Teachers, parents, this lesson plan has some ideas to suit your children. It starts by setting the scene—what was England like IN THE EARLY 1200s, how did people live, what did they eat and wear, what work did they do. Then it moves into why the English desperately wanted Magna Carta.
1 England is a kingdom In the 13th century (1200 to 1299), England is a kingdom, a place ruled by a king. England is part of the island of Britain, which lies north of Europe. Seas lie all around Britain.
2 England is covered in forest, pasture, rivers and streams Tay calls England Riverland because it has so many rivers and streams. In the 13th century, most of England is covered in forest, where wild animals live, and pasture, where sheep and cows graze.
Forests can be a place of trees or wild, unfarmed land. The forest trees are beech and birch, oak, ash, lime, and holly. They are mostly tall trees (not the holly!) and deciduous. They drop their leaves in winter. In Scotland, many of the trees are pines, which keep their leaves (needles) all year.
Take a walk and find these trees or look up photos of these trees.
3 England’s animals
The animals of English homes are dogs, horses, cows, and sheep. Dogs have lived in England since 7500 BC. Eddie, the dog that Tay rescues, was probably an Old English Terrier – black and red with whiskers and a very keen nose, much like the Welsh Terrier we know today. Wild horses lived in England thousands of years ago, too. When the Romans first arrived in England in AD 43, the people of Britain were driving thousands of horse-drawn chariots.
Make a list of the animals living in or near your house. Find pictures of the animals you didn’t see at home that Tay knew.
In 13th century England, forests are full of badgers, fox, wild boar, deer, hedgehogs, rabbits, hares, and red squirrels. There used to be wolves, bears, and lynx, but these were hunted almost to extinction before Tay rides to Canterbury from Swan Castle.
4 The tons of England
The word town comes from the Old English word ton, which meant an enclosed or fortified
homestead, group of houses, or village. The Normans invaded England in 1066. (You remember that Normans were Norsemen. First they invaded Normandy and learned to speak French, then they invaded England.) After the Normans came, the word town changed to mean a place larger than a village.
What place names ending in ton can you think of – Washington, Southampton, Brighton, Boston . . .
In the 13th century England had only a few towns. They were mainly cathedral towns — Canterbury, Lincoln, York, Chichester, Bath, and Herford. The cathedral is the church where a bishop or an archbishop leads worship and where he has his chair — his cathedra.
The focus at the cathedral was worshipping God, but townspeople held markets right next to the cathedral and sometimes inside – with all their food and animals.
Monastic communities often took care of cathedrals. The brother monks taught children, fed the poor, farmed land, bred and grazed sheep and copied books by hand. Prayer and scholarship could be found in these communities, but sometimes greed and selfishness, too.
The biggest town in England was London, which numbered about 50,000 people. London had its own government. With the agreement of the king, London ruled itself, but it was also subject to the king’s rules. Those rules could be harsh. Life in town was fascinating, but it could be dangerous.
5 English homes
English people lived in castles, manors, houses, and hovels.
Swan Castle, Tay’s castle was small. (Seven Swan Castles could fit inside Lincoln Castle.) Stone walls ran around the castle’s keep to keep its people safe. But even stone walls, a fortified keep, and gates couldn’t keep the king out. Tay owed him allegiance and a yearly fine (a tax).
Like almost all the castles in England, including the Tower of London, Swan Castle was whitewashed. Castles on hills gleamed above green forests and meadows, but life inside the castle could be hard if the lord or lady was unkind or unfair.
A number of people, including Tay and Al, lived in Swan Castle’s stone keep. Most people slept on pallets in the keep’s great hall, near the hearth, where a fire burned when it was cold. A kitchen and buttery led off from the great hall.
The keep was several stories tall. It had a garderobe for its toilet. (Glossary, Chapter 19) From his father’s chamber in the keep, Tay could look across Swan River to the South Downs, where the cattle and sheep grazed and where he rode his horse, Bertie.
Outside, in the bailey or yard stood the stable, byres (sheds) to shelter cows and sheep at night, a well for water, a bakehouse, and a wash-house. In some castles there would be a smithy, an armourer, and a chapel, too. Underneath the keep and reachable from the bailey was the undercroft, where the harvest was stored.
