Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Henchminion Sends In the Tale of "The Magna Carta Essay!"

The Magna Carta Essay: It's Still ALIIIIVE![Dec. 27th, 2011|03:36 am]

Back in 2005 I did an evil, evil thing. Discovering the proliferation of websites where student plagiarists could copy essays, I wrote a Trojan horse paper about the Magna Carta and seeded it on a few plagiarism sites. The essay is basically wrong from beginning to end. Amongst other silliness, it claims that King John's titles included Duke of Hazzard, and observes that "peasants were reduced to eating burage and socage." It also invents a fictitious war against Flanders Fland (a region on the coast of Luxembourg) and cites such scholarly tomes as Bollock and Maidenhead's classicInterminable History of the English Law.

Every once in awhile, I google a few phrases from the paper to see how it's gettting along in the wild. Over the years, the two seed essays I planted have spawned a dozen or so Google hits at various disreputable sites. Sometimes they even want you to pay to see the whole text. However, for years I had no idea if any student had actually handed the thing in.

Until tonight.

Oh my, oh my. The wording has been changed somewhat and some of the jokes were excised, but that's my essay there. Ranulf de Glanville has been changed from the Sheriff of Nottingham to "a mercenary of John," which totally wrecks the reference to Alan Rickman in the bibliography. (The student is probably too young to have seen that movie.) But since he's not Canadian, the bit about the notwithstanding clause sailed right past him.

He quotes the words "Discipulus tuus hunc tractatum non scripsit" in caps lock, but the professor for the course was an Americanist, so maybe he didn't get it? Did the paper pass? The student seems to have managed to graduate. Apparently he even minored in Latin!

Aaron Kerzner of Boston, I blow my nose at you.

ETA: The plagiarism sites now seem to want you to register in order to see the whole essay. You can read it in its entirety here.


The Magna Carta

by Henchminion

"John, by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy, Aquitaine and Hazzard, and count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls barons, justiciars, sheriffs, ministers, bailiffs and all his faithful men, greeting." 1 So begins the most famous legal document of the Middle Ages. The Magna Carta was a product of the power struggle between King John and his barons in the year 1215. Although it was intended to address concerns that were specific to its time and place, it became a high water mark of legal freedom for centuries to come. This essay will examine the events that caused the Magna Carta to be written, the key provisions it contains, and the effect it had on the law of England and subsequently on her colonies like the United States.

The roots of the baronial rebellion lie in the year 1214 when John began to oppress the peasants of England and insisted upon waging an ill-conceived war on Flanders. The winter of 1213-1214 was a harsh one. Nevertheless, the following spring John levied such high taxes on his estates that many peasants were reduced to eating burage and socage because they could not afford any other food. 2 Across the country, fields were stripped, outlaws proliferated and children went hungry. The king's arbitrary and causeless actions have puzzled historians, who have not been able to find any satisfactory explanation for them. 

At the same time, John had begun a war against Flanders. Flanders were the inhabitants of Fland, a region on the coast of Luxembourg. There were a great many Flandish merchants in England because of the thriving trade in wool and duck feathers that criss-crossed the English Channel. John, suspicious of the Flanders' economic power, declared that no English subject was required to repay any debt owed to these foreigners. 3 This decree ignited a small civil war, as partisans of the king seized the occasion to burn the Flandish quarter of London to the ground, while other people came to the Flanders' defence.

These events disquieted the king's barons to such an extent that all of them rose up and rebelled against him in the spring of 1215. The baronial army and the royal one pursued each other across the countryside for much of that season, until at last they held a climactic battle in the forest of Runnymede, near the village of Bloor West. The king's forces lost and John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in order to acknowledge his defeat.

The Magna Carta, or Great Charter, contains sixty-four articles. Many of them pertain to measures the king must undertake in specific parts of England, but others are broad statements of principle that have become the foundations of English law. The preamble to the Manga Carta is one of the latter. It states that the king must be subject to laws agreed upon by his barons, as he has not been able to withstand the collective force of their armies. This section is known as the Notwithstanding Clause. It fundamentally changed the way that subsequent governments operated, and its implications continue to be debated today. 4

Another key provision has to do with the separation of church and state. Many bishops in the kingdom were angry with John because his officials had attempted to interfere with religious officials and ceremonies. Therefore they prevailed upon the barons to include an article which stated "To no one will we sell, to no one will we delay, to no one will we deny Christmas." 5 This statement refers to an event in the year 1213, in which Ranulf de Glanvill, one of the king's sheriffs, forbade the celebration of Christmas mass in Nottingham.

A third provision concerns taxation. In the original Latin, it is summed up by the famous words "Discipulus tuus hunc tractatum non scripsit." This sentence means "There is to be no taxation without representation." 6 The clause, article 23, led to the establishment of the parliament of England, the world's first representative legislature. Each shire of England was thenceforth able to elect two knights and two burglars, or townsfolk, to the House of Commons. From this point forward, democracy was firmly entrenched in England and no law could be passed that had not been approved by parliament. 7

The final clause of the Magna Carta is its amending formula. Anticipating that they might require changes to the document later, John's barons inserted this section so that the charter could be amended. The clause states that the Manga Carta can only be rewritten if the changes are agreed to by the House of Commons, the monarch, and seven out of the ten shires representing fifty percent plus one of the population. 8 However, as this consensus proved impossible to attain, the Magna Carta was not amended for nine hundred years.

