Years That Changed History: 1215
Dorsey Armstrong is a Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she is also the head of the Department of English. She received her PhD in Medieval Literature from Duke University. She is the executive editor of the academic journal Arthuriana, which publishes cutting-edge research on the legend of King Arthur, from its medieval origins to its modern enactments. She is a recipient of the Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award, Purdue’s top undergraduate teaching honor. Her other Great Courses include The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague and The Medieval World.
01: The World before 1215
Begin your survey of this amazing year with some context. Europe in the 13th century was experiencing a period of climate warming, which led to a population boom as well as the expansion of urban centers and the growth of cities. Meanwhile, in Asia, the Mongols were finding their ages-old way of life threatened by these same changes.
02: The Magna Carta: Patching Up a Squabble
History buffs likely know that the Magna Carta was drafted in 1215, and that it helped establish English law as we know it. But what was actually in this document? And why was it created in the first place? Here, you’ll discover the surprisingly narrowly-focused origins of a short-lived document—what seemed at the time like a minor footnote in history.
03: What’s Really in the Magna Carta?
Continue your study of the Magna Carta by investigating some of its most interesting clauses. As you learned in the previous lecture, the document was meant to appease a group of nobles, and the negotiated settlement is a delightful mix of grand pronouncements and specific requests—including that widows shall not be compelled to remarry.
04: The Magna Carta’s Legacy
Although the Magna Carta is revered today as a founding document of British law and a democratic sensibility, it’s stunning to reflect on how easily it could have been forgotten. Shortly after it was officially accepted by both king and nobles, the pope annulled the document; yet that isn’t the end of the story. Here, trace the Magna Carta’s story across the ages.
05: What Inspired the Fourth Lateran Council?
If you went back in time and asked anyone in 1215 what the most important event of the year was, most people in Europe would cite the Fourth Lateran Council. In this lecture, Professor Armstrong surveys the history of Christianity and the events leading up to this pivotal ecclesiastical event.
06: Canons for Christian Practice and Belief
Delve into the canons that were decreed at the Fourth Lateran Council. Find out what Church leaders were trying to accomplish, or what crises they were attempting to address. From heresies to marriage to the nature of the priesthood, the Fourth Lateran Council took on issues that affected nearly everyone in Europe.
07: The Canons of Persecution
Continue your study of the Fourth Lateran Council with this examination of the “canons of persecution.” Whereas the canons you studied in Lecture 6 primarily affected Christians, the canons in this lecture were directed specifically at non-Christians—particularly Muslims and Jews. After exploring these persecution canons, consider the background for the Crusades.
08: Civilizations in the Americas in 1215
Shift your attention from Europe to the Americas, where a number of civilizations were thriving in 1215. Although no single lecture could do justice to all of these civilizations, Professor Armstrong spotlights the Pueblo people, the Incas, and the Maya, providing a solid foundation for what was happening on the American continents at the time.
09: Civilizations of Sub-Saharan Africa in 1215
Africa in 1215 was home to a number of fascinating civilizations, including the Mali Empire, the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, and the Ethiopian Empire. Travel to Sub-Saharan Africa to review the history leading up to these great civilizations, meet some of the major figures, and explore some of their great feats, from mining to dry-stone engineering.
10: The Crusading Impulse
A few lectures ago, you studied the “persecution canons” of the Fourth Lateran Council and saw the tense relationship between the Church and non-Christians. Here, Professor Armstrong unpacks the background to the Crusades, beginning with Pope Urban II’s 1095 call for Christians to take the Holy Land back from the Muslims.
11: The Fourth Crusade and the Crusader States
In the century after Pope Urban II, a “crusading impulse” had taken over medieval western Europe. In this lecture, you will examine the Fourth Crusade, which began in 1198 and culminated with the sack of Constantinople in 1204. Then turn to the Children’s Crusade that followed.
