1215: The Year of Magna Carta Ebook

1215: The Year of Magna Carta Ebook by Danny Danziger

Book: 1215: The Year of Magna Carta Ebook by Danny Danziger Read Free Book Online
Authors: Danny Danziger
he could say was ‘hee-haw’.
    By 1215, however, it was no longer quite so necessary to go abroad to complete your education. There were schools of advanced study in a few English towns: Exeter, Lincoln, London, Northampton and Oxford. At this date Oxford was pre-eminent – though still much less prestigious than Paris or Bologna. When Gerald de Barri wanted to publicise his first major work, The Topography of Ireland , he gave readings from it on three consecutive days at Oxford ‘because of all places in England that was where clerks were most numerous and most learned’. On the first day he entertained the poor, on the second, all the teachers as well as those scholars who had acquired some reputation, and on the third, the remaining students together with Oxford’s knights and its many burgesses. ‘It was’, Gerald said with characteristic lack of modesty, ‘a magnificent and lavish occasion.’ By the 1190s Oxford was beginning to attract a few students from the continent. But at that time there was as yet no university, just an informal gathering of lots of teachers and students in a single town. The chronicler Roger of Wendover reported the bloodshed in 1209 that led to the creation of the university.
    A certain clerk studying the liberal arts at Oxford by mischance killed a woman, and ran away on realising that she was dead. When her body and his absence were discovered the mayor of Oxford arrested three other clerks who had shared a rented house together with the fugitive. Although these three knew nothing whatever about the killing, they were imprisoned and a few days later, on the king’s orders and in contempt of ecclesiastical privilege, were taken outside the town limits and hanged. At this all the clerks of Oxford, both masters and students, about 3000 in all, left so that not one of them remained behind in the town.
    Some pursued their studies at Cambridge, others at Reading. The dispute between the town of Oxford and the clerks dragged on for years. Before a formal settlement could be reached, the clerks had to form themselves into a corporation, a body – like a borough – with legal rights and responsibilities: the ‘university’. The English word derives from the Latin universitas meaning a corporation. Finally, in 1214, the town authorities agreed to do penance, to regulate the level of student rents and the price of food, and to make an annual payment to the university as financial assistance to poor students. Clearly, although Roger’s figure of 3000 masters and students was an exaggeration, there had been enough of them for the withdrawal of their purchasing power to have a damaging impact on Oxford’s economy. But the dispute had gone on for so long that one group of teachers and pupils had settled very comfortably in Cambridge. And there they stayed. Students lived in lodgings or rented houses like the unfortunates of 1209, but charitable benefactions from the later thirteenth century onwards meant that a few could be accommodated in colleges, of which the earliest was Oxford’s Merton College.
    In the advanced schools of Europe you could study law and theology as well as the liberal arts. As education came to be more formally structured, these subjects were seen as suitable for higher degrees, to be embarked on by the academically inclined after they had completed the arts course. Those who took a doctorate in law expected to be offered well-paid jobs when they finally left university, probably in their thirties. Those who studied theology were more interested in thinking out problems than in making money. Theologians liked to call their subject ‘the queen of the sciences’. Law, by contrast, came to be known as one of the ‘lucrative sciences’; the other was medicine, but anyone wanting to study that was better advised to leave England.
    For them there was a choice between two prestigious schools: Montpellier and Salerno. Salerno, in particular, acquired a legendary

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