Last week Francois the driver for the embassy met me at Luxembourg Airport. The Frenchman greeted me warmly and drove to the EEU court of Justice in Kirchenburg, where the Magna Carta was on display.
"Madame Ambassador is waiting for the Grand Duke."
"The Grand Duke will be there?" I was dressed in Boston Celtics gear and sandals.
"Oui, but you will not be meeting him. He is only there to view the Magna Carta." Francois expertly conducted the Jaguar from the aeroport.
"Good." I relax in the back. The road was smooth and the buildings were all new, instead potholed and rundown by the endless wars sapping America. It was good to be in Europe again.
"Doesn't your Constitution come from the Magna Carta?"
"One of them." The writers of the constitution had borrowed due process from the Magna Carta to prevent a ruler from wielding absolute power. "It's certainly an important cornerstone of western justice stopping kings from lopping off the heads of the lords. The masses were still treated like serfs until the French and Russian Revolutions. Workers of the world unite."
"Je ne suis pas un communist." Francois had served with the French Army, whose generals still expected complete obedience from their troops.
"Je sais." I let the subject drop and we talked about French rugby for the rest of the short journey.
At the Cours de Justice I changed out of my sandals and then submitted my Irish passport to the security, saying, "I am with Madame Ambassador."
"D'accord." The man was just doing his job and came back with the embassy assistant, a young woman from Luxembourg. Marie led me inside the building, saying that we had to stay out of the way. "Le Grand Duke will be here shortly."
The Grand Dukes had reigned in Luxembourg since the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and the present ruled Henri was titled as follows; By the Grace of God, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Duke of Nassau, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Count of Sayn, Königstein, Katzenelnbogen and Diez, Burgrave of Hammerstein, Lord of Mahlberg, Wiesbaden, Idstein, Merenberg, Limburg and Eppstein.
"I'll stay out of the way." As a commoner I knew my place in this world.
We stood to the side. I was dying for a coffee. It was almost 10AM. Marie asked, "Have you ever see the Magna Carta before?"
"No." I knew one was in the British Museum.
"Isn't it the basis of your Constitution?"
"The Magna Carta covered the forty barons of England, but it was John Locke who advanced the idea that a ruler sat in power only with the consent of the governed. The kings didn't really agree with that, especially in the Americas which resented the arbitrary dictates of a distant king."
"So the Magna Carta had nothing to do with the Constitution?" Marie frowned as if she had misunderstood history.
"No, the Magna Carta established basic freedoms, the most basic being the right to liberty by freemen." I stopped talking upon spotting the motorcycle outriders of the Duke's entourage. His BMW pulled up before the building and his security officers entered first to survey the set-up. Their eyes passed over everyone, even me in my leather jacket and jeans. No one was considered dangerous and the Grand Duke made his entry.
Madame Ambassador greeted him. There was a few photos. He viewed the famed document, said a few words to the experts, and then left for another ceremony. The demands on a man of his stature were many.
Marie brought me to the Magna Carta and introduced the Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral and another caretaker of the parchment. I shook their hands and the stocky caretaker said, "This is part of history. The basis of your Constitution."
""So I've been told." Every student in England and the USA learned the same thing without knowing what was written on the lambskin. I hadn't a clue either.
"And it's only one of four copies left in the world." The kind-faced chancellor was proud of his cathedral's possession of the Magna Carta. They had done a good job of protection it. "Once there had been forty."
"Back in 1215."
The barons had forced King John to sign his name, but he soon reneged on his promises and called in French troops to settle the issue of power in his favor. He died on food poisoning while on campaign. The Magna Carta lived on. I leaned over to read the Latin script. Having been a Catholic altar boy I could pick out certain words, but not enough to make any sense of the fine penmanship. Madame Ambassador joined me and said, "You want me to translate?"
Latin was only one of her languages.
"No, I'll google it at the residency." I was staying for the weekend before heading off to London. "Fairly impressive that it survived all those centuries."
"It's an important part of history."
"And the basis of the American Constitution."
"Hah, you old rebel, you actually believe that?" Madame Ambassador was familiar with my politics.
"It's what everyone thinks and democracy has always been about rule of the majority, n'est pas?"
"Except in your world."
"You know me to well."
We started walking back to the car.
"How about breakfast?"
And a good breakfast always helps to found a good constitution.