12: The Fourth Lateran Council and the Jews
The Fourth Lateran Council marked a turning point for Jewish communities in medieval Europe. In this first of two lectures on the Jewish experience around 1215, Professor Armstrong provides an overview of anti-Semitism in medieval European society. Reflect on the uneasy relationship between Jews and Christians.
13: The Jews in 1215 and Beyond
Continue your study of the Jewish experience in medieval Europe. Examine the aftermath of 1215 and the Fourth Lateran Council’s insistence on Christian dominance. In the 13th century, institutional persecution began trickling down to the masses, leading to blood libel accusations, among other abominations.
14: Francis of Assisi and the Mendicant Orders
As you may recall, the Fourth Lateran Council attempted to curb the formation of new monastic orders, yet the Church soon after granted an exception for the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Dive into the background of these orders, meet St. Francis of Assisi, and see how his life inspired the creation of a new religious order.
15: The Crusade against the Cathars
Catharism is a version of Christianity even more revolutionary than the mendicant orders you studied in the last lecture. In fact, Catharism was so radical that some people argued its belief system was not Christianity at all. See why, in the early 13th century, the pope turned his attention away from the Crusades abroad to root out Catharism at home.
16: Mongol Culture before Genghis Khan
Too often, western history books portray the Mongols as bloodthirsty murderers and destroyers hellbent on destroying civilization, but the true story of Mongol society is much different. As Marco Polo relayed after a visit to Kublai Khan, the Mongols did much to stabilize the societies they conquered. Explore the dual identity of the Mongols.
17: The Mongols and the Rise of Genghis Khan
The rise of Genghis Khan is an amazing, unbelievable story. How did a low-ranking man from the Mongolian steppes rise up to be one of the greatest military leaders the world has ever seen? In this lecture, Professor Armstrong surveys the dazzling rise of Genghis Khan, outlines his military strategy, and surveys his conquests across Asia.
18: The Battle of Beijing
By the early 13th century, Genghis Khan had defeated all of his immediate rivals and brought a number of regional tribes under his banner, including the Huns, Turks, and Tatars. His crowning achievement was his success at the Battle of Beijing, when he consolidated his control of China. As you’ll discover, the battle was decidedly one-sided from the start.
19: What Happened to the Mongols after 1215?
When Genghis Khan died, his greatest legacies were his tradition of warfare as well as the way he unified so many disparate groups of people. In this final lecture on the Mongols, follow the story of his sons and grandsons, and witness the collapse of the largest, contiguous political entity ever to exist.
20: The Status of Women in 1215
To tackle the subject of what the world was like in general for women in 1215, Professor Armstrong returns to medieval Europe, which was home to many powerful and well-educated women. Explore the lives of three exemplary women of the time: Hildegard of Bingen, Héloïse, and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
21: Literary Trends in the Early 13th Century
Religious writing was flourishing in 1215, and religious tracts and guides provide a crucial window into 13th-century spirituality and behavior. Beyond religion, however, the Norse and Icelandic sagas offer great insight into the myths, events, and stories of a pagan, pre-Christian past, while the Arthurian legend grew in popularity throughout the medieval world. Review this amazing—and sometimes amazingly weird—literature.
22: The Islamic World in 1215
In the 13th century, the Islamic world was experiencing a golden age of art, science, education, and more. From Baghdad’s House of Wisdom to figures such as Avicenna, Averroës, Saladin, and more, take a tour of this grand world. Learn about the foundations of modern medicine and mathematics.
23: Japan and Samurai Culture
Mongol culture affected huge swaths of the world, including Japan. After reflecting on the feudal structure of Japan in the 13th century, Professor Armstrong traces the rise of the shoguns, which is rooted in the 1185 conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans. Examine the history of shoguns, the samurai, and more.
24: The World after 1215
Much of this course has been about looking back to a watershed year in world history. In this final lecture, Professor Armstrong looks forward to consider how the events from this course shaped the centuries that followed. With a shifting climate, the decline of population, and the catastrophic Black Death in the 14th century, we can look back and see that the year 1215 is truly an anomalous time.