Dec 102016
 

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Today is Human Rights Day celebrating the proclamation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, in clear language, the fundamental human rights that are to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages. Sadly, the resolution was non-binding, making the United Nations a rather toothless tiger. But it was a start for a fledgling world body to come together under a common banner with a common goal. The full text of the declaration is here: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

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Ancient cultures had complex legal systems, but, despite spurious claims by some scholars that documents such as the Cyrus Cylinder are declarations of human rights, the concept as it is understood now, was not formulated until the development of humanist thinking and Protestant ideology in the West beginning with what we now call the Renaissance and the Reformation. Its ideals crested in Enlightenment philosophy in the 17th century and in key documents such as the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), and the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution (1791).  Preceding documents such as the Constitution of Medina (622), Al-Risalah al-Huquq (659-713), Magna Carta (1215), etc., all contains germs of the idea, but the notion that a person is born with inalienable rights regardless of gender, color, creed, or religion does not emerge full blown until the late 17th century. However, even the documents I have cited are equivocal. The U.S. Bill of Rights, for example, was passed by slave holders, but it put the principles in place.

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The word “Man” is troublesome. The documents cited seem to be a bit vague in this regard. Are they using the word “Man” to mean Homo sapiens, or just men (and not women)? You can waffle all you like; they meant men, and the word when used now is still sexist, even if unintentionally. I don’t use the word to mean humans; I use the word “human” – end of story. These are HUMAN rights, not the Rights of Man. It’s not difficult to say “human” rather than “man” or “humankind” rather than “mankind.” A few extra letters won’t hurt you. If you need convincing look at these sentences:

In prehistoric times man was a hunter.

Man is the only species that menstruates on a 28-day cycle but is receptive to sex all the time.

The first sentence seems all right, but the second one looks odd. Why? Both show gender bias, but the first gets a free pass and the second gets a question mark. The first is fair enough in that both men and women have participated in hunting historically, but . . . hunting is (and was) predominantly a male activity in forager societies. Thus “Man the Hunter” seems all right and has been used as the name of a classic text in anthropology. “Man the Menstruator” doesn’t sit well.  Case closed. Talk about HUMAN rights.

It would be nice if traditional musicians would get the memo. The “Rights of Man” is a classic Irish hornpipe that is very popular at music sessions. Irish tunes in general have catchy titles that have nothing to do with the music. That said, I will rename this the Human Rights Hornpipe:

There is a basic human right to food.  This is subsumed under the basic human right to life. Food, water, and shelter are the most basic of human needs to support life. What form food comes in is not relevant as long as it is free from harmful contaminants and is plentiful enough to avoid hunger or malnutrition. This means that there is no human right to banquets or fancy dishes. In fact there are a lot of people (and cultures) in the world that are not interested in diversity in food. I don’t understand people who want the same food all the time, but I respect their habits. The domestication of plants led to cereals being primary staples worldwide with wheat, barley, corn, and rice topping the list. In many world languages the word for the local staple is also the general word for food. The Lord’s Prayer asks: “Give us each day our daily bread.”  The word “bread” here means food, and “daily bread” means enough food for the day. The basic character in Chinese, 饭, is pronounced fan (4th tone), and can mean rice in particular, or a meal in general.

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So, frankly, I don’t know what to present as a recipe du jour. The times in my life when I have had almost no money to live on (too many for comfort), I’ve usually resorted to a bowl of rice per day. It’s a bit bleak but I’ve always found ways to dress up plain rice. Stalls that sell bowls of rice in Asia always have condiments of some sort – sauces or pickles. I usually opt for a fiery hot sauce and some pickles.

Jun 152014
 

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On this date in 1250 King John of England sealed Magna Carta, also called Magna Carta Libertatum or The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, at Runnymede, on the bank of the River Thames near Windsor. Magna Carta was the first document imposed upon a King of England by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights. The charter is widely known throughout the English speaking world as an important part of the protracted historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in England and beyond.

The 1215 charter required King John to proclaim certain liberties and accept that his will was not arbitrary—for example by explicitly accepting that no freeman (in the sense of non-serf) could be punished except through the law of the land, a right that still exists under English law today. The name Runnymede may be derived from the Anglo-Saxon ‘runieg’ (regular meeting) and ‘mede’ (mead or meadow), describing a place in the meadows used to hold regular meetings. The Witan, Witenagemot or Council of the Anglo-Saxon kings of the 7th to 11th centuries was held from time to time at Runnymede. The Council usually met in the open air.

