“Cultures of the Middle Ages: Magna Carta, or Is There Life After Feudalism?”

Fall 2012

MWF 7:30-9:25
RF 110

Prof. Paul Hyams                                                                                                                                                                                                                       TA: Jessica Streit
Contacts: prh3, 257-3168                                                                                                                                                                                                            Contact:jrs238
Office Hrs. Mon 2-3 pm; Thursday 3-4 pm in MG 307                                                                                                                                                                    Office Hrs. Fri 11:15 am - 12:15 pm in GS 340A

Required Readings:

            TURNER           MAGNA CARTA                                               

GANSHOF        FEUDALISM                                                    

Optional (but recommended for newcomers to the period):


You can find partial texts of the following online

   Ganshof, Feudalism

            Holt, Magna Carta

            Bloch, Feudal Society

    I shall keep this secondary reading to a minimum. That way, you can focus on reading and re-reading the primary materials (in English) I shall make available each week, some of them as online links, indicated         with an asterisk, *. I shall try when I can to follow up class discussions with an appropriate text for the next time.

     You will see from this that you will have to pay attention to e-mails from us, and especially to the online version of this syllabus, which will be more definitive than the paper one. This is to be found at

Course Description:

The point of this course is to equip students to read medieval texts imaginatively and critically. Though we shall concentrate our efforts on a close reading of texts roughly in the way literary scholars, no historian can ignore Con-Text. It will my job, through bouts of lecturing to show you the way that close reading and contextualization lead back to each other. Our readings will focus on two quite different yet related topics that each lie close to the core of medieval political culture. First, the one thing that almost everybody knows about the European middle ages is the notion of feudalism. Why, then, do so many historians seek to avoid using the word now? And second, the great royal charter of liberties from 1215 still stands as a great symbol of democracy and the rule of law, both here in the US and in England. But is that really what Magna Carta was about? Magna Carta we will  read, clause by clause where necessary. But how can we test the case for feudalism, when neither the word(s) nor the abstract idea appears in medieval sources? How does the scholar frame his or questions and find the facts to answer them? I shall do my  best to give you techniques you can use to decide what you are prepared to believe from newspapers while they survive, and from the blogosphere and other media.



1.  Weekly Responses to Readings: These will normally be between 1-2 pages, and never longer than 3 pp. (They should be typed in 12 –point, and well spaced with
good margins for comment) Each will initially be readon an S/U basis, and returned with comments. At the semester end, we shall review the whole group for writing and
argument, also to see that you completed the task; the resulting grade will make up 30% of the final grade. You should set yourselves questions suggested by the week’s
readings, and explain how one might tackle them. We will give particular credit when you make sensible use of primary materials, and when you link your questions to
topics that have provoked discussion in previous classes. Some weeks I may suggest specific questions. I do not expect a full answer to the questions, especially when
(as will often be the case with Magna Carta) that would demand contextual knowledge which you cannot be expected to possess. Use the opportunity to put the pressure
on me to help you get closer to an answer! Please send your responses to each of us as an ATTACHment (preferably in WORD), to arrive by 5 pm on Tuesday.

2. Papers: You will write 3 more formal papers 6-8 pp. each (typed as specified above), one on Feudalism, the other on Magna Carta. The 3rd paper (11-13 pp.) is at your
own choice, but its topic must be cleared with one of us at least 10 days before the due date, so we can guide you on organization and sources. The 1st 2 papers will each be
worth 15% of the final grade, the 3rd longer one 25%. Papers too are to be sent to each of us as WORD Attachments.

3. Office Hours: I think of Office Hours as an important and required part of the course, and will reward all who use the opportunity well with bonus credit at the end of the
course. We each want to have talked with you individually, at least before the end of Week IV, and as often thereafter as you like, to review progress and receive any comments you may
have. (Do not forget to title your papers; this helps the reader to gain a first idea of the questions you intend to pose and the direction in which your argument will be heading.

