What does a "diverse perspective" look like in Medieval England, and why does understeanding that make you a better Goucher student?

        Modern discussions of "diversity" tend to define it in the familiar terms of "race, class, and gender."  The general assumption driving academic interest in these three forms of diverse human existence is that we tend to have very limited awareness of all three, and that they are linked to powerful ideological forces which control our unconscious perception of our world.  To take just one example, consider the perspective or "world-view" unconsciously controlled by economic class (cf. "ways of seeing" in feminist criticism).

       A wealthy banker awakens in the morning and never has to ask herself whether her toes have become frostbitten overnight because she had too few blankets covering her in a building entrance.  Instead, over breakfast, she probably will surf the Web to her stock brokerage account, and fine tune her investment portfolio, which typically makes more money in interest and dividends than her annual salary pays her.  It's always wise to rebalance one's portfolio.  On her way to work, she may unconsciously avert her eyes from the numerous figures huddled in doorways so as to better concenterate upon her upcoming business meeting.   Or she may put a dollar in one of the cups beside them and believe herself charitable.  She may even contribute thousands of dollars, out of her hundreds of thousands in annual income, in a sincere desire to aid the homeless.  Typically, though, this is not a banker's primary focus because it's bad for business.  The homeless woman, by contrast pays far more attention to survival tactics few of us ever need to know about, such as which steam grates stay warm all night and which grow cold after midnight.  Poor people acquire immense stores of practical survival skills that require as much wisdom as a college education, but the consequences are far different.  The bankers also tend not to study "diverse perspectives" or any of the other LERs because they must attend to financial matters few of us are aware of, such as the projected growth rate of some other nation's economy, which could potentially harm or help our economy through international trade, or the demand for structural steel, a key predictor of future factory construction and domestic job growth.  Failure to pay attention to those kinds of things could cause them to lose their fortunes, which they, like the poor with their heat grates, tend to identify with life, itself.  For the poor and the rich, ideology is doing a considerable bit of their thinking, controlling what they see, what they call it, and how they react to it.

        Medieval "diversity" shares some things in common with its modern descendents.  Wealth still matters, but "class" does not yet exist because people tend to see themselves as belonging to social "estates" (nobles, clergy, peasants) and to extended kin-groups and craft guilds.  Instead of generating solidarity ("class consciousness"), estate consciousness tends to promote competition within estates, and only rarely, often disastrously, does competition occur between two estates.  Nobles compete for power within their own families, and with other noble families, but they expect and usually get complete loyalty from their noble vassals and the peasants who work their land.  So great is the distinction between noble and peasant that some medieval authorities treat them as if they were different species, with different rules for reproduction, nourishment, and work.  Noble identity derives from noble birth, and from noble service to one's liege lord or lady.  This creates hierarchical chains and networks.  Membership in those networks must be vigilantly protected if one has it.  Nobles have social mobility when their lords rewarded service by gifts of rent-bearing lands, but those lands were finite in Medieval times.  They had to come from some other noble family whose leader died without an heir, had fallen out of political favor, or had descended into poverty by mismanagement or losses in war.  War also could bring wealth to nobles who captured noble enemies and ransomed them back to their families.  Around the first of March, 1460, William III contributed £16 to Geoffrey Chaucer's ransom when the young page was captured by the French while fighting with the king's army near Chartres.  When John II of France was captured at Poitiers by the English in 1358, the ransom eventually paid included about a third of France and 3 million écus, worth roughly $480 million 2014 US dollars by weight, but probably worth far more in a culture where wealth usually was measured in agricultural goods rather than precious metals.  The peasants' perception that the nobles had abandoned John to the English led to the "Jacquerie," a violent rising of the "Jacques" or anonymous peasants who burned chateaux and killed nobles until they were hunted down and exterminated as a lesson to would-be rebels that was fairly effective until 1789.  Competition between estates was not encouraged. 

