Archive for the 'European' Category

December 16, 2010

Bayeux Tapestry insights

Author: Spartan-Timer

The Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the Norman conquest of England, lends great insight to the military dress of the Normans as far back as 1066. From the tapestry we can tell that the kite shaped shield was used universally throughout the Norman cavalry. The large shield stretches from the upper chest down to mid-calf and was meant to protect the rider’s exposed left flank, but more often than not, knights are shown using the shields to protect their horses. On his person, a knight wore a hauberk. Made of chainmail, the hauberk was knee length, split up the front and back for riding with the two sides draping around the rider’s legs when mounted, for additional protection.

Under the chainmail hauberk, a gambeson was worn. A gambeson is typically a padded or quilted garment used to prevent chafing while riding. The garment also added a layer of protection if the knight received a particularly hard blow. Unfortunately, even with padding, chainmail was likely to dig into a knight’s flesh and potentially lead to blood poisoning.

May 23, 2010

Who Was Robin Hood?

Author: Dark Falcon

Was Robin Hood simply a legend that was imagined and inspired by a class who was so suppressed in the Medieval times that they brought to life a “Santa Claus” to give them a small ray of hope or was there such a person who stole from the rich to give to the poor?   History gives very little solid information to support the notion that Robin Hood really lived.  However, in the literature of this age, there is much written about this inspiring figure.  One of the first references was from a religious allegory, written by William Langdon. Here is the reference:

“Quoting the character, Sloth: “I kan noght parfitly my Paternoster as the preest it syngeth, But I kan rymes of Robyn hood and Randolf Erl of Chestre.” which J. C. Holt, in his 1989 revision of Robin Hood, translates as, “I do not know my paternoster perfectly as the priest sings it, But I know rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolph, earl of Chester.” As can be readily determined “Sloth” is one of the deadly sins.  This was his confession to the priest and obviously knowing the rhymes of Robin Hood was considered a “slothful” use of time.

Another relevant reference to the name, “Robin Hood”, is from court records and reads as follows:

“The earliest contender is one Robert Hod, described as a fugitive, who is mentioned in the York assizes record of 1226: his goods were being confiscated because he owed money to St. Peter’s of York (Owen, 1936). The debt is not unlike that of Sir Richard in the Gest and certainly consistent with the fierce hostility toward abbeys and rich churchmen through the whole myth. A slightly later reference speaks of William Le Fevre, son of a smith, who was indicted at Reading for larceny in 1261 (Crook, 1984). Nothing very surprising about that, except that in the following year there is another reference to him, and now he is called William Robehod, as if that surname has become appropriate to his condition as a fugitive from justice. ”

If you are interested in pursuing the literary references for Robin Hood.  The following is an excellent resource:

Whether Robin Hood truly existed is not relevant, because the legend was  a significant symbol in Medieval Europe, and still applies in our modern day.  It is a story of a struggle between ordinary men against powerful and often evil forces in society.  It also relates a story of a band of common men who attempted to assist the unfortunate around them.  These circumstances still apply today.

If Robin Hood was a real character,  there are several facts that can be determined about him.  He lived in Medieval times when the Pope encouraged all men to accept the Crusader cross and travel to the Middle East to free the Holy Land from its Moslem captors.  The myth of Robin Hood is tied to the reign of Richard I who was called “the Lionheart.” Richard did in fact accept the cross and transported a large force to recapture Jerusalem.  Legend relates that Robin attempted to save the absent crusading king’s  crown from his ruthless brother, John Lackland.  History does support the information that John was not a very efficient ruler or neither was he adept at war as was his older brother, Richard.    John’s Mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, did not intially think very much of her youngest son.  She left him in the hands of his father, Henry II and spent most of her time in Aquitaine with her favorite son, Richard.

Robin Hood was known as an expert with the Long Bow. Lore suggests that he could send an arrow a mile with his Long Bow This popular Medieval weapon was constructed from the ewe tree.  If he carried a battle sword, it was likely what is now called a Crusader sword.  He probably did carry a dagger, because this weapon was small and more readily available to his class.  He probably wore a jerkin (shirt) either of leather or rough cotton.  Also, an axe was in his arsenal of weapons, because the tool could also be used to clear land as well as being employed for protection.  If he needed protection from the sword of an enemy he carried a buckler (a small round shield).  For head protection he wore a battle helmet that was flat on top and covered his face.

