Thursday, 21 August 2014

1215: The Year Of Magna Carta

1215: The Year of Magna Carta by John Gillingham
One of the books I read this summer was 1215: The Year Of Magna Carta, by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham. 1215 is not so much about the Magna Carta or even the year 1215 itself, but more about the beliefs, lifestyles and traditions of the early 13th century. The book is a sequel to Danziger's book on the year 1000, and in those two centuries England, and the world as a whole, had seen influential social and economic change, similar to the change the Magna Charter itself brought about. Britain was no long insular, a lonely island, with Europe a distant and alien continent. The England King John ruled over in 1215 was a substantially different place; the Norman invasion had strengthened England's ties to Europe and England was beginning to immerse itself in Europe's politics and commerce. 
Danziger and Gillingham detail England under the rule of the early Plantagenet kings — John, Richard I, Henry II and Henry III in an engaging and enlightening manner. They examine the broad 13th-century English landscape—domestic, rural and village life, the state of schools and the church and criminal and ecclesiastical justice. They have managed to show how the 13th-century mind, it seems, was less superstitious and more rational than it is often claimed, and that our medieval ancestors seemed to have had many of the same weaknesses and struggles that we still wrestle with today. Maybe we haven't really progressed quite as much as we like to think.
The Magna Carta itself brought unprecedented change both to government and the rights of the governed. The Magna Carta sets forth rights and privileges enjoyed today by people in the United Kingdom, North America, and other parts of the world. The book explains what led up to it, as well as the repercussions. Descriptions of historical politics, life in castles, country and town, family life, hunting in the forests, who could go to school, and the responsibilities of a king’s man enrich this book.