Chapter LXXIX (79) of The Story of the Middle Ages, Henry Plantaganet and Eleanor of Aquitaine, relates the history of the robber barons which became entrenched in England in the course of the bitter civil war between Stephen and Maude (Matilda) in the 12th century.
“During the long civil war between Matilda and Stephen, the barons, as we have seen, had built many castles and waged many private wars. They had learned to do just as they pleased, to respect no one’s rights, and to rob, murder, and burn. No one had been safe in the realm, except such as dwelt in the monasteries or convents, and it is no wonder that these were full, for people took refuge in the only place where they could dwell in peace.
“Henry could not allow the barons to go on thus, and one of his first acts as king was to call them to order. He made war against all those who would not obey him, and had many of their fortresses pulled down, so that the robber barons could no longer take refuge behind their strong walls. To satisfy the people, he gave them the charter that Stephen had promised, and decided that criminals should be tried by a jury of twelve men. Trial by ordeal was not entirely abolished, but men were no longer forced to prove their innocence by conquering their accusers in battle.
“The priests had hitherto been tried only by their own class, who inflicted very slight punishments upon them, but Henry now declared that if a priest or monk did wrong he should be tried and punished just the same as any other man. This change in the law was opposed for some time, and it was only after a long fight with the clergy that the new laws were passed. They were carefully drawn up at last, and are known in history as the Con-sti-tu´tions of Clar´en-don.”
You see, trial by a jury of one’s peers was a long-sought after freedom, which took centuries to gain, an insurance against the powerful misusing the justice system as a weapon to punish political enemies when no actual crime had been committed. George Zimmerman has just been acquitted by a jury of his peers. This jury spent over three weeks hearing all the evidence that you and I have not heard. The prosecution had freedom to bring the most damaging information to their attention. That Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted unanimously speaks to his innocence in the charges against him.
That the powers that be have not accepted the decision of Zimmerman’s peers is a step in the wrong direction in mankind’s long struggle against tyranny. Today their sights are trained on him. What will we do when their sights are trained on you or I? We will have wished more Americans knew about the Constitutions of Clarendon and why its passage is such a milestone in the history of freedom.
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