In fact, it is also historical fact that King Richard on his return from the Holy Land did visit Sherwood Forest where Robin and his merry men were said to reside.  It is not known that he visited the forest to find Robin Hood and thank him for his efforts on his behalf.  This is only reported in legend.  But the story is told in poetry or a song from a traveling minstrel:

                                                                       ” King Richard hearing of the pranks

                                                                         Of Robin and his men,

                                                                          He much admir’d and more desir’d

                                                                          To see him and them.

                                                                          Then with a dozen of his lords,

                                                                         To Nottingham he rode:

                                                                          When he came there, he made good cheer

                                                                          And took up his abode.”

I for one am a believer in the existence of Robin Hood.  It is a great story and who doesn’t love a good story?



April 30, 2010

Fortified Chateaux and Fairytale Castles

Author: Lady of Aquitaine

pp72025534-la-rochefoucauls.pngFollowing is an article by Barbara Walton who owns  a bed and breakfast in the Limousin region of France.   Medieval enthusiasts will fully appreciate the beautiful landscape as well as the historical castles and landmarks that are prevalent in this region.   In addition to viewing the scenery, Barbara offers painting courses conducted in the midst of this magnificent scenery. 

“Mysterious Limousin, land of lakes and legends, wild and free. This region is known as ‘Hidden France’ because, though beautiful and steeped in history, it is still relatively undiscovered. Step back in time to enjoy all the ambiance of France, the wine, the food and sunshine, quiet country roads bordered with cowslips and the early purple orchids. You drive along these pretty routes when you follow the Route of Richard the Lionheart linking thirteen castles and five other major historical sites.This tourist route, created in 1984, links together castles, churches and historical sites of the Region of Limousin and bordering departments with one common theme, Richard, bringing alive the times and traditions of medieval France. All the sites existed at the end of the 12th century and some of these formed a fortified barrier to the south of the region.A coat of arms showing a crowned lion with an arrow through the heart is clearly displayed on a series of sign posts that mark the route.Richard, born in Oxford, England on the 8th September 1157 was the son of King Henry 11, Plantagenet, King of England and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, France. He was invested as the Duke of Aquitaine in April 1169 in Poitiers, and this was confirmed in Saint Etienne Cathedral, Limoges, one of the sites on this route.Together with his brothers he went to war against his father. When his father died in 1189, Richard became Duke of Normandy and then King of England.After crusades and turbulent skirmishes with the King of France, he was wounded on 26 March 1199 and died 6 April. His heart was buried at Rouen and his entrails at Châlus, Limousin. What was left of him was buried at Fontevraud Abbey although there are legends that he (or part(s) of him were buried in the Chateau de BrieWe are lucky enough, at Les Trois Chenes Bed and Breakfast, to be situated on this route and we are conveniently placed to visit most of these amazing places. Many of the chateaux and churches are within thirty minutes drive, and Rochechouart Castle is only ten minutes away! All fifteen of these historic sites are less than one and a half hours’ drive, and if you take into consideration the distances in France, that is really very close indeed. Nor does this include the castles of the nearby Charente and Dordogne regions or several other amazing historical sites! All of the following are well worth a visit.

  • Excellent botanical garden behind Limoges Cathedral
  • Museum of Métiers also near the cathedral. A fascinating museum devoted to the crafts.
  • Visit the Porcelain Museum at Limoges
  • Cassinomagus is an important Gallo – Roman site at Chassenon, ten minutes from Videix. They organise fantastic days when people dress up as ancient Gauls or Romans and show crafts, costumes, housing, warefare etc. Not well publicised but not to be missed!
  • The town of Pierre-Buffier is about 1 hour away from Les Trois Chenes and has (or had) monestary of 11th century and has 11th century church – Sainte-Croix. It is well worth a visit
  • The town of La Rochefoucauld is only thirty minutes away. It is dominated by a Fairytale Castle complete with moat. Here you can dress up in Medieval costume and parade around the Chateau. The kids love this – but so do the adults.

Take a bit of time to see the very many other wonderful places to see and things to do. After seven years I’m still discovering Limousin!See Les Trois Chenes site http://lestroischenes.comFor a full list of the sites visit more details on Rochechouart see the Medieval Festival at Rochechouart “

February 12, 2010

Love in Medieval Times

Author: Lady of Aquitaine

medievalbridalfeast.jpgValentine’s Day is the ultimate celebration of love.  The origin of this day of love is obscure; it is thought to be named after St. Valentine, a Roman priest, who lived during the time of the persecution of the early Christians.  Valentine supposedly married young Christians when the government sought to prevent their marriage to stymie the growth of Christianity.  All the information regarding the love-day is fable.  Regardless of how Valentine’s day came to be celebrated by lovers,  romance has existed since the beginning of time.

