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.