Final Grade:                  Responses                                               30%
                                                Papers                                                      55%
                                                Participation, discussions etc.                  15%


0.    Aug 22             Intro   

            Ganshof, Intro, Pt. I. (to p. 12) + Bp. Fulbert's Letter on Fidelity, c. 1020


I.    Aug 27, 29      

                Ganshof, Pt. II, Chaps. 2-3

                             Merovingian Commendation (Ganshof, 6-7)
                             Anglo-Saxon oaths, private fidelity & royal
                             Tassilo's Oath 757
                             9th Century Capitularies

                  Einhard letters for vassals

                  Frankish Fiefs and Jurisdiction                            

II.  Sept 3, 5     

                            Ganshof, Pt. III, chap. 1      

                            Laudes regiae from an art installation!! And here is a text in English

                            Conrad II's Constitution on the inheritance of fiefs in Italy, 1037

                            Cartae Baronum of 1166: Intro of Knight Service to England after 1066?
Evesham Writ, bef. 1072

                            Bury and Hereford fief grants (late 11th cent.)         Hereford Charter, 1177
                            The Cockfield Case 1201 

III. Sept 10, 12

                            Ganshof, Pt. III, chap. 2

                            Galbert of Bruges: 'Homage and Fealty', 1127

                            Cornish Wardship Case,
                            Making Faith with Infidels?


IV.Sept 17, 19    

                            Ganshof, Pt. III, chaps. 3-4

                            Warin of Walcot, a C12 robber knight errant!                           

                            Multiple Lordship etc. in the Leges Henrici Primi (early C12 England); and in Champagne
                            Orderic Vitalis has the King of France dealing with a vassal looking after his other lord, 1054!                   
                            Thibaut IV of Champagne and his vassal, 1217

                            Marie de France fables: 'The Ailing Lion' and 'The Rich Man'

                            Scott Waugh on C13 English lawsuits over retainers (1986)

                            What did King Henry III see in bed? -- Debonerete!

Paper I (on 'Feudalism') due Wednesday, Oct 3

V. Sept 24, 26           

                            The 'Conventum' (1020s) is a difficult but fascinating narrative of relations between an awkward vassal of the same duke of Aquitaine, who received
                                         Bp. Fulbert's Letter on Fidelity, c. 1020 (Wk. I), and the two should be read against each other.

                            2 helpful maps of the area covered in the Conventum                            

Magna Carta

                            Henry I's Coronation Charter, 1100
                            The 'Unknown Charter', ? 1215
                            The 'Articles of the Barons, 1215'

                            Magna Carta 1216 reissue
                            Magna Carta 1217 reissue
                            Magna Carta 1225

                            Writ of 1234 to the sheriff of Lincoln explaining a clause

VI. Oct 1, 3     

                            MC 1215 (Turner, 226-36)
                           Hyams on Due Process (incl., 1215, cl. 39)

FALL BREAK, Oct 6-10

VII. Oct 10      

                            Turner, Intro & chap. 1 (30)   

VIII. Oct 15, 17

                             Holt, ‘The Legal and Social Context’, in King & Ridyard (ed.) Law in Medieval Life and Thought *
                       Hudson, 'MC, the Ius Commune & the Common Law ' in  Loengard (ed.)
MC & the England of K. John *
Helmholz, 'MC & the Ius Commune', University of Chicago Law Review 66 (1999), 297 sq. [Available through online catalog]
                       Pennington, 'The Ius commune, Suretyship, and Magna carta' (2000)                              

IX. Oct 22, 24               

     Turner, chap. 2 (20+)

X. Oct 29, 31

    Turner, chap. 3 (28)  + ‘Unknown Charter’* & ‘Articles of the Barons*

    MC's papal annulment

XI. Nov 5, 7         

                         Turner, chap. 4 (32)  + 1225 charter, also 1216, 1217*

Paper II (on Magna Carta) due on Monday April 28

XII. Nov 12, 14       

                    Turner, chap. 8 (25)  

XIII. Nov 19, 21         

                        Turner, chaps. 5-7 (80)

XIV. Nov 26, 28

          Paper III (your own choice of topic) due Tuesday May 10

STUDY PERIOD Sunday May 8 to Wednesday May 11
EXAM PERIOD Thursday May 11 to Friday May 20                                                                                                                                                                              E&OE prh/1-11

Some Links we may use in the course of the Semester Carcassonne 1110 acknowledgement of Homage, Fidelity etc. Ch re 1233 Flanders Relief ‘MC & Its American Legacy’ H I Shire Ct writ (1110) + H I 1100 Ch. + 1148/53 E. Anglian shire ct. narrative c. 1275 Eng. forms for H. & F. Abolition of Feudal System, 1789 Scutage, early egs on name