Land, Law and People in Medieval Scotland is best viewed as six self-contained studies under two broad headings: ‘Land and law’ and ‘Land and people’.
This is a book which could very easily slip under the radar of most historians. Even had they noticed the title, and had their curiosity piqued by the sub-title, after checking the academic discipline of the author (Julian Rivers is Professor of Jurisprudence at Bristol University) many might well have decided that this book was probably of no professional interest to them.
At its most basic level, a market is a locus of exchange, which enables people who need or desire certain things that they themselves do not produce to acquire these goods from others.
Historians have great cause to be grateful to the precocious bureaucrats of medieval England, whose records they have exploited to shed light on so many aspects of the past. They should be equally thankful for the generations of scholars who have produced printed calendars of such records since the foundation of the Record Commission in 1800.
Desan’s fascinating book approaches the only seemingly obvious act of ‘making money’ by examining what it actually means to ‘make money’. While Desan does acknowledge the physical act involved in this process, such as the striking of coins and the printing of bills, her primary focus is to study what gave money value and validated it as a reliable medium of egalitarian exchange.
The funniest moment in the British Library’s wonderful Magna Carta: Law Liberty, Legacy exhibition comes towards its end, in a recent cartoon by Stephen Collins (sadly not reproduced in the excellent catalogue, but available
Arguably, no other institution in the Middle Ages and early modern era was as subject to as many legal disparities and disputes between royal and papal power as that of royal marriage. In fact, a royal marriage was far from a private affair. On the spiritual level, the marriage of a royal couple was to reflect the sanctity of the life union between woman and man at the highest strata.
It is the title which gives away a great deal about this very fine book, and should alert us to Tom Lambert’s ambition for this project, which has grown out of a University of Durham PhD thesis. ‘Law’ positions it as a work of legal history, but it is the component of ‘order’ which offers the second and bolder half of Lambert’s argument.
Martin Ingram’s 1987 book Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570–1640 is celebrated for many reasons.(1) Not least, it is recognised for its importance in rescuing ecclesiastical courts from previous unfavourable assessments that branded them corrupt and inefficient.
Married Life in the Middle Ages offers a refreshing approach to medieval marriage. Elisabeth van Houts focuses on the social and emotional sides of marriage rather than viewing marriage through a legal or institutional lens. Two aspects of van Houts’ book set it apart from others.