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From Memory to Written Record England 1066-1307 Paperback – 17 Dec 1992

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 2nd Edition edition (17 Dec. 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631168575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631168577
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 2.4 x 23 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 337,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


When Michael Clanchy’s book From Memory to Written Record was first published in 1979, it was the most important book on English Royal administration in the middle ages that had appeared in a general…. The second edition takes full cognizance of the extensive literature on the subject of morality and literacy, which has been one of the half dozen most discussed aspects of the medieval European world during the past two decades. Clanchy has significantly deepened and enriched his classic study. It is indispensable for not only political, legal and socialhistorians, but also for students of medieval literature and religion. From Memory to Written Record is one of those seminal works that shape the direction of the next generation of historical and social thought. This second edition will remain of the major works on the medieval world for many decades to come. Norman F. Cantor, New York University Reviews of the first edition: "A tour–de–force, a scholarly work which is genuinely hard to put down, and which breaks new ground in its approach." Journal of Legal History <!––end––>"Thought–provoking and wide–ranging . . . one can assert confidently that it is one of the most exciting books on medieval English history to appear in recent years." History "Many familiar assumptions about the medieval world will have to be reconsidered in the light of this book. It is impossible to convey its range or the variety of its implications, but it is possible to insist on its importance." History Today "Clanchy′s work will stand as a remarkable piece of scholarship and as a massive contribution to our understanding of the medieval world." Journal of Library History

From the Back Cover

The second edition of Michael Clanchy′s widely–acclaimed study of the history of the written word in the Middle Ages is now, after a much lamented absence, republished in an entirely new and revised edition. The text of the original has been revised throughout to take account of the enormous amount of new research following publication of the first edition. The introduction discusses the history of literacy up to the present day; the guide to further reading brings together over 300 new titles up to 1992. In this second edition there are substantially new sections on bureaucracy, sacred books, writing materials, the art of memory, ways of reading (particularly for women), the writing of French, and the relationship of script, imagery and seals. Publication of the new edition also represents the book′s first appearance in the United States in paperback.

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Once the conquest of 1066 was achieved, King William 'decided to bring the conquered people under the rule of written law'. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 July 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a fantastic book, ideal if you have to do a presentation on oral history in only two hours. Clanchy investigates the transition from a society in which memory is the only way of recording events to one in which writing has formed a prominent part of our everyday lives. Overall, this is really good for anyone keen to study medieval England in all its intricate details, and is also highly recommended by my tutor at Christ Church, Oxford.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding history 24 April 2001
By Mark Howells - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Moving from reliance on human memory to the written word was a long and interesting process which is fully explored by this book. Prior to Edward I's reign, the assumption was that "time out of mind" was about a century prior to the present. The date before which legal proof of rights was not required had previously been moved forward in time as required: the date of Henry I's death followed by Henry II's coronation followed by Richard I's coronation. But there it stayed fixed by Edward I's statutes. Time out of mind was prior to September 3, 1189. After that date, it was expected that written records rather than human memory would confirm legally valid grants of rights.
The development of a written culture of everyday affairs covers many sorts of artifacts and concepts. Tally sticks as bills and receipts, personal seals functioning as signatures, why we began signing with an "x", and the number of pounds of sealing wax used by the King's Chancery over time are all explored in this book. The development of heraldry as part of the shift from memory to written record is also commented on briefly.
The author carefully studies the question "Were laymen literate?" and tries hard to make the reader understand what being literate meant in this period. Our modern concept of someone who can read AND write simply doesn't fit with concepts held at the time about literacy. The author's conclusions on the pervasiveness of literacy in this period are surprising.
Throughout the book, the very different reasons for and processes surrounding the making of a record, the keeping of a record, and the using of a record are carefully differentiated. This is an outstanding work of history for the student of literacy, of medieval history, and of legal history.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant work, although you will need some background 24 Oct. 1999
By J. Angus Macdonald - Published on
Format: Paperback
Clanchy takes on a fascinating topic, but one which might well seem unfathomable to a modern audience -- the rise of legalism. In the early Middle Ages (prior to the 12th century), most matters were handled on the basis of a public promise -- shake hands in front of people, place your hands on a relic, etc. In the 12th century there is a massive shift away from this towards getting things down in writing. Where before ideas had been "from the beginning of time" (i.e. as far back as anyone could remember, at best a couple of generations), now there was the rise of tangible recordings of events, which might also lead to tangible forgeries. Still the concept of taking a man at his word did not die away altogether or quickly.
This book does a fine job of describing the shifting notion of what is proof and what counts legally in society. There are points where the reader will need background, such as some basic notions of the feudal system (a notion which itself has come under attack as inaccurate of late), but overall it is quite a readable text
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Clanchy addresses literacy in the 11th to 13th centuries 19 Oct. 2006
By Sean - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is focused on providing an overview of the growth of literacy "for practical purposes" (p 328) from the 11th century to the 13th century. The author divides the book into two parts. Part I, The Making of Records, describes the exponential increase in documents, their use in charters, business and personal transactions, as well as the challenges of both producing and storing of documents and records, during this period. Part II, The Literate Mentality, provides an overview of some of the difficulties with the acceptance of written documents over oral traditions and the linguistic tribulations extant.

