July 8, 2009

n. A  circuit criminal court, common in medieval Europe.

Another term from Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death.  Apparently, the court still exists in some places today, but they were a common form of judicial procedure in medieval England.  Franklin’s book is set around the time of Henry II’s Assize of Clarendon in 1166.  The event is noteworthy, Franklin explains, because it marks a shift in the British judicial system, away from trial by ordeals and trial by battles toward the more modern model of evidence and testimony and trial by jury.

Trial by ordeal, the process of determining guilt by whether or not the accused survives a painful process, has been most famously parodied by Monty Python in this famous scene from the Quest For the Holy Grail.  Trial by battle is exactly what it sounds like, a Thunderdome form of meting out justice.  The Assize of Clarendon did not eliminate these forms entirely, but it was the beginning of the end for these barbaric systems of justice.


July 6, 2009

n. A city in eastern England.

I just finished Ariana Franklin’s very compelling medieval mystery novel Mistress in the Art of Death.  The book was lovely, if not for the increase to my vocabulary alone (I never knew what a glaive was, for example), and my next few words will all be from this book.

The book is set in Cambridge, current home of the university, during the reign of Henry II.  I have visited Cambridge, back in 1992, and have almost no recollection of the trip in the least (ah, the sad frailty of memory).  So, despite the fact that I have been there, I did not in the least remember the name of the river that runs right through the city.

Cambridge was build around the river Cam.  Obviously, the name indicates that it was the location of a prominent bridge over the river.  This opened my eyes to the wondefful, but obvious, origins of many English place names.  Oxford, for example, makes obvious sense.  The town of Elephant and Castle is still a mystery to me.

Franklin admits that during the setting of her book, however, Cambridge was still probably called Grentabrige, from the earlier Grantebrygce, because the river Cam was originally known as the Granta.  Oddly, according to Wikipedia, the name of the town changed to Cambridge, and the river only changed its name to match the town.  Therefore, Cambridge isn’t actually named because of its location on the river Cam, but the other way around.  Sort of…