May 9, 2006
Blood and Roses
This week's New York Times Book Review has a piece by Megan Marshall on Helen Castor's new book Blood and Roses. The book, based on 15th century documents known as the Paston letters, looks fascinating. Here's an excerpt from the review highlighting the parts that would be of interest to property profs:
[Castor] begins by describing a "post-plague world" in which England's population was so drastically reduced by the Black Death that class boundaries broke down in the face of a major land grab, barely held in check by an already Dickensian legal system. A "parvenu gentry" emerged, made up of men like William Paston, who trained as a lawyer and used his skills to acquire an impressive fortune.
This all might sound tame, but property ownership in 15th-century England entailed risks we can hardly imagine today. Another man angling for the same estate, which generally came with income in rent from tenant farmers, could lob a flimsy title claim into court, then gather a small army of supporters and wrest the property from a rightful owner, holding the place for years as the wheels of justice ineffectually spun. Time and again this happened to the Pastons, and Castor's accounts of these skirmishes are as entertaining as a chapter from "Middlemarch" — with bloodshed.
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