Clanchy establishes early on in his book that there were two types of literacy: ability to read and ability to read Latin. He chooses 1006 as a starting point for this analysis as a result of the Norman Conquest, when William the Conqueror invaded the Kingdom of England at the Battle of Hastings. This date is significant as William brings Latin to England, which the author suggests "brought England into the mainstream of medieval literate communication" (p 27). The introduction of Latin to England initially increased the one type of literacy - reading Latin, but potentially reduced the other - ability to read anything, as this was the beginning of the end of Old English and its written form, which subsequently went out of favor. Michael Clanchy introduces the reader to the Domesday Book, (a written record of a survey in the 11th century, meant to capture the details on land and property holdings, in order to tax and show ownership of such properties), and then references how documents matured in creation and usage from this initial record. He highlights how the use and reliance on documents changed over the three centuries in his study and shows how the population of those affected by documents broadened from initially landowners to village people. The author also goes into great detail on the use and style of seals, the types of documents used, the art of the writing, and the background of those wielding the pen. He also discusses the limitations of finding sources of a broad scope of such documents, as few continue to exist at this time. He openly admits to some creative and interpolative logic in some of his conclusions, due to these limitations. However, some very interesting examples are provided about the techniques used to find and validate some of his sources. One very interesting approach was the use of modern handwriting analysis to identify characteristics of scribes, in order to make suppositions on the writers of the documents analyzed. Another epiphany for the novice reader of this subject is the origin of the use of cursive for speeding up the writing process.

In Part II, the author shifts the book's attention to an explanation of what aggravating factors existed, which slowed down the momentum of both literacy and the acceptance of the written word over the spoken or remembered word. Clanchy highlights such impediments as: spiritual, cultural, and from the variety of languages used. The Bible was the primary example of a book for people of all classes during this period. As a result, many believed only scripture should be written down and/or that writing was divinely inspired. Since there were several languages in use in England during this period - Latin, French, English and sometimes Hebrew, documents could have a mixture of languages within the same document, while also limiting the ability of the literate from reading only documents in the languages they understood. Part II also provides a very interesting overview on how the use of signatures and notaries came into common usage, as well as how education towards literacy began to develop into a broader endeavor, no longer limited to clergy and kings.

Mr. Clanchy provides twenty images of documents from this period in his appendix, which the reader will want to reference continuously. The book is full of interesting explanations and stories, which will keep the reader absorbed.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Medieval law and memory 23 Jun. 2000
By Carolyn C. - Published on
Format: Paperback
Clanchy's book is a profound exploration of the impact of bureaucracy on the daily lives of ordinary people; the nature of law and legal procedure; and the shape of government itself. Highly valuable for studies in medieval communities; intellectual life; and law and the state.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Thrilling chronicle of literacy 26 Sept. 2009
By Glenn McDorman - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
From Memory to Written Record "is about the uses of literacy in the Middle Ages," specifically in England between 1066 and 1307. Clanchy's argument is that the growth of literacy is "indicated by, and was perhaps a consequence of, the production and retention of records on an unprecedented scale." Clanchy devotes the first half of From Memory to Written Record to "the making of records," and the second to "the literate mentality."

Clanchy begins Part I with an examination of the uses of memory in English legal proceedings, concentrating on memories of the Norman Conquest and the division of property afterwards. Here Clanchy summarizes the use of writing in Anglo-Saxon England, and concludes with the "quo warranto" proceedings of Edward I.

