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For the attention of: News Editors

Tuesday April 1 [PR5466]
The Open University and BBC FOUR go Inside the Medieval Mind

TX: Thursday April 17, BBC FOUR

Professor Robert Bartlett, one of the world’s leading medievalists, is the host on a new landmark history series ‘Inside the Medieval Mind’.

The four-part series, co-produced by The Open University, will explore the mindset and lifestyle of medieval citizens and will reveal what motivated people who lived between 800AD and 1400AD and what beliefs we share with our ancestors.

The series is the first in a season of Medieval themed programmes on BBC FOUR this Spring.

Medieval Expert Dr Rachel Gibbons, Open University Academic Advisor on the series said: “This is an important series for several reasons. Robert Bartlett is one of the most authoritative voices on the subject of medieval history and is a voice the audience can trust. The academic research that has gone into this programme is impeccable and the viewer will learn so much about the times just by watching.

“The series’ approach is groundbreaking among history programmes. It doesn’t just present events and stories as historical fact, it examines why things happened and why people thought and acted as they did during the Middle Ages. It aims to understand a society rather than just talking about it. The series is not a conventional narrative of important dates; it uses the evidence of historical events and the words and thoughts of people alive in the time to truly get ‘inside the medieval mind”.

Each hour-long episode, titled ‘Knowledge’. ‘Sex’, ‘Belief, and ‘Power’, will focus on a different aspect of medieval life and will be a snapshot of life through all levels of the social hierarchy from the lowliest peasant to the highest Lord.

‘Knowledge’ explores the “disenchantment” of the medieval world, as a rediscovery of ancient knowledge and new methods of scholarship in universities led to an intellectual and scientific revolution during this period, whilst exploration and trading contacts expanded the medieval world view beyond all imagination.

‘Sex’ investigates the private lives of medieval men and women, looking at theories of sexual difference, the realities of male-female relationships and courtly romance, and the attitudes of the Church authorities and wider society to marriage, sex and sexual practice, homosexuality, virginity and the celibate vocation.

‘Belief’ explores the fundamental place of religious faith and practice to the identity of people in the Middle Ages. It looks at the relationship between the physical and supernatural worlds, the place of pilgrimage, the sacraments and the power of demons, angels and saints in everyday life and the changing relationship of the Church to monasticism, crusading and those outside conventional Christian society.

Finally, ‘Power’ analyses the workings of medieval secular society and the assumptions of people at the time about inequality and the distribution of power. It looks at the lot of the peasantry under feudal, forest and common law codes, the realities of chivalry and the military role of the aristocracy, and the relationship of the medieval king to his subjects – and what might happen when that relationship broke down.

The series also looks beyond the shores of Britain in the Middle Ages to better reflect a fluid and vibrant period when people, beliefs and ideas spread across continents. Viewers will learn more about the interaction of nations and societies in the medieval world than ever before.

The Open University has also produced a free medieval map for viewers, marking several of the locations visited by Robert Bartlett in the series and revealing key facts about each. This can be obtained by calling 0870 900 9581or by visiting
Editor’s Notes

Inside the Medieval Mind’ is an Open University/BBC co-production for BBC FOUR.

The first episode of the series will broadcast on BBC FOUR from Thursday April 17 at 9pm.

Executive Producer for the BBC is Debbie Cadbury. Series Producer for the BBC is Julian Birkett. Executive Producer for The Open University is Catherine McCarthy. The Open University Academic Adviser is Dr Rachel Gibbons.

The Open University and BBC have been in partnership for more than 30 years, providing educational programming to a mass audience. In recent times this partnership has evolved from late night programming for delivering courses to peak time programmes with a broad appeal to encourage wider participation in learning.

All broadcast information is correct at time of issue.


Related Courses and programmes from the Open University:-

- Y160 Making sense of the Arts

- AA100 The Arts Past and Present

- A200 Exploring History: medieval to modern 1400-1900

- A172 Start Writing Essays

- A173 Start Writing Family History

- A180 Heritage, Whose Heritage?




Media Contacts

Guy Bailey +(44) 1908 653248

Inside the Medieval’ Mind Series Synopsis

Programme One – Knowledge

TX: 9pm, BBC FOUR, Thursday April 17

In the opening programme, Professor Bartlett explores the way medieval man understood the world as a place of mystery, even enchantment - a book written by God.

The medieval world was full of marvels. He unearths records of strange sightings of fish-men caught off the coast of Suffolk, or green men in Essex. He travels to Hereford Cathedral where he decodes the Mappa Mundi, with its three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia) and its strange beasts thought to exist on the periphery of the earth: Hermaphrodites, Unicorns, and men with the heads of dogs.

Medieval science was not nonsense: it was known that the world was round, for example. But for medieval man it was possible to attribute both a natural and a divine cause to a single event – an eclipse could be caused by the movement of the planets and be a sign from God.