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The water-meadow at Runnymede is the most likely location at which King John sealed the Magna Carta, and is the site of the Magna Carta Memorial. Magna Carta Island on the opposite bank of the river is another possible site. The charter indicates Runnymede by name. The Magna Carta influenced common and constitutional law, as well as political representation and the development of parliament. The charter’s association with ideals of democracy, limitation of power, equality and freedom under law has attracted placement at Runnymede of monuments and commemorative symbols.

Magna Carta was preceded and directly influenced by the Charter of Liberties in 1100, in which King Henry I had specified particular areas wherein his powers would be limited. Magna Carta was important in the colonization of North America, as England’s legal system was used as a model for many of the colonies when they were developing their own legal systems.

It was translated into vernacular French as early as 1219, and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions. The later versions excluded the most direct challenges to the monarch’s authority that had been present in the 1215 charter. The charter first passed into law in 1225; the 1297 version, with the long title (originally in Latin) “The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest,” still remains on the statute books of England and Wales.

Despite its recognized importance, by the second half of the 19th century nearly all of its clauses had been repealed in their original form. Three clauses currently remain part of the law of England and Wales, however, and Magna Carta is generally considered a major part of the uncodified constitution (England has no written constitution). It has special constitutional status along with the Habeas Corpus Act (1679), the Petition of Right (1628), the Bill of Rights (1689), and the Act of Settlement (1701).

It was Magna Carta, over other early concessions by the monarch, which survived to become a “sacred text.” In practice, Magna Carta did not generally limit the power of kings in the medieval period, but by the time of the English Civil War it had become an important symbol for those who wished to show that the King was bound by the law. It influenced the early settlers in New England and inspired later constitutional documents, including the United States Constitution.

A group of barons began to conspire against King John in 1209 and in 1212; promises made to the northern barons and John’s submission to universal rule of the papacy in 1213 delayed a French invasion. Over the course of his reign a combination of higher taxes, unsuccessful wars that resulted in the loss of English barons’ titled possessions in Normandy following the Battle of Bouvines (1214), and the conflict with Pope Innocent III (ending with John’s submission in 1213) had made King John unpopular with many of his barons.

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In 1215 some of the most important barons engaged in open rebellion against their king. Such rebellions were not particularly unusual in this period. Every king since William the Conqueror had faced rebellions. What was unusual about the 1215 rebellion was that the rebels had no obvious replacement for John; in every previous case there had been an alternative monarch around whom the rebellion could rally. Arthur of Brittany would have been a possibility, if he had not disappeared years earlier whilst he was John’s prisoner. He was widely believed to have been murdered by John. The next closest alternative was Prince Louis of France, but as the husband of Henry II’s granddaughter, his claim was tenuous, and the English had been at war with the French for thirty years. Instead of a claimant to the throne, the barons decided to base their rebellion on John’s oppressive government. In January 1215, the barons made an oath that they would “stand fast for the liberty of the church and the realm,” and they demanded that King John confirm the Charter of Liberties, from what they viewed as a golden age.

John attempted to use the lengthy negotiations to avoid a confrontation while he waited for support from the Pope and hired mercenaries, adopting various measures to weaken the rebels’ position and improve his own, including taking the cross as a crusader in March 1215 (which the Pope applauded but most other observers considered insincere), demanding a new oath of allegiance, and confirming London’s city charter in May 1215. During negotiations between January and June 1215, a document was produced, which historians have termed ‘The Unknown Charter of Liberties,’ seven of the articles of which later appeared in the ‘Articles of the Barons’ and the Runnymede Charter. In May, King John offered to submit issues to a committee of arbitration with Pope Innocent III as the supreme arbiter, but the barons continued in their defiance. With the support of Prince Louis, the French heir, and of King Alexander II of the Scots, they entered London in force on 10 June 1215, with the city showing its sympathy with their cause by opening its gates to them. They, and many of the moderates not in overt rebellion, forced King John to agree to a document later known as the ‘Articles of the Barons,’ to which his Great Seal was attached in the meadow at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. In return, the barons renewed their oaths of fealty to King John on 19 June 1215, which is when the document Magna Carta was officially agreed upon by all parties.

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In return for King John’s submission to his papal and universal authority, Innocent III declared Magna Carta annulled, though many English Barons did not accept this action. The contemporary, but unreliable chronicler, Roger of Wendover, recorded the events in his Flores Historiarum. A formal document to record the agreement was created by the royal chancery on 15 July: this was the original Magna Carta, though it was not known by that name at the time. An unknown number of copies of it were sent out to officials, such as royal sheriffs and bishops.