From here Clanchy explains the proliferation of documents that would ultimately replace memory. The abundance of records at the village level in the second half of his period indicates the proliferation of documents and a gradual acceptance of writing as means of keeping records. Clanchy portrays the royal bureaucrats at work creating and using documents, with a focus on archbishop Hubert Walter, a prominent administrator under Richard I and John. Walter, Clanchy claims, was responsible for many of the innovations in the keeping and use of records in England.

The last three chapters in this half deal with the documents themselves. Clanchy organizes documents into four categories: statements issued by individuals, memoranda kept by institutions, literary works, and liturgical books. Clanchy further divides each of these categories into subcategories. Next, Clanchy turns to how medieval scribes created documents. Clanchy describes the various materials and tools used in the physical act of writing, but also discusses the conceptual decisions that went into the creation of medieval records. Finally, Clanchy turns to the keeping, organizing, and use of written records. Monastic records were meant primarily for posterity, and therefore sought to record what ought to have happened, Clanchy claims, while secular records were designed for daily use, and so recorded specific facts. The last sections of Part I treat the organization of written records in libraries and archives and also the organization of the material within the documents.

In Part II, Clanchy traces the development of a literate mentality, a difficult task for scholars whose own mentality has been shaped their own modern literate mentality. Clanchy believes, though, that enough evidence exists to trace a broad outline of developments. "Literate habits and assumptions," Clanchy writes, "had to take root in diverse social groups and areas of activity before literacy could grow or spread beyond a small class of clerical writers."

Clanchy begins his explanation by examining the complicated use of language in high-medieval England. The inhabitants of England spoke English or French as a primary language; French was the language of the court, but the lower classes spoke English. The aristocrats would have spoken both languages, and many of the lower classes would have understood French. English had its own history as a written language, being the official language of the pre-Conquest kings. French had none, because Latin was used for writing. Here Clanchy wrestles with the proposition that written French originated in England because the Norman and French conquerors were exposed to the idea that a vernacular language could be written when they encountered the English literary tradition.

Finally, Clanchy shows that while Latin remained the official language for writing, most documents would have had a basis in English or French, in that they often recorded spoken words or were intended to be read aloud to those who would not have understood the Latin.

Next, Clanchy moves to a discussion of the terms "literate" and "illiterate." Clanchy demonstrates that the terms "literatus" and "illiterates" were synonymous with "clericus" and "laicus." Only clerics could be literate. Yet, he does address the issue of whether laypeople could and did read Latin, citing many examples in which laypersons clearly did, and also arguing that the laypeople writing in vernacular French must have had a foundation in Latin. Additionally, Clanchy shows that clergy did teach Latin, at least the alphabet, to children and so most people would have had the ability to read rudimentary Latin. Finally, the biography of William the Marshal and the emergence of knightly jurists to show that knights were educated in the use of reading and writing.
Fundamental to the medieval literate mentality was the notion that writing recorded sound. Clanchy presents evidence that the acceptance of written records versus oral memory was slow, even among clergy. In particular, Clanchy points to the investiture controversy between Henry I and Anselm, in which the argument was essentially about whether written documents or oral testimony was more trustworthy. Even as the use of written records increased, and even among clergy, language was sill meant to be heard, not read, and texts were generally read aloud.

Although moderns inherently trust documents, especially over oral recollection, medieval people did not. Indeed, documents were regarded with suspicion early in Clanchy's period. To a modern, a document cannot be deemed authentic unless it is dated and signed, an idea that developed in the medieval period, but was not immediately obvious. Simply dating something by the year, month, and date, did develop, but alternative dating methods persisted for some time. Rather than develop a uniform system by which documents were notarized, authenticity focused on the presence of seals. Writers often forged documents they thought should have existed but were missing from their records. Essentially, institutions forged documents as a means of replacing oral tradition with a written record, and in a way the prevalence of forged documents indicates a shift to a literate mentality.

Clanchy argues persuasively for the reciprocal development of writing and a literate mentality. From Memory to Written Record addresses every issue of writing and reading, from the physical production of a document to the method of reception. Clanchy's work is necessarily defined by his own literate mentality and by the use of written records, but he does everything that one could to overcome these limitations. Clanchy has drawn on written evidence of all types, from charters to chronicles to instruction books, and in every language spoken and written in England during his period. To supplement this, Clanchy has used physical evidence, such as epigraphy and seals. From Memory to Written Record is a work of excellent scholarship that examines the medieval mentality and medieval social and political change from a new perspective.
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