I like to ponder past significant events. This month there are two giant ones. I would like you to consider: The signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The Magna Carta was a signed agreement between the despotic King John (1166-1216) and his fractious Barons on a field at Runnymede near Windsor, England in 1215. That was 800 years ago. Hard to wrap your mind around an event which took place that long ago. That initial agreement very quickly failed and John and his Barons were back at each other’s throats. So why do we care? The Magna Carta is described as one of the “most celebrated documents in history.” Some historians claim that this document is thought to be the precursor of modern Democracy. It influenced the American founding fathers as they created the Constitution. Four of the early copies of the Magna Carta still exist. These manuscripts are so rare and revered that during WWII, the British government shipped a copy to the United States for safekeeping. That copy lived at Fort Knox, Kentucky until the war was over.
Many published books discuss this document and the time in England when it came to be. I recommend the fascinating 1215: The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John
Then there is Waterloo, which occurred 200 years ago. Just about everyone knows about the famous battle, the final defeat of Napoleon, and the end to a European war which had lasted 23 years. The Battle of Waterloo took place on June 18, 1815 in what is now Belgium. Tens of thousands tragically died on both sides; the carnage was enormous.
Many books , both fiction and non-fiction, describe the events of this military campaign. A recent edition to this body of work is a small volume entitled The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale by Leona Francombe. This novel relates what happened during that fateful battle. On June 17, 1815, the Duke of Wellington amassed his troops at Hougoumont, an ancient farmstead not far from the town of Waterloo. On June 18th, the French attacked. It is believed that both Napoleon and Wellington thought that holding Hougoumont was key to winning the battle.
What makes this telling so different is that it is told by a modern young rabbit named William who lives on what remains of the old farm. Under the teachings of his mysterious and wise grandmother, Old Lavender, William learns about the famous conflict and begins to absorb the “echoes and ghosts of the battle.” Gradually, William comes to realize how profoundly the deeds at Waterloo two hundred years before continue to resonate.
“Nature,” as Old Lavender says, “never truly recovers from human cataclysms.”
The Sage of Waterloo is a satisfying retelling of a key turning point in human history.