In the village below the castle lived the people who farmed the castle land for themselves and for the lord. They usually lived in a house built of timber and wattle and daub. (Woven wooden strips called wattle are daubed over with sticky material—a combination of wet soil,
clay, sand, animal dung, and straw.) Some houses had a hearth but no chimney so they were smoky. Hovels were ramshackle huts. Families lived at one end of their dirt-floored house; animals lived at the other.
In the big towns, people lived right next to each other in wood or stone houses of several stories with thatched roofs. They poured night earth and slops out of the upper windows into the road. (Chapter 23) Merchants and artisans ran their businesses out of their houses (Chapter 30). They were not usually wide houses, but they were long. In the enclosed yard you would often find a workshop and materials. Water had to be brought up by bucket from a well. A wealthy merchant would probably have had a stable for his horse and possibly a byre for farm animals. The thatched roofs often caught fire from stray chimney sparks, and before they could be put out — neighbours worked frantically to put out fires — the whole neighbourhood could burn down. (Chapter 30)
How do these houses compare to your house? What differences are there? Is there anything you would like about living in medieval English houses or castles?
6 Making a living
Most people made a living by grazing animals, planting and harvesting crops (Chapter 1), hunting (Chapter 3), working as a blacksmith (Chapter 14), making charcoal (Chapter 14), making tools (Chapter 23), fishing, buying and selling goods (Chapter ), brewing and selling beer, writing documents, teaching, keeping a cookhouse or inn (Chapter 12), or serving or fighting for a lord or king. (Chapter 21) According to historical records, women did many of these jobs and many women ran their own businesses.
Lords owned land, which other people farmed for a price (they give the lord most of their crop). Knights served and fought for their lord and were paid to do his business. Powerful lords might own thousands of acres, but they were not as powerful as the king. Lords liked the king to stick to agreed-on rules and not hurt them. They owed the king their services. If the king was very powerful, he could do what he liked, but first he had to buy the loyalty of his lords. King John liked to lead his lords to war where they could be paid with the plunder they collected.
Would you have liked to make your living doing any of these things? Why?
In the 13th century England had plenty of farmland, grazing land, and forest—which provided all the food that people ate. They grew oats, wheat (for bread), legumes—lentils and peas—and they raised sheep for wool and meat and cows for meat and milk.
Depending on how rich people were, they ate venison (the meat of deer), beef, mutton (the meat of sheep), salmon, trout, eels, cheese, apples, honey (no sugar), wine, beer, and cider. They tried not to drink water because unclean water could make them sick. Alcohol in beer, wine, and cider helped to keep germs from infecting them. The poor and monks living in monasteries under the Rule of St Benedict ate pulse stews made from lentils and peas. They almost never ate meat. Monks only ate a little meat if they were ill.
Dressing up and down
Working in the fields, you wore what few clothes you owned and if you were a man, you wore what was comfortable to work in. Women wore long, belted robes made of linen or wool. They wore hoods to keep off sun and rain. Men wore belted tunics of linen or wool, usually brown, which came to their knees, and leggings, boots and hats. If they didn’t have shoes, they went barefoot. If they were lucky, they had a cloak with a hood to keep warm.
Rich farmers and merchants wore belted tunics, leggings or tights, and shoes and hats. Their tunics were elaborately cut out of rich material. Some men, especially monks and clerks, wore robes that reached the ground. Nobles wore mail to protect them when they fought (Chapter 2) or rich clothes made from leather, silk, wool, and fur. Their clothes were often
brilliantly coloured. They didn’t slope about wearing brown or black. They liked to make an impression wearing bright reds, blues, and greens.
What do you wear most days? What colours are your clothes? What do you wear when you go out? What differences are there between what you wear and what Tay wore?