Marriage and love in feudal Europe presented some unusual customs and rituals which we do not experience in our modern world.  If a vassal or bondman from a certain manor wanted to marry a woman from another manor, he had to give the lord of that manor a brass pan in compensation; and the pan had to be of such a size that the bride could sit in it without undue compression.  That tradition was probably the result of a rich merchant that ordered too many large brass pans.

Witnesses to weddings often would hit one another to impress the occasion on their memories in case they might be called on to attest to the validity of the marriage.  In Medieval times there were no formal records.   Uncle Brun readily could remember  the occasion of Attila and Matilda’s nuptials because , Aunt Maud broke his right jaw.  The passing of the ring which symbolized the union in Medieval Europe is still a tradition today.

All Medieval dwellings were very cold.  Lovemaking was possibly limited during the winter.  When spring came, it roused people to a pagan frenzy.  The sun shone and lusty blood flowed. Lovers took to the fields, freed from the crowded houses where whole families often lived.  Most love poems were written in the spring; such the modern term, “spring fever.”

One tradition from the Middle ages that is still around today is the toast to love.  All classes had access to some form of celebratory beverages.  The nobility had wine, and the lower classes had beer and ale.  I really believe that young peasants knew how the nobility’s wine was made; and I will wager that many a bottle was made and consumed in the spring fields during a lovers picnic.   During the marriage ceremony the bride and groom toasted each other with the finest Medieval Chalices that were available. Glass was not readily available in Medieval Europe so silver, gold or pewter was used for the wedding toast.   Often they were borrowed from the church.

Love is the most wonderful thing on the face of the earth, and it was the same during the Middle Ages.  No one told them that they were living during depressed times; they believed that they were a very advanced society.  Slow down and enjoy the celebration of love.  Toast your lover, go on a picnic, propose, eat chocolate, smell the roses, write a poem of love and take a large brass pot to your beloved home and let her sit in it.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 11, 2010

Medieval Knights in Shining Armor

Author: Lady of Aquitaine

medieval-knight-in-shining-armor.jpgAre you expecting a magical gift from the love of your life or from the love of the moment?  How do present day lovers  compare with those true knights in shining armor?  Was the Medieval male a passionate slave to his love  or did he regard the  woman of his life as his slave?

According to Belle Tuten, a renown Medieval historian, love and courtly love were  very important in the life of the Medieval male.  He explores the subject with the following description:

”  Medieval literature is full of stylized, “courtly” language speaking of love and desire.  A suitor’s flowery prose expressed his hope of winning the lady of his choice.  Courtly love poetry-frequently addressed to a woman who was completely out of reach-tolerated and may have even encouraged, love outside marriage, as in the stories of Guinevere and Lancelot and of Tristan and Iseult.  There were also real-life examples: Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his Book of the Duchess(1369) for Blanche, duchess of Lancaster; at whose death he mourned the “siknesse (i.e. unrequited love) that I have suffred this eight yere.”

Such devotion could be taken to extremes.  Ulrich von Lichtenstein, a noble Austrian who died around 1275, wrote a poem–partly fact and partly fiction–describing the activities of the perfect courtly lover.  Among Ulrich’s extravagant gifts was one of his fingers, sent to his lady-love with a book of poems.  He also underwent a dangerous operation to repair his harelip, hoping to appear more handsome for her even though they had never met.  After he had camped outside her house for some time, the lady finally agreed to see him.  But when he begged her for more than a greeting, she replied sternly: “Nay your courage may not aspire so far as that I should lay you here by my side . . .. My lord and master shall live ever free from fear lest I should love another man than he.”

There are many other examples of courtly love as practiced in Medieval Europe.  We will explore some of those courts of the past in the next few days before the great day of “love.”

October 19, 2009

Footballs, Lances and Swords

Author: Lady of Aquitaine

medieval-knights-jousting-1.jpgReaders of this blog are probably asking what do these three things have in common?  Footballs are pigskin balls that young men use to play a popular game.    Lances and swords on the other hand are ancient weapons that were utilized in many wars of the past.

Being very good at playing football entitles young men to many privileges.  Highschool football players are some of the most popular boys around.  At least that is the situation in the southern United States.  These athletes are even more revered in college.   It requires a certain toughness to play football, and it is likely one of the most dangerous sports.

In the Middle Ages, there were sports that nobles enjoyed watching as much as we enjoy football.  These were tournaments which were thrilling but potentially dangerous for the contestants just like football.  Christien de Troyes remarked in Yvain, or the Knight with the Lion, that “people are wont to rush up when they are eager to see swordplay.”