The 1215 document contained a large section that is now called clause 61 (the clauses were not originally numbered). This section established a committee of 25 barons who could at any time meet and overrule the will of the King if he defied the provisions of the Charter, seizing his castles and possessions if it was considered necessary. This was based on a medieval legal practice known as distraint, but it was the first time it had been applied to a monarch.

Distrust between the two sides was overwhelming. What the barons really sought was the overthrow of the King; the demand for a charter was mere subterfuge. Clause 61 was a serious challenge to John’s authority as a ruling monarch. He renounced it as soon as the barons left London; Pope Innocent III also annulled the “shameful and demeaning agreement, forced upon the King by violence and fear.” He rejected any call for restraints on the king, saying it impaired John’s dignity. He saw it as an affront to the Church’s authority over the king and the ‘papal territories’ of England and Ireland, and he released John from his oath to obey it. The rebels knew that King John could never be restrained by Magna Carta and so they sought a new king.

England was plunged into a civil war, known as the First Barons’ War. With the failure of Magna Carta to achieve peace or restrain John, the barons reverted to the more traditional type of rebellion by trying to replace the monarch they disliked with an alternative. In a measure of some desperation, despite the tenuousness of his claim and despite the fact that he was French, they offered the crown of England to Prince Louis of France. Therefore, as a means of preventing war, Magna Carta was a failure, rejected by most of the barons, and was legally valid for no more than three months. The death of King John in 1216, however, secured the future of Magna Carta.

Magna Carter was, thus, not the single great turning point in English history as it is characterized in basic school textbooks; the simplistic notion that most people believe. It was based on a royal charter that was over 100 years old at the time John went to Runnymede, and it had little effect on John’s subsequent actions. Nonetheless, most of its central articles were reaffirmed in later charters, and it was, indeed, the first time that an English king had sealed a document limiting his powers against his will.

1225

1225

King John’s nine-year-old son Henry was crowned King of England in Gloucester Abbey, though much of England lay under the usurper Prince Louis. The papal legate Guala Bicchieri declared the struggle against Louis and the Barons a holy war, and the loyalists led by William Marshal rallied around the new king. Earl Ranulf of Chester left the Regency to Marshall. Marshall and Guala issued a Charter of Liberties, based on the Runnymede Charter, in the King’s name on 12 November 1216 as a Royal concession, in an attempt to undermine the rebels. The Charter differed from that of 1215 in only having 42 as compared to 61 clauses; most notably the infamous article 61 of the Runnymede Charter was removed. The Charter was also issued separately for Ireland. Subsequent charters based on Magna Carta were issued in 1217, 1225, 1237, and 1297.

1297

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Edward I of England reissued the Charter of 1225 in 1297 in return for a new tax. Constitutionally, the Magna Carta of Edward I is the most important because it remains in Statute today (albeit with most articles now repealed).

The clauses of the 1297 Magna Carta inherited from 1215 and still on statute are:

Clause 1, the freedom of the English Church

Clause 9 (clause 13 in the 1215 charter), the “ancient liberties” of the City of London

Clause 29 (clause 39 in the 1215 charter), a right to due process

1. FIRST, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the Freemen of our Realm, for Us and our Heirs for ever, these Liberties under-written, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of Us and our Heirs for ever.

9. THE City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have. Moreover We will and grant, that all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns, and the Barons of the Five Ports, as with all other Ports, shall have all their Liberties and free Customs.

29. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.

I’ve discussed peasant food in Medieval England before (30 May 2014). Now is the turn of the nobility. Here’s a 13th century recipe for a kind of pie that was popular. It resembles what we would call a quiche these days. If you don’t feel like knocking off a pigeon in the park you can find squab in good markets or online. Otherwise another small bird, such as a game hen, will work.

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King John’s Croustade

Ingredients

8-12oz/225-350g wholemeal or whole wheat pastry
1 pigeon
2 chicken joints (2 breasts or 2 whole legs)
? cup dry white wine
2 cups light stock
4 cloves
½ oz/15 g butter
2 oz/50g mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 oz/25g raisins
3 large eggs
½ tsp ground ginger
salt and pepper

Instructions

Roll out 8 oz/225g of the pastry and line a 20cm (8 inch) flan dish, back the crust blind. Put the pigeon in a pot with the stock, wine, pepper, and cloves and cook very slowly for 30 minutes. Add the chicken and continue to cook for a further 45 minutes or until the meat of both birds is really tender.