9 Taking a journey
In Tay’s England, people walked or rode horses or mules or drove carts pulled by horses, and they rowed or sailed boats on the rivers and on the seas around Britain. (People have been sailing the seas around Britain and crossing to Europe for the last five thousand years.) When people on the road needed a safe place to eat and rest, they stopped at a monastery. (Chapters 3, 4, 6, 23) Inns weren’t always safe! (Chapters 11 to 12)
10 Map of England, Scotland, and Wales
Working with a map of Britain and from Places of Interest to Tay (see below), mark every place on the map which Tay, Lucy, and Archer visited or mentioned. The places include Swan Castle; the South Downs; the North Downs; Canterbury; the Thames River; Cambridge; Lincoln; Sherwood Forest; Bury St Edmunds; London -- St Bartholomew’s, Moor Fields, London Bridge, Temple Church; Oxford; Brackley Castle; Scotland; Wales; Windsor Castle; and Runnymede.
11 Where did the English get their idea for Magna Carta?
Partly they got their idea for Magna Carta from King John. He was so bad he reminded them of what was good, and what they needed to live well.
King John scorned the Ten Commandments, every teaching of Jesus, the ancient laws of England, and his Coronation Oath. King John did many unfair things that inspired people to establish Magna Carta.
What unfairness was Magna Carta trying to correct?
The king imposed heavy taxes without the people’s consent. The king and his sheriffs seized property without compensation.
The king and his sheriffs charged people with crimes and did not let them defend themselves before a jury of their peers. They denied, delayed, or sold the right to a fair, speedy trial. They sold rights to rivers so weirs were built and boats were prevented from sailing.
They seized the common land of the people, such as forests, where poor people got their firewood and water and grazed their animals. They held children hostage for the good behaviour of their parents.
The positive ideas that led to Magna Carta included:
· ❖ The idea of individual dignity, which came straight from Genesis--God made men and women in His image (Gen 1:26–28, Genesis 5:1-3).
· ❖ The Ten Commandments, in particular the commands you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shalt not covet, and you shall not bear false witness. These commands applied to all men and women, including the king.
· ❖ The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, including the revolutionary teaching that kings should serve their people. Jesus said, Kings lord it over their people, and call themselves benefactors, but you are not to be like that . . . The one who leads must be the one who serves (Gospel of Luke 22:25-26).
· ❖ The Golden Rule of Jesus, which is a definition of fair play -- Treat every person the way you would like to be treated (Gospel of Matthew 7:12).
· ❖ The establishment of the revolutionary English Coronation Oath in AD 973 by St Dunstan. Taking the oath before they were crowned, English kings swore to defend justice and give mercy. In some parts of the world, rulers still don’t deliver justice and mercy.
· ❖ “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” (Gospel of John 7:51).
· ❖ There is even a possibility that the popularity of a story/song about the Holy Grail inspired some English people. Robert de Boron’s Quest for the Holy Grail was a hit. It was sung throughout England. It suggested that life on earth was a quest that led to eternal life.
12 What does fair play mean to you?
Tay and his friends Lucy and Archer believe in fair play for everyone. Ask students to write down when they experienced fair play or when they saw someone else being treated unfairly.
For instance, maybe they were bullied like Tay because of their skin colour. Or because they were foreign or new to the school, or because they weren’t athletic, or because they were poor or because they studied hard or weren’t cool.
What happened to them? Did anybody stand up for them? Do kids who are bullied at school or online every create a team like Tay, Lucy, and Archer did to fight unfairness and bullying? Did it help? Is it easier for kids in the 13th century because they don’t have phones or social media? Is it harder because they could be hanged by a cruel king or a corrupt sheriff?
What could we do to stop bullies?
An exercise for younger kids:
Tell your students that at the end of the study session of fair play everyone will be given a treat. When the session ends, say only the boys or only the girls or only people wearing pink will receive treats. Let those who are excluded go to “court” to protest (make a parent or other adult the judge). Let them explain why this treatment is unfair. Let those who received treats say why they think it is fair. (Don’t worry, they will!) Write down each side’s arguments on paper. Let the ‘judge’ decide, and do give everyone a treat.
Do your students think it’s possible to play fair play if they aren’t free? If they think yes, how? If they think no, why not?
