Social Inequality: Early Medieval Perspectives on a Modern-Day Challenge

Social inequalities are among the most pressing challenges facing us today. Yet they also affected the past in many different ways. Investigating historical inequalities can sharpen our understanding of present-day phenomena. This is true even of an era whose social order no longer exists: the Middle Ages.

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Medieval Notions of Consent and Contemporary Social Cohesion: Impressions from Workshop ‘Law and Consent in Medieval Britain’, 30 October 2020

On Monday, 2 November 2020, a video posted on Twitter showed the owner of a soft play centre from Liverpool rejecting COVID-19 regulations, citing Clause 61 of Magna Carta. This historical agreement between the English king and his magnates was first concluded in 1215. In the owner’s opinion, the police had no right to close his business since—he argued—the medieval document showed that government authorities were bound by law and had to be resisted if they encroached on central personal liberties. This claim immediately provoked reactions from historians of the Middle Ages, who rightly pointed out that although parts of Magna Carta are, indeed, still part of English Law today, Clause 61 is no longer in force. In fact, it was removed in 1216, when the agreement was revised after King John’s death.

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