Medieval Monday: SCA 50 Year

Back in June, my husband and I went to a week-long event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the SCA. I’ve been meaning to get the pictures off the camera for months, and I’ve finally done it. So enjoy!

Camp

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Our tent is a 14′ x 14′ center-pole canvas marquee with a 7′ x 14′ porch from Panther Primitives. Normally we put the walls up pretty early in the set up process, but it was pretty hot, so we left the walls off while we worked to get some air.

The first thing that goes down is our tarps. We have one dedicated floor tarp that’s pretty heavy, but when we’re camping out for a week, I’ll take the cheap tarp that we use to cover the back of the truck and put that under the heavier tarp. We have twice had water run under our (cheap) tarp and seep up through the middle of the floor and it was pretty miserable because there was no way to dry out the inside of the tent and few places where you could stand to get dressed without getting your feet wet. That was what prompted us to quit being cheap and buy a heavier-duty tarp. But I’m still paranoid, so if I have a spare tarp, I’ll double-up. (Especially as they were calling for heavy weather in the middle of the week.)

On top of the tarp go our rugs. Because of course you have to have wall-to-wall carpeting. Those are thrift store, flea market, and yard sale fines. If we see a good deal on a rug, we’ll buy it because if we don’t need it now, we will in the future. The rugs can take being wet if we hang them up when we get home, but we have had problems in the past with mice in our barn and a few of the rugs are rough around the edges where they have built nests in them.

My husband made our bed. It’s full size. The headboard and footboard are exactly alike, so it doesn’t matter which you use. There are two identical side rails that fit through slots on the headboard and footboard and pin into place. There are narrow rails on the inside of the side rails and we put wooden slats on top of these. Then the mattress (a real mattress, not an air mattress!) goes on top of the slats.

The bed is tall enough that a standard-sized plastic tote can fit under it and be hidden by the bedskirt. We pack most of our clothes, housewares, and foot in plastic totes and some of those things live in the totes under the bed. The nice thing about the plastic totes is that they are relatively waterproof. This is an important consideration when they’re in the back of a truck, but it’s can be just as important inside the tent. This past Gulf Wars, we had what is now known “affectionately” as “Gulfnado.” Some people claim to have seen rotation above part of the campground. But others say that there were only two supercells that combined and hit us. Regardless of whether it was a tornado trying to form on top of us or only straight-line winds, everyone is in agreement that winds were coming in gusts of up to 60 mph and hit in opposite directions. Tents and sunshades went down all over the site and many people’s things got wet. After we lost our big communal tent (where everyone in camp was just sitting down to dinner), I rode out the rest of the storm in this marquee. (It and our wall tent were the only ones in our camp to survive unscathed and dry.) While I was in there, I hurriedly packed as much of our stuff as possible into the plastic totes to keep it dry in case we lost the tent.

A lot of times I will cover our cooler with a spare blanket just so it’s not so obvious (and we’ll know where the blanket is if it suddenly turns cold; the weather is vary variable in Mississippi in March). I could probably make some sort of curtain to cover up the shelves of food, but I haven’t bothered yet. We’re the only ones in our tent, so we look for a balance between a medieval feel and convenience. (We also have to balance how much crap we (read: I) have to pack and set-up).

I bought the shelves from my Laurel; she and her sister designed them. They’re cotton strapping that’s been sewed into loops and they have grommets at the top that allow them to slip over the pin on our interior poles. There are a couple of small straps on both of them that you use to tie them to the poles. Then you slip the boards into the straps and level them. They self-level pretty well and they move with the poles. Despite those 60 mph winds, I don’t think anything fell off our shelves.

My husband blacksmithed the clothes rack. The metal brackets screw into the poles (although we’ve talked about him redesigning them so that they have holes in the top that allow them to slip over the pins like our shelves do) and we put a pole across it. There’s also a board that sits on top, but isn’t self-leveling and it’s so close to the top that the wind can snap the top and knock stuff off of it. So we only put hats on top; they won’t be hurt if they fall off.

