A Brief History of the Magna Carta by Geoffrey Hindley

I’ve enjoyed reading A Brief History of the Magna Carta by Geoffrey Hindley. I thought the book will talk only about Magna Carta, but it touched on different aspects of medieval life that impacted Magna Carta. There are chapters about women, Jews, and forests. Those are very important too, as it creates a better picture of what was happening at that time.

A Brief History of the Magna Carta by Geoffrey Hindley

I did find out some pretty amazing things from this book. Like the fact that some bishops would be officers of state, thus having land. As landowners they had the duty to send army in time of war. Some clerics would serve in the battlefield themselves. Because they were priests, so it was not appropriate for them to have swords and shed human blood, their weapon of choice would be a mace or cudgel. Although I’m wondering if blood wouldn’t have been spilt with a mace.

London has its own chapter, as it had a different status. At this time the guilds were created, like weavers, bakers, pepperers (sellers of pepper), butchers, goldsmiths, cloth-dressers, and “guilds of the bridge”, but nobody knows what these people were doing.

As a newly Liverpudlian, I was happy to see Liverpool mentioned a few times. King John was the one that founded the city, one of the 57 founded between 1180 and 1230. Oxford was another very important town at that time. In early 1200s, besides the qualifications in civil and canon law, graduates from Paris or Bologna started new teaching practices. Thus, new faculties were offering studies in liberal arts. There were around 3,000 students and masters. Quite an impressive figure for early 13th century. A murder of a townswoman in 1209 provoked a serious problem. Three students were hanged, but they were clerics, so they should have been tried in ecclesiastical court. Students and professors moved to other educational centres, like Cambridge, Reading. The lack of students affected Oxford’s economy and in five years they came to an agreement.

I mentioned forests earlier. Well it looks like forests were much more important than proving a bit of wood and game for the hunt: “Berries and mushrooms provided foods, and in addition there were medicinal plants and poisons; bee products such as honey and candle wax; oil from walnuts and beechnuts; forage, such as the salt-rich compost of fallen leaves, for farm and draught animals; mast, such as acorns or beech nuts for pigs; wood resins for torches, pitch and glue; leaves for mattress-stuffing for cottage households (beech leaves were called ‘wood feathers’); bark for tiles and roofing shingles, boats and baskets; wood ash for fertilizer and washing lye for use in soap-making; leather and furs from wild animals; horn for drinking-vessels, hunting horns and knife handles.” All this besides the obvious wood. Saplings would be bent to grow in the shape was needed, how fascinating.

While we all know that the king and barons would hunt, is less known that ordinary people would hunt too. Is not like the rich and powerful were able to hunt, while the peasants were peaceful vegans. Common people could hunt small animals like foxes, badgers, wolves, and wild cats, but they would need a permission to take it.

The last fun fact from the book is that bridge building was considered a work of piety. The idea has its roots in the Roman period, when pagan nature spirits of the rivers, called genii loci, were placated after the bridge was built. The chief priest at Rome was a member of a college of bridge priests. He had the title Pontifex Maximus, translates as principal bridge builder, and that is a title still in use today, as the Pope has the title of Supreme Pontiff.

A Brief History of the Magna Carta by Geoffrey Hindley

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars.
Would I recommend it: Yes
Published by: Constable & Robinson Ltd
Year it was published: 2008
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): Non-fiction. History
Pages: 334

About the author: Geoffrey Hindley (1935-2014), studied at University College Oxford. He was a lecturer and writer. He was an invited participant at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University. Also, he was visiting associate professor at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Between 1994 andg 2000 he taught English civilization at the University of Le Havre. Right up until his death he was co-president of the Society for the History of Medieval Technology and Science of Oxford and London.
His books include
Medieval Sieges & Siegecraft, A Brief History of the Crusades: Islam and Christianity in the Struggle for World Supremacy, The Shaping of Europe, England in the Age of Caxton, and A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons.
Website & Social Media Links: –

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