PLACES THAT MATTERED TO TAY
The eastern gate into London. It may have been called Aestgate in 1215.
Founded in the twelfth century in Boxley, Kent, by Cistercians. They were called the white monks because they wore white clothing.
Once a tournament ground, the castle is barely identifiable today. A part of the motte remains, locked behind a metal gate in a farmer’s field in Northamptonshire.
Bury St. Edmunds
An early Saxon town and the burial place of King Edmund, who was killed defending his people from Vikings in 869. It is said that here, in the abbey, earls and knights met in November 1214 and vowed to confront King John.
Places of Interest to Tay
Trading town in Cambridgeshire. In 1209, a few years before Tay arrived, students who had left Oxford after a quarrel with townspeople founded Cambridge University.
A cathedral city that lies in Kent. Monks (brothers) following the rule of St. Benedict lived in “the city of brothers” and administered the cathedral and all its lands.
Castle of Thirteen Towers
Framlingham Castle in Framlingham, Suffolk. Today it is an English Heritage site.
Built thousands of years ago by the Romans, Ermine Street runs from London to Lincoln. Its name comes from an ancient British tribe, the Earningas. For part of its route, it is known as the Old North Road. Many modern roads, including the A1, A10, and A1146, follow parts of Ermine Street. Tay, Archer, and Lucy ride part of the Old North Road to Lincoln.
Built thousands of years ago by the Romans, the Fosse linked Exeter with Leicester and Lincoln. Many modern roads, including the A46, follow parts of the Fosse Way.
A town near Rochester Castle with a ferry crossing on the River Thames, Gravesend lies across the river from Tilbury, Essex.
Great Stour River
There is more than one Stour River in England. Tay encounters the Great Stour, which splits into two channels as it runs through Canterbury and then flows to the sea.
Lincoln stands at the crossroads of Ermine Street and Fosse Way. William the Conqueror built Lincoln Castle on the ridge above the town.
The capital of England. In Tay’s day, London was England’s most populous town, with about fifty thousand people.
The tower where Lincoln Castle’s castellan lived. It was named after Countess Lucy, the daughter and heir of William I’s first sheriff of Lincolnshire.
Said to have been founded by King Alfred the Great as a sanctuary for nuns in Hampshire. Lyss is spelled Liss today.
The fought-over border between England and Wales.
Chalk hills that stretch from Farnham in Surrey to the White Cliffs of Dover in Kent. Tay crosses the North Downs when he heads north for Lincoln.
It was not called Pilgrims Way in Tay’s time. See the Way, below.
In the third century, Romans built a fort at Portchester. In the twelfth century, a Norman castle was built, incorporating the Roman fort. King John held the castle as a royal fort.
The town and castle near the River Medway, where reformers defended Magna Carta from King John in the autumn of 1215. Tay, Lucy, and Archer ride past Rochester on their way to Lincoln.
A meadow lying close to the River Thames near Windsor Castle. Magna Carta supporters gathered at Runnymede. King John sealed Magna Carta there. The word comes from the Middle English word runinge (taking counsel) and the Old English word maed (meadow). Local people met here to discuss community issues.
In 1214 the royal forest of Sherwood covered thousands of acres in Nottinghamshire. In Tay’s story, it is the lair of Red Kite. It becomes known in legend as Robin Hood’s home.
Chalk hills that stretch from the Itchen Valley in Hampshire to Beachy Head, Sussex. Tay’s home, Swan Castle, lies in the South Downs.
St. Sepulchre Priory
A Benedictine house for nuns in Canterbury, said to have been founded by St. Anselm.
An ancient road linking Canterbury and London. Parts of it now form the A2. Tay takes it as far north and west as he can before crossing the River Thames at Gravesend.
A prehistoric track running along the south slopes of the North Downs. Pilgrims took the Way to visit the tomb of murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Tay joins the Way at Guildford. Today the North Downs Way incorporates this ancient track.
The ancient royal capital of Wessex and England. In 1215 it was the seat of King John’s chief minister.
The royal residence of King John and subsequent kings of England. It stands close to the Thames and about twenty miles southwest of London, in Berkshire.