        Clergy leave their birth-kin-groups for a kinship with God and His Church, an earthly form of a mystical and eternal existence they believe controls all we see and do on earth.  Clergy also have hierarchical chains and networks of affinity, from the lowest clerks and priests, to the local bishops, to archbishops who control large regions run by bishops, to cardinals who control many archbishops, and finally to the Pope, who should control the entire, enormous structure, though in practice many popes had weak or no control at the local level other than taxation and issuing proclamations.  The clergy could become wealthy when lay-people donated gifts to their churches or bishoprics, which might hold lands as large as those of dukes or earls, and keep halls and tables as richy set as their noble brothers and sisters.  The clergy could rise up through the Church hierarchy, but when they died, the wealth and lands they had accumulated stayed with the Church, the so-called "dead hand" which every year took more and more land out of the reach of kings and other nobles.  This produced numerous parliamentary laws to retreive lands donated to the Church, but they were not nearly the most dangerous source of conflict between the clergy and the nobility.  Appointments of bishops brought wealth and political power to whoever controlled them, which led to Henry II's dispute with Thomas a Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Should the king or the pope appoint England's bishops?  Becket stubbornly resisted Henry's demands.  In 1170, four of Henry's knights killed Becket at the altar in the cathedral, and the almost instantly sanctified Saint Thomas's tomb became the pilgrimage site toward which people from London rode while telling tales.  Henry avoided excommunication by yielding great authority to the papacy in 1172, an arrangement which lasted until 1534's "Act of Supremacy" declared a later Henry (VIII) supreme head of the Church of England.  Competition between estates was not encouraged.

        Peasants were strongly kin-group bound, but just as strongly bound to the lords of their land, whose permission they usually had to get before they could marry, make financial transactions, or travel outside the lords' lands.  They were conditioned by their estate to obey nobles and clergy, because the former controlled the laws and the latter controlled their souls.  They might achieve some insurance against year-to-year scarcity by acquiring lands, themselves, by gifts from above or by marriage to those who had lands, but ordinarily their lives were tied to their agricultural duties.  Fortunately, farming requires a host of artisinal skills, and those who master one of them can eventually charge others for peforming them faster and better.  Gradually, craft guilds arose as the most skilled technicians on the farms perfected their skills and set up shops as specialists, teaching their trade by apprenticeship to the sons of other men in a system that assured them free labor and price controls during their lifetimes.  When such artisans formed associations to protect their "mysteries" or skill-sets, the great guilds of England and Europe were born: Masons, Carpenters, Tapicers (tapestry makers), Dyers, Weavers, Shepherds, Pinners, and finally, Merchants, princes of the guild world and future bankers to England's kings.  Masters ran the guilds.  Their apprentices usually were bound by contracts to seven years' learning on the job with free room and board but no pay.  Then they might become "journeymen" who would be paid by masters for their work until they had submitted proof of their mastery to the guild's judges, a proof called their "masterpiece."  Guilds might compete against each other for prestige by building great halls in imitation of nobles' dwellings, or by sponsoring one of the Easter season pageant-wagon plays based on events in the Bible ("mysteries"), or fixed stage plays that taught allegorical religious lessons ("moralities").  Only rarely did guild competition lead to violence, usually among their apprentices.  The masters and journeymen had too much at stake to risk changing the order which sustained them.  They served both the clergy and the nobility, and so depended upon the systems which supported the wealth of those estates.  Caught in the middle, living mainly in the cities, the French "bourgs," they helped hold the peasants in their places, and gradually became Marx's hated bourgeoisie, the "Middle Class."  But this is a slow process.  In the Canterbury Tales, a Miller at first seems about to pick a revolutionary fight with a knight by outdoing his tale, but almost immediately he turns to insulting the Reeve, a former carpenter who has risen to supervisor of his lord's lands.  The guildsmen quarrel and insult each other with no class consciousness and true intra-class hatred.  Competition between estates was not encouraged, but competition within estates seems almost inevitable because one's estate controlled one's world-view.