Meanwhile cook the mushrooms lightly in the butter. Remove the birds from the stock and bone them. Cut the flesh into quite small pieces, mix it with the mushrooms and the raisins and spread them over the base of the flan case.

Beat the eggs with a fork and season with the salt, pepper, and ginger. Add 1 cup of the cooking juices and pour over the meat in the flan case. If you want to have a lid, roll out the rest of the pastry and cover the flan. Bake at 350°F/180°C for 25 minutes if uncovered, 35 minutes if covered. Serve warm.

Dec 242013
 

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Today is the birthday (1166) of King John, also known as John Lackland (Norman French: Johan sanz Terre), king of England from 6 April 1199 until his death in 1216. Following the battle of Bouvines, John lost the duchy of Normandy to King Philip II of France, which resulted in the collapse of most of the Angevin Empire and contributed to the subsequent growth in power of the French Capetian dynasty during the 13th century. The baronial revolt at the end of John’s reign led to the sealing of the Magna Carta, a document sometimes considered to be an early step in the evolution of the constitution of the United Kingdom.

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If this were any other day of the year I’d give you a long diatribe on why most of what you think you know about John is wrong.  Magna Carta was not, in itself, much of a milestone. The barons were not interested in justice; they wanted to replace John, they just didn’t have a good candidate, so settled on Magna Carta as a poor plan B. Afterwards neither John nor the barons paid any heed to the document. Most especially, John was not the great villain he is made out to be. That was the product of 19th century novelists such as Sir Walter Scott moralizing about his sexual habits, which were atrocious, and fanciful tales of Robin Hood that needed a convenient bad guy.  In a lot of ways John was good for England.  For one thing, he was the first king of England since before the conquest who actually spoke English.  All the others spoke French and spent more time in their French holdings than in England.  John’s brother, Richard the Lionheart, for example, spoke French and spent all but 6 months of his reign outside of England, going to war in various places, and bankrupting the country in the process — in fact, leaving John with a mess to clean up.

However, it is Christmas Eve, so I will pass over this juicy and heady stuff.  Instead I will give you an alternate view of King John courtesy of A.A. Milne (with a Christmas theme). This is an all time favorite of mine since childhood taken from Now We Are Six.

KING JOHN’S CHRISTMAS

A.A. Milne

King John was not a good man –
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air –
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon . . .
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack:
‘TO ALL AND SUNDRY – NEAR AND FAR –
F. CHRISTMAS IN PARTICULAR.’
And signed it not ‘Johannes R.’
But very humbly, ‘JACK.’

‘I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!’

King John was not a good man –
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
‘I think that’s him a-coming now,’
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
‘He’ll bring one present, anyhow –
The first I’ve had for years.’

‘Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!’

King John was not a good man –
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: ‘As I feared,
Nothing again for me!’

‘I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife –
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red india-rubber ball!’

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all . . .
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!
AND OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS
MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL
FOR BRINGING HIM
A BIG, RED
INDIA-RUBBER BALL

One of the many legends about King John is that in defending his kingdom he was forced into the tidal regions of East Anglia where he first lost the crown jewels, and then, in a fit of depression, overate and died.  All hogwash of course.  He lost a couple of pack animals, and he died of dysentery (called “ague” back then) which he had contracted some weeks before (common hazard of Medieval war campaigns).

Nonetheless, as a young cook I was taken with the common story that he died of a “surfeit of peaches” and created a recipe called King John’s Surfeit.  I had not made it in years before contemplating this post. But I got out the pots and pans for the occasion.  I’ve never codified it into a recipe, so, as often, you will have to make do with my memory version with its vague notions of quantities.  It is a very sweet dish so barely sweetened whipped cream or ice cream I find are necessary accompaniments.  Making sure it is very well chilled is also important.

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©King John’s Surfeit

Slice dried peaches and marinate them in brandy for at least 24 hours, and preferably a week or more.

Take a quantity of peaches (about one per person), wash them well, and poach them in white wine and sugar flavored with cloves and allspice until they are very soft. You can use hard under ripe fruit for this.

Let the peaches cool and scrape out the cooked flesh, mashing it well in the process.

Reduce the cooking liquid to a thick syrup and let cool.  Refrigerate all the ingredients.

Assemble by mixing the mashed, cooked fruit with marinated dried slices.  Scoop into bowls and top with vanilla ice cream drizzled with the syrup.