Some of the participants in this ancient sport were sons who would not inherit property or a title because they were not the first son.  Often they participated in tournaments to make money just like our professional footballs players today.  One of the most famous of these professional sword fighters was William Marsechal.  Because he was the most powerful man with a sword, he acquired a castle and land through a marriage to a wealthy noble woman.  Medieval times were not so different than the modern day. A powerful athlete often attracts money and beauty.

 Many times wealthy young men played the game just for love of the sport or to prove their superiority in arms.  The Plantagenets, a famous ruling family, of Medieval Britain participated in this dangerous sport.  Richard the Lionheart was an avid participant in swordplay games and also jousting.  He usually won.  His brother, Geoffrey, however, was not so lucky; he was killed in a tournament .  He suffered a broken neck when he was knocked from his horse with a lance.  Had he not been addicted to this dangerous sport, the Plantagenet line of ruling monarchs would likely have been much changed.  Richard, who became King of England was killed in a trivial skirmish at a very young age.  Geoffrey would probably have acceded to  the the throne at his brother’s death, and since he had children they would have been in line to rule the British Empire.

Things change but not dramatically.  Certainly we live in a different age; we play different games than the Medieval athlete.  The results of being great at a sport still apply.  Rewards are waiting for the “best of the best.”

August 29, 2009

The Viking Sword

Author: Dark Falcon

sh1010-godfred-viking-sword.jpgThe Vikings gave their swords names such as ‘Gramr’ (fierece), and ‘Fotbitr’ (legbitr).  Viking swords were also valuable family heirlooms, and were passed down from father to son.  They were decorated with gold and valuable stones set in the hilt. 

The Norse sagas are full of accounts of combat using swords.  The Lausaviser, a Norwegian epic,  recounts the story of the revenge of Einar, son of Ragnvald.  Ragnvald was a chieftain who ruled in Orkney around 860.  He was burnt to death in his own house by two of Harald Fairhair’s sons.  Einar fought with one son, Halfdan Halegga, and killed him.  Halegga was found the next morning on the side of a hill and his back had the shape of an eagle cut into it with a sword.  The ribs had been separated from the backbone and the lungs had been pulled out on either side to represent an eagle’s wings.  This was Einar’s victory sacrifice to Odin. 

The Viking blades were most often pattern-welded.  The pattern-welded technique was accomplished by the smith welding together long strips of iron and steel.  Then he forged them into square-sectioned rods, which he twisted or folded and welded together in groups of three or four.  These were used for the central core of the blade.  The edges of the blade were then welded to it.  After grinding and polishing, the twists and folds of the core pattern were brought out with acid. 

The crossguard was very simple.  There was elaborate decoration on the pommel.

The Vikings were some  of the most feared and highly regarded warriors of any age.  These Viking  swords with a soul were a mighty extension of the legend of the Norsemen.  Many reenactors choose the Viking persona for this reason.

Swords and Hilt Weapons published by Prion, 20 Mortimer Street, London WIT 3JW is an excellent resource for information on Viking and all other swords.

August 11, 2009

Medieval Women in Armor

Author: Lady of Aquitaine

queen-thesi.jpgThe following description appeared in a 1997 calendar, entitled Medieval Women.  The calendar was published by the Workman Group and the title described the women as the following:  “The Strong, The Resilient, The Accomplished.” One of the writings from this calendar told the story of those Medieval women who went to war in full armor, bearing swords and pole arms just like their masculine brothers.

“During the 9th and 10th centuries, noblewomen were often directly involved in war.  Emma, granddaughter of the Capetian king Robert the Strong, headed the defenses of Laon in 927, and led a siege against Chateau Thierry in 933 that resulted in its surrender: Aethelflaed of Mercia ruled part of England from 911 to 918 and defended it from the Vikings.  The medieval custom of siege warfare, in which an attacking army tried to invade or starve out a walled fortress, frequently meant that noblewomen had to be left in charge while their warrior husbands were outside the walls, conducting the battles.

For later medieval queens, especially those married to kings of distant countries, survival could mean a great deal of military strife.  Margaret of Anjou, married to the simpleminded Henry VI of England in 1445 educated her young son in “nothing else but cutting off heads and making war.” After the young prince was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, Margaret was put in the Tower of London for five years; she died in penury in 1482.

Average women might also expect to experience war; but they were often victims instead of warriors.  Joan of Arc, a peasant girl from a small town in France, broke the mold in the early 15th century by becoming a military leader.  She led the French army in several successful battles against the English army in the last stages of the Hundred Years’ War. When the English captured her in 1431, she was tried and burned for heresy.  Thomas Basin mourned her death his History of Charles VII:

“Joan was sent by God to save the kingdom and the people of France.”

