Episode 97: Let’s Put It In Writing

The early 13th Century saw a massive increase in the production of government documents, including charters and official letters.  In this episode, we explore the changing role of the written word in the Middle Ages. We also examine how King John’s financial exploitation of his barons led to revolt and Magna Carta.


20 thoughts on “Episode 97: Let’s Put It In Writing

  1. Loved this episode (well, honestly, I love them all!)
    Really interesting about the word “Patent”.
    One thought and one question:

    Thought: Would have been useful also to point out that that is how we use the adverb patently (e.g. openly, obviously, without hiding).

    Question: Why was the English phrase transposed as letters patent/closed and not in the normal Germanic order or patent/closed letters? Did we take the phrases from French or Latin (i.e. Did they originally exist there and we just appropriated them into English?).

    Interested in any thoughts you or others might have.

    • Hi Joshua,

      The terms “letters patent” and “letters close” were both borrowed from French. In fact, as I noted in the episode, the words “letter,” “patent,” and “close” are all loanwords from French.

      In French, it is standard to put the adjective after the noun, so that construction still appears in certain terms borrowed from French. We also have it in the term “attorney general” which it literally a ‘general attorney’ or an attorney who represents the interests of the general populace. We also have that construction in the borrowed term “court marital” which is literally a ‘martial court’ or ‘military court’ (compare with “martial law” which is an English construction using the Norse word “law”).

  2. James Cook claimed the eastern part of the continent of Australia for the Crown of England so that when the colony of New South Wales was eventually founded, it was all Crown Land till it was alienated from the Crown by Deed of Grant. This is still the case despite the fact that the land had been occupied for countless millennia. By 1859 the colony of NSW was a small fraction of its original size but in 1861 two important Acts were passed allowing ordinary people to select designated portions of land on conditional purchase. The title deeds provide valuable history of the white settlement of our locality.

  3. Kevin –

    I hear you pronounce Pergamum with the accent on the second (ga) syllable. The English Oxford and Miriam-Webster put the accent on the first. What am I missing?

  4. Hi Kevin,

    I was also interested in the history of the word “patent.” I’m a physician, and it’s still very common to use the word in the context of something being open, such as referring to an artery being patent.

    Thanks for a great podcast.

  5. Really interesting podcast. All this talk about the Magna Carta reminds me of an old joke. A group of tourists were gathered at Runnymeade when their guide noted that the famed document was signed there in 1215. One of the tourists looks at her watch and says to her husband, “Oh what a shame, darling. We missed it by just 15 minutes.”

    I’m here all week, ladies and gentlemen!

  6. It’s interesting to hear you talk about Domesday Book and Magna Carta. I’ve only ever heard them called the Domesday Book and the Magna Carta before. Is missing the ‘the’ the done thing in America? I imagine you don’t talk about these documents that often. But you still have the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (or should that be Constitution and Declaration of Independence)?

  7. Our local County Archive has a deed dating back to 1060, where a number of major landowners in the county donated land for the upkeep of Westminster Abbey. There are a number of seals attached, including that of Harold Godwinson.

    • I’m sure I pulled that reference from one of my legal resources, but I am not sure which one. The case is cited in a book called “Introduction to English Legal History” by John Baker, but it is just a citation. The case isn’t discussed in any detail there. If I find a more specific citation, I’ll add it here.

  8. A fictionalised version of William de Braose’s story, and that of his wife Matilda, is told in the book “Lady of Hay”, by Barbara Erskine.

    Matilda is the name used in the book, although I believe she is more often called Maud.

    King John and his physical cruelty feature in the book. Don’t read it if you are disturbed by such things.

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