In a medieval chained library Robert explains that how for hundreds of years learning remained (almost literally) in the hands of monks. But that monopoly was to be challenged with the discovery of the classical learning of Aristotle, and of Arabic science, in the great libraries of Spain, seized by Christian soldiers in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Though theologians like Thomas Aquinas worked hard to reconcile classical learning with Christian teaching, scientists such as Roger Bacon were pushing back the frontiers of knowledge in favour of a more evidence-based analysis of the world.

Marco Polo and other travellers returned with amazing tales of the East, signalling the beginning of the end for the established medieval world view. They found not dog-heads but great civilisations.

When Columbus sailed off to find a new route to the East he was helped by all the new technology of the time – better sailing ships, gunpowder, compasses. As the middle ages grew to a close, the world had become a place not to be contemplated, but mastered, even exploited.

Programme Two – Sex

TX: 9pm, BBC FOUR, Thursday April 24

In Sex, we unearth remarkable evidence of the complex passions of medieval men and women.

On the one hand, there was a down to earth acceptance you might expect in a peasant society; on the other, an obsessive abhorrence of desire grounded in religious fervour. Robert Bartlett quotes some of the questions the 11th century Church recommended priests to ask their parishioners: “Have you committed fornication with your step-mother, your sister-in-law, your son’s fiancée, or your mother?"

Medieval knowledge about sexual difference was rudimentary and governed by a misogyny rooted in the Bible. Eve was the cause of original sin for tempting Adam in the Garden of Eden. An early church father had this to say to women: “The curse God pronounced on your sex weighs still upon the world. You are guilty – you must bear its hardships. You are the Devil’s gateway”.

The Church preached hatred of the flesh and promoted the cult of virginity. We tell the compelling story of Christina of Markyate who defied her parents and her husband to maintain her chastity.

And yet it was the medieval world that gave birth to the modern concept of romantic love. 12th century troubadours began to sing songs of love to women in which they were suddenly goddesses to be adored. For the upper classes at least, the rules of love were reinvented in lengthy treatises, the heroes and heroines of love celebrated in poems: Lancelot and Guinevere, and Tristan and Iseult.

Robert tells the tragic story of the real life lovers, Abelard and Heloise – Abelard the great scholar, Heloise the niece of a canon at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Their love letters from the 12th century are astonishing in their frankness, passion and willingness to break conventions.

Programme Three – Belief

TX: 9pm, BBC FOUR, Thursday May 1

In the third programme, Belief, Robert Bartlett explores belief in the supernatural. The medieval dead shared the world with the living: encounters with the dead and visions of the next world ensured a two-way traffic between this world and the next.

Professor Bartlett recounts the popular medieval tale of The Three Living and the Three Dead. Three young swells are out walking in the forest when they meet three dead men, lovingly portrayed in wall paintings of this encounter as skeletons or rotting corpses. The dead men chide their living counterparts for their complacency:

“Such as you are so were we, Such as we are so will you be.”

He quotes from medieval sources describing the visit of an Essex peasant to the next world, which leaves him with a keen sense of the geography of the after life.

The cult of the saints was part of the medieval preoccupation with death. The holy dead were active in their intercession for the living, and their relics were prized. We examine one of the few medieval relics in Britain, the skull of St Simon Stock at Aylesford Priory.

The Church governed the lives of the faithful through its teachings and in the sacraments. The programme visits Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland where the prayers of medieval monks held the devil at bay.

The programme then explores how the Church from the end of the 11th century with the First Crusade became increasingly belligerent towards outsiders – first, Muslims (we go to the Temple Church of the crusading Knights Templar in London), then the Jewish community at home (we tell the story of the massacre at York in 1190), and finally the growing numbers of reformers (John Wyclif and the persecution of the Lollards).

Programme Four – Power

TX: 9pm, BBC FOUR, Friday May 8

In Power, the final programme in the series, Robert Bartlett lays bare the brutal framework of the medieval class system. Inequality was a part of the natural order, the life of serfs little better than those of animals, the knight’s code of chivalry more one of caste solidarity than morality. The class you were born into determined who you were.

There were three classes, or estates: those who pray (the clergy), those who fight (the aristocratic warrior class of knights) and those who work (everybody else – in practice, mainly serfs on a knight’s estate).

Professor Bartlett looks at the penalties to be paid by serfs who ran away, and describes the harsh laws which protected the hunting rights of the king in the vast forests of medieval Britain.

Medieval lords were not so much landlords as warriors. Their land was given to them by the king precisely because they were warriors and supported him in military campaigns. Fighting was in their blue blood.

These knights followed the international codes of chivalry – a word today synonymous with gallantry and noble behaviour. Knights could behave nobly, but it was generally towards their own class.

To hold such a violent society together was no easy task. It would need divine help. As Robert Bartlett explains in Westminster Abbey, that is just what medieval kings had – at the ceremony of the Coronation the new monarch was anointed with holy oil, signifying his divinely sanctioned right to rule.

But this rigid order was fatally undermined by the Black Death, which created such a huge shortage of labour that serfs could demand wages and move where they pleased. At Blackheath and at the Tower of London we tell the dramatic story of the Peasants’ Revolt, when the despised third estate – those who work – began to taste a new freedom.

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