Although wearable armor weighs from 35 to 60 lbs.,  the modern woman would look stunning in the ultimate Medieval costume.

April 5, 2009

Disaster in Nicaea-The People’s Crusade

Author: Lady of Aquitaine

crusader-shield-801508.jpgOn the parched ground of the Middle East in early fall, 1096, a lone European knight walked among thousands of dead bodies.   He had been away from his post for days searching for  20,000  Crusaders  who had been called to accept the crusader’s cross by Pope Urban to rescue the Holy Land from the Saracens.   What he found in the desert sickened him.  The stench from the thousands of dead bodies was so nauseating  that he threw up. 

He walked among the dead and to his dismay found not one man alive.  He determined from the decaying bodies that this was the army on which so many hopes had been placed.  He was surprised that the weapons that were lying beside the dead were mostly sling shots, flails and maces.  There were a few Crusader shields among the bodies, and a few Medieval battle swords of that time.  He wondered why there were so few weapons, and he quickly realized why they were doomed.  He wondered if the rag-tag crew lying in the hot desert sun was the best that Europe would offer to save Jerusalem. 

He continued to trudge through the bodies, and he suddenly viewed the cloak of a Monk, and beside the holy man’s decaying body, there lay a scroll.  He unrolled the document, and began to read of the disastrous crusade of Peter the Hermit. 

“I joined Peter, a fellow monk who spoke with such inspiration that I knew that we could save this land for God.  Pope Urban issued the call to crusade and we answered.  Our recruits were not the rich knights with mighty arms; our crusaders were the poor and disadvantaged who desired to escape their sordid existence and do the Lord’s work.  They had few arms, but what they could make themselves or their flails which they used as farm implements.  But what we lacked in wealth and arms we made up for in devotion.  We knew that God would bless us.  I must admit that some of our recruits did not come here with the best intentions, because they have stolen and murdered even from their comrades.   I must say however, that for the most part our band of farmers, peasants and the disadvantaged have attempted to fight like the devoted Christians that they are.   We did well until we reached Nicaea; we sacked the city of the Seljuk, one of the major cities of the Turks.  We moved a few miles from the city in the hopes of securing a castle for a headquarters.  Then we saw a large contingent of troops in the distance.  We determined that they were Saracens with their mighty swords and swift horses.  I fear we will die soon.  We are no match for them.  They have surrounded us, and we have been here for days.  We are starving to death and there is no hope.  God wills that we die here.”

The knight wondered if ever again Christian pilgrims would subject themselves to such a disastrous result.  Would Crusaders ever free the Holy Land? 

March 26, 2009

Ancient Weapons-The Polearm

Author: Dark Falcon

spears.jpgThe polearm is one of the oldest and most versatile of weapons throughout the ages. The modern definition of a polearm is a weapon with a blade or pointed tip attached to a long shalf. Prehistoric man likely was the first to use a sharpened long stick to slay his dinner, or his neighbor. 

Rome also developed a very effective polearm.  The pilium, a very sharp spear, was used effectively against the Celts.  The development of this weapon was one of the reasons Rome was successful in conquering a large part of the world.

Various types of this weapon gained prominence in the Medieval and Renaissance eras in Europe and elsewhere.  They were a means of dealing with cavalry; the foot soldier’s reach was extended to allow him to attack a mounted opponent while avoiding the blade of the knight’s sword. 

The classic models of the European polearms were the pike and the halderb. First appearing in the l4th century the halderb was a very versatile weapon.  It was usually a little over 5 feet long and had a spiked top that was useful for keeping mounted knights at bay.  It also had a hook that could be used to pull him from the saddle, and an axe head that could penetrate his armor.

The pike was a simple spear like weapon that had a metal head attached to a wooden shaft.  It came into use in the twelfth  century as a defensive weapon again cavalry.  The Swiss, however, turned the simple spear into an offensive weapon by employing a phalnx-like infantry formation.  From this formation they were able to use pikes as long as 22 and a half feet.  This strategy employing a simple spear allowed them to become the premier fighting force of the fourteenth century. 

In other parts of the world, the spear or pike was also widely used.  Samurai warriors are most often associated with the sword, but in battle they were supported by foot soldiers who used the yari (spears).  Perhaps the greatest spearmen in history are the Zulu warriors of Southern Africa.  Their military units, called impis, were armed with the short assegai spear.  They were able to conquer most of the region in the early nineteenth century.

The common soldier was the part of the military that used the polearm.  From prehistoric times to today, these are the warriors that shape our world.