We also have some blacksmithed hooks that hang off our pole pins; they’re scattered around the tent. We use them for hanging up wet towels, a mirror, umbrellas–whatever we need.

Normally the table (which is under the porch in this set up) is in one corner of the tent and I used it as a dressing table. I keep a mirror and my hairbox on it. When we go to Gulf Wars, we have a huge communal tent that we use as a kitchen and dining room for all the people in our camp. But at this event, we were on our own, which meant we had to do our own cooking. So the dressing table became a washing up and prep table and my husband’s bedside table became a propane stove table.

We also normally don’t use our porch (it’s so much nicer to sit in the big tent and be social). In fact, this was only the second time we’ve set it up. It needs some modification because it’s just too low to stand under. We need to add a center pole to lift it up and give ourselves some more headroom. But it was so hot at that event, it was nice to have it to sit under while we ate dinner; it was cooler than trying to sit inside or having to sit in the sun.

Around Site

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I didn’t get any pictures of the rest of the camping area, but my husband snapped a few pictures of the main thoroughfare on his camera. (This being Indiana, everything was very flat, so it’s not like there was a place to go to take a picture that would give you some sense of the scale of the event.)

The Great Machine

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The greatest display at the event was the Great Machine. It is meant to be a scaled-down model of a medieval blacksmith shop that runs on water power. (There’s a great episode in Connections 1 that covers medieval water-powered machines.) Of course a moving exhibit can’t run on water power, so the owner has modified the design to run on dog power. (In a medieval shop, the wheel would have been on the outside of the building, just like a mill. But the principal and mechanics are all the same.)

The dogs turn the big wheel and it spins a wheel in a gear assembly. But it’s not until a foot pedal or hand lever is used that the gear assembly fully engages and the power of the wheel is transferred to either the hammer or the bellows. (This means the big wheel can spin continuously–as it would if it was water powered–but the equipment isn’t constantly in motion.)

The hammer is on a somewhat egg-shaped gear that has a notch cut in it. As the gear turns, it causes the hammer to rise until it hits the notch and it drops. There are some bowed pieces of wood above the hammer–like a car’s leaf springs turned upside down–that work like a spring. The hammer is pulled up against them, then when the notch drops it, they force it down even harder.

Sutton Hoo Burial

Another great display was the Sutton Hoo burial.

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Duke Talymar has spent years (and God only knows how much money) replicating the grave goods from the Sutton Hoo burial. He has made some of the items himself, some (like the pots and buckets) he was able to pick up at flea markets, antique stores, and online auctions. A lot of the stuff he has commissioned artists in the SCA to make for him.

The attention to detail is fabulous. He really has a museum-quality display. Everything that he’s had made is either exactly the same scale of the surviving pieces or it’s within millimeters of being the same size. He just happens to be about the same size as the king for whom all this stuff was made, so he is able to wear all of it.

I studied the Sutton Hoo burial in 8th grade, but either I’ve forgotten most of what I learned, or it wasn’t this detailed. The original red and blue rug hanging up on the wall was imported from very far away, and many of the other grave goods came from far away, both attesting to the wealth of the man who owned them and the trade routes that existed at the time. Trade obviously didn’t stop just because the Roman Empire had ceased to exist.

In a few cases, Duke Talymar had to cut corners. The jeweled pieces in his display are red enamel whereas the original pieces contained rubies. But where he could, he used gold or silver that was electroplated with gold.

He had a mannequin in his display, but it’s not known if there was ever an actual body in the burial. It may be that the body was cremated near the grave.

Block Printing and Stenciling Class

There were two classes at the event that I didn’t get to take (they were full), but I was able to get pictures from them. One was how to use stencils to paint designs on clothing and the other was how to do block printing. (Block printing is period; stencils do a perfectly fine job of replicating block printing, but are a bit easier to do.) The instructor had a lot of her own examples on display.

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Many people in the class were using stencils they bought (I noticed just the other day that