The Reeds of Runnymede

Notes on the text

(by Peter Keating)


[Title and sub-title]The Reeds of Runnymede. Runnymede is situated near Windsor, to the west of London, on the Upper Thames. In Anglo-Saxon, runieg refers to a meeting place, and a mede is a meadow. It is possible that the word Runnymede derives from the fact that the Witan – the gathering of the King’s advisory counsellors in pre-Norman England – used to meet here in King Alfred’s reign (871-899).

[Sub-title] June 15, 1215. The date on which the Magna Charta was signed.

[Line 3] lissom. Lithe, supple, flexible and, in folk tales, often contrasted with the strong but breakable oak.

[Line 6] John. King of England 1199-1216.

[Lines 9-10] A freeman. The reference here is contemporary and therefore has the general meaning of any Englishman. Within a Medieval context, as the word is used again in line 23, a freeman would be distinguished from a serf who was bound in servitude to a master.

[Line 11] Englishry.There does not seem to be a special reason for Kipling choosing this unusual word. Originally it was a legal term indicating proof that a slain person was English, though here Kipling seems to use it to refer more generally to distinctive qualities possessed by English people, in this case an innate love of justice.

[Line 13] the Barons. The principal landowners of England who at this time could trace their powerful positions to a redistribution of land by King William following the Norman Conquest in 1066. See “Young Men at the Manor”, Puck of Pook’s

[Line 18] Right Divine. The ‘Divine Right of Kings.’ The belief that a monarch is divinely appointed and answerable for his actions only to God, which is being challenged by the actions of the Barons.

[Line 24] freehold ground. Land owned for the period of a person’s life. Originally it was a form of land tenure paid for by service in the feudal manner. Eventually rights to the land were secured by money payments rather than service.

[Line 26] peers. Not ‘Lords’ in this case, but ‘equals’. Both meanings of the word are still current.

[Lines 27-29] Forget not, after all these years … Mob or Monarch lays. Runnymede is not simply something that happened many years ago, but a living reality to everyone. The freedoms gained then can still be threatened, and in the early twentieth century Kipling and Fletcher see the possibility of that coming more from the Mob than the Monarch.

[P. K.]
©Peter Keating 2003 All rights reserved