Events after Runnymede showed that the Great Charter had become a cornerstone of English law. Once he understood the limits that the document had placed on him, John attempted to have it declared null and void. He prevailed upon Pope Innocent III to strike it down and excommunicate the barons who were supposed to enforce its provisions. The pope agreed to do this because he was an Enemy of Freedom. There can be no other explanation for his senseless harassment of totally innocent barons.

Nevertheless, just as the Magna Carta seemed to be in eclipse, John's elder brother Richard III returned from his crusade to Persia and seized back the throne of England from his younger brother. Now was the winter of the barons' discontent made glorious summer by the true king's return. 9Richard confiscated all of his brother's lands, so that John was thenceforth known as John Lackland. The former tyrant was driven into exile, and spent the rest of his days in a monastery on the island of Thanet amusing himself by writing poetry about the virtues of agricultural labour. Some of that poetry has even come down to the present day. 10

The example of the Magna Carta shows that freedom and democracy will always prevail over tyranny. This is an important lesson for people to remember today. 

1. A. J. Pollard, Magna Carta to Domesday Book (London: Periwinkle Press, 1999), 227.

2. Clarence Miniver-Smythe, From Savagery to Unreason: A Chronicle of the Medieval Age (London: Periwinkle, 1923), 78.

3. Sir Frederick Bollock & F. W. Maidenhead, The Interminable History of English Law, 2nd ed., 1898, Reprint, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1968), II 324.

4. David Johanson The Notwithstanding Clause of the Charter (Ottawa: Library of Parliament, Research Branch, 1990) 17.

5. Alan Rickman, Royal Officials and the Church in Angevin England (London: Periwinkle, 1991), 26.

6. D. Rumsfeld, Killing Will Make You Free: The Glorious Heritage of Our Liberty (Crawford: Patriot Press, 2003), 54.

7. Ibid., 123.

8. Gunthold Langschreiber, Hermeneutical Exegesis in Epistemology: The Example of the Magna Carta (Heidelberg: Burgamfels├╝bersweinfurtobderrhein Verlag, 1999), 42.

9. William Shakespeare, Richard III (London: Puffish Classics, 2000), I.i.

10. John Lackland, Piers Plowman (London: Puffish Classics, 1996).


  1. Every part of this, from the original essay to the latest iteration (featuring graphics! Proffies LURVE pictures, after all...) is hilarious. Thanks for giving me the gift of the Trojan Horse essay. I now know what I'm doing with my next sabbatical.

  2. Ditto ... I might go so far as to author The Onion-esque versions of all my major assignments!

  3. You're turning the kid in to his professor, right?

  4. I want so desperately for a CMer to recognize a paper they've received...

  5. This is wonderful. You have inspired me. Your bibliography, may I say, is particularly delicious, especially fn. 4. And 6.

  6. Somebody should email a link from this page to Aaron Kerzner's employer. We can't torture him, curbstomp him, key his car, burn his house to the ground, cripple his grandfather while he watches, mangle his writing hand in a vise, slather him in lampblack and shock him till the lampblack ignites (how a fraternity initiate died in the 1940s), rape his dog and shoot his girlfriend, or drive him out to the desert whereupon he is forced to dig his own grave. We don't have that power, drat the luck; but we can make it be known to his employer that A. Kerzner cheated back when Bush II was in office.

  7. We can't ... mangle his writing hand in a vise...

    I assume you mean his "copy paste" hand.

    I bet we could post a fake essay right here on this site, clearly marked as fake, and someone would submit it somewhere.

  8. Genius. I think we all owe it to ourselves to seed the plagiarism sites with bogus essays in our field.

  9. I forgot to add my thanks to Henchiminion for this idea. Fun stuff. I have tweaked Wikipedia with superficially plausible but humorous and false data before just to see how long the self-correcting takes. But this deliciously mean.

    I just got an idea for an added twist: Write a fake essay like this and submit it only to a pay-for-use site so that a google search will not find all of it. Then submit it to your own turnitin.com account. That way, the professor of the first student who uses it will probably write to ask you about it. You will get immediate feedback on the first case of the essay being used. Then you can post the story here at CM.

  10. BTW - I will be checking periodically to see how long it takes before a google search for this guy's name brings this page up among the top hits. Right now, this story is on page four.

    The moderator should consider now what to do when contacted by Mr. K. with a request to remove his name. As someone who has himself had issues controlling my online biography, my sympathies would be with complying and removing the name. But the essay itself is available online under his name, of course, so the case can be made that he asked for it.

  11. Adjunct Slave, I'd Googled the plagiarizing and not terribly intelligent mofo too, and had to dig fairly deep before I found reference to this. But I'm sure that the Google's magical and patented ranking algorithm will have his essay float to the top after CM is done discussing it (and I'm pretty sure many of us have already forwarded the story to colleagues, or linked to it through various social networks.) Word to the wise kids...

