Monday, 15 June 2015

Out Of Their Trees : Magna Carta Bloodlines

Today is the official celebration for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta has become a symbol of rights and freedoms in society and even though it was only legal for 9 weeks back in 1215 its legacy has influenced later declarations of human rights that are in existence today. What I’d like to show today is that many lgbt activists, whether they campaign for lgbt rights, women’s rights, or human rights in general, have Magna Carta “in their blood”.

Hundreds of thousands of lgbt people descend from either King John or one (or more) of the 25 barons who acted as sureties, a group regarded among American genealogists as being as significant as signatories of the Declaration of Independence or Revolutionary soldiers. Although I wouldn’t regard myself as an activist I can claim descent from King John and 15 of the 17 surety barons who left descendants. There are no living descendants of the other 8 barons.

Statistically speaking it’s impossible for anyone of English descent NOT to have at least one Magna Carta ancestor. You’ll be surprised by the famous activists, revolutionaries, freedom fighters and campaigners who do (for example, most of the leaders of the American War of Independence, leading members in the English Civil War, and several leaders of the French Revolution).

I’ve chosen a representative group of lgbt activists and campaigners and have shown their Magna Carta ancestors on the chart below. Going into detail would take up a huge amount of space so I’ve written only a short description of the individual’s campaigning career and indicated their Magna Carta ancestors using the numbers given.

There’s one oddity which the chart reveals. Of King John and the 17 barons who have many thousands of living descendants walking around today, not one of the selected lgbt activists is descended from one of those barons - Sir Geoffrey de Say. Neither am I, but lots of people are. Its just one of those things.

1) Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) - Social reformer and campaigner for women’s rights. She was an anti-slavery activist in the 1850s before concentrating of women’s suffrage, being President of the National Women’s Suffrage Association 1892-1900. The 10th Amendment to the US Constitution giving women the vote is known as the Anthony Amendment.

2) George Byron, Lord Byron (1788-1824) - Before finding fame as a Romantic poet Byron sat in the House of Lords. His maiden speech was in defence of the Luddites of Nottingham, weavers who were smashing the new machines that were taking their work and livelihood away. Parliament decreed that Luddites be executed, and Byron defended their right to live and work. At the end of his life Byron fought with the Greeks in their fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire.

3) Hon. Sir Ewan Forbes, 11th Baronet (1912-1991) - Born female and the youngest child of a Scottish baronet, Sir Ewan successfully fought to have his birth certificate changed by law after his transition. He then succeeded in a court case over the family title against a male cousin who didn’t recognise Sir Ewan’s gender.

4) Eva Gore-Booth (1870-1926) - Eva fought against her privileged background and was also an active suffragette, founding a branch of the Irish Women’s Suffrage Association in Sligo. With her lover Esther Roper she became co-secretary of the Women’s Textile and Other Workers Representation Committee. Eva was also an Irish nationalist and campaigned for the release of nationalists who were imprisoned as traitors, one of whom was her sister Constance, Countess Markiewicz, the first women elected to the UK parliament.

5) Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) - One of the Founding Fathers of the USA, a veteran of the War of Independence, and co-founder of the Federalist Party.

6) Harry Hay (1912-2002) - A leading figure in gay rights in the USA. He co-founded the Mattachine Society in 1951, one of the most influential pre-Stonewall organisations which lobbied the US government for equal rights. Later he went on to be elected Chair of the Southern California Gay Liberation Front, and co-founded the Radical Faeries.

7) Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) - First Lady of America, humanitarian and diplomat. In 1948 Eleanor was chosen to chair the committee which drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

8) Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) - Having fought against her family to pursue what they regarded as an unfeminine career as a composer Ethel used her talents in the suffragette movement by composer their anthem “The March of the Women”. Her own campaigning for votes for women earned her a prison sentence.

9) John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) - Although he never came out as a homosexual in his lifetime Symonds’ writings displayed more than a hint to his sexuality. His defence of the homosexual lifestyle was daring for his time. In his writings he advocated the decriminalisation of homosexual acts.

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