the King or any of his heirs to marry anyone lower in social ranking. This law negatively affects the King, his heirs and the common people. This negatively affected the King and his heirs because they are not allowed to marry anyone in a lower class, even if they fell in love with a lower class citizen. They King had only a few women to choose from to marry, a nearby country’s princess or a girl from a well- known, high ranking family. This negatively affected the King because they were usually prearranged marriages. This law also negatively affected the lower class women because they had no possible way of marrying into a more successful family. Considering that the royal family and the female citizens were negatively affected in society, some historians believe this is part of the “Dark Age” because the society was negatively affected.

A law that negatively affects the society is that they’re not “permitted to anyone to give his land to a religious house in such a way that he receives it back from such a house to hold, nor is it permitted to any religious house to accept the land of anyone in such a way that the land is restored to the person from whom it was received to hold. If anyone henceforth gives his land in such a way to any religious house and is convicted of the same, the gift is to be entirely quashed and such land is to revert to the lord of that fee”. In other words, this law forbids anyone from giving land to a church or religious house and forbids all religious houses from accepting the land. This negatively affects the citizens and religious society in many ways. If a man with land is too old, or not able to care for his land and does not have family, he cannot give his land to his religious house. This negatively affects the citizen because he is left with land that he is not able to care for. Churches or religious houses are affected by this law because they’re not able to accept this gift and acquire gifts from the land itself. The land instead of being put to use and cared for, it is left to waste. Some historians believe that this helps prove that it was a “Dark Age” since the citizens, religious society, and the economy was negatively affected.

Despite the fact that there were a few negative laws in the Magna Carta that affected society, it had many more laws that were beneficial to the society. For example, “a widow, after the death of her husband, is immediately and without any difficulty to have her marriage portion and her inheritance”. In other words, when a husband would pass away the wife would receive her inheritance from her husband and the estate from her marriage portion. This law from the Magna Carta influenced the future laws and is still in effect to this day. Nowadays, if the husband does not have a will against it, the wife and immediate family receives their share of the estate. This was an important law in the Magna Carta that proves this time period to not have the correct term of the “Dark Ages”. This term, the “Dark Ages”, does not fit this era of time because even though there were a few bad laws, this law influenced the future and helped develop laws that were beneficial to the society.

Another important law that benefitted the citizens is that “No sheriff or bailiff of ours or of anyone else is to take anyone’s horses or carts to make carriage, unless he renders the payment customarily due, namely for a two-horse cart- ten pence per day, and for a three-horse cart- fourteen pence per day. No demesne cart belonging to any churchman or knight or any other lady (sic) is to be taken by our bailiffs, nor will we or our bailiffs or anyone else take someone else’s timber for a castle or any other of our business save by the will of he to whom the timber belongs”. In other words, sheriffs or bailiffs cannot take advantage of people by using their position within the law. This law influenced the future laws and is similar to some laws that are present today. Nowadays, people working within the law have their own rules that they have to follow so that they are not able to take advantage of others, and they are not allowed to take others belongings without a warrant. This law also proves that the “Dark Ages” is not a correct term for this time period. This term is not correct, because the whole time period was not “Dark”, there was still “Light” during this time that influenced the future.

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