  12. BRAVO! (and I'd be more worried about Frederick Bollock googling his name!)

  13. Wonderful! I'm passing this around....

  14. Reference #4 is brilliant. Of course the notwithstanding clause reference would stand out like a sore thumb to a Canuckistani prof. But I guess plagiarism has now been globalized.

    In the pdf with the pictures added I was struck that the picture of parliament is the Canuckistani parliament not the Brit! Complete with bilingue copyright notice on the photo. This is either a delicious coincidence, or someone is more in on the joke than they are letting on.

  15. We're not doing a very good job. This story keeps getting ranked lower and lower on google searches for his name. From my end, it is now on page six. It was on page four yesterday. Two other pages showing this same story are on page five.

  16. There is no statute of limitations on plagiarism. The prof & school should be notified so they may take action. Assuming they disapprove of the conduct.

  17. And, if you are attempting to shoot the rankings up, links should help much more than discussion. The good student appears to be on LinkedIn here
    http://www.linkedin.com/pub/aaron-kerzner/1a/b96/3b0 and on G-Plus here: https://plus.google.com/109751439789664707269

    Aaron Kerzner's former prof seems to have run the class site as recently as 2008 here http://dimensionsofhistory.homestead.com/, it would be interesting to wander through other docs on that site and see how rampant plagiarism is amongst those students.

  18. We're almost hoping the "presentation" is a joke; after all, it is for "dimentions" of history, on "affects" of Magna Carta. Evidently, history is crazy and MC makes people happy.
    Oh, and who puts "your student did not write this paper" in Copperplate Bold, front and center, and expects to get away with it?
    (Okay, so we think as we would, and not like a flake. Probably why we think nobody could be that stupid)

  19. I adored the Runnymede reference - pictured the subway stop from my most recent trip to Toronto.

    At the beginning of term I have been known to open a sample essay from a pay site and I start correcting it in front of the students. Even if I don't catch the plagiarism, I show them that I WILL catch the bad writing and that they will have PAID for a mediocre grade.

  20. While direct links to this site or other references to this story continue to fall in google search rank when his name is the search term, I managed to get a reference to this page up to be the number five hit - front page. I went to answers.com and asked "What happens if you google Aaron Kerzner and college misery?" That question is now immediately visible to anyone who searches for his name. Of course if anyone decides to try to google those terms, they'll come here.

  21. Did your original paper include the map? It was the map that really got me laughing, including at least two countries that didn't exist at the time as well as Berlin which wasn't named such till the next century(!)

  22. WOW. I'm honestly not sure if I'd be more horrified to be AK or the professor who graded this at this point... truly incredible! (from the Latin, 15th century. Source: Merriam Webster, www.m-w.com )

  23. He is easily findable on facebook. Sadly, his wall is not public.

  24. He is easily findable on facebook. Sadly, his wall is not public.

  25. It reminds me of Stephensons Anathem where the Internet (called something else in the book) essentially became worthless because competing search engines polluted it with misinformation to screw with each others algorithms.

  26. Ha Ha.. coast of Luxembourg - a landlocked country! Sorry, took me a moment to appreciate that one, but well done. A+

  27. I think I've read 'The Interminable History of English Law'.

    Ah, I see it was indeed a reference to Maitland. Yes, I felt that way about it as well!

  28. Thank you I haven't stopped smiling since I read this last night.

  29. If we want his essay to be associated with his name, we have to stop clicking on his other stuff like linkedin, facebook, twitter, etc. and...

    1. google search his name
    2. click ONLY on the resulting link to this story here at CM (right now it is on page 5)

    ...and, if you can, post links to this story at other sites.

  30. Seeding the sites with watermarked files is fine, but planting these corrupt seeds (with incorrect and absurd information) seems to be hurtful, malicious, and nontrivial.

    It's one of the best ways for a proffie to sink below the level of hir flake students, isn't it? We're supposed to lead them, not fuck with their minds.

    Henchminion admits that what s/he did was "evil"; I won't argue with that.

  31. A funny effort, but if we are all for bringing back tar & feathers, may we not include profs on the list, too? The ones who let their assistants mark the papers; those who steal research from their juniors; they who give the same recycled lectures from 20 years ago; the ones who mark on Leftist ideological grounds; those who take sexual advantage of students and juniors. Hie them to the seacoast dungeons of Luxembourg castle, and let them rot.

  32. I'm glad all the stupid things I did as a kid/lazy student aren't online. Suggesting contacting someone's employer? Why not contact the professors who graded the paper?

  33. @Bubba et al - yes, I know it is silly and, as I stated above, I have had problems managing my online persona and have some sympathy with this guy on those grounds. Don't worry, I'm not obsessing over this. Except for the "answers.com" thing, which isn't even a link, I haven't posted anything anywhere. I have checked the google hit rank a few times, but I have not been working overtime to ruin his life. I have not contacted anyone about it. It looks like he has a robust online identity that is well guarded against this kind of thing anyway.

    I have often said that I am glad the WWW didn't come along until I was an adult. When I think of how cruel we were to each other as kids, I no doubt would have done some pretty nasty things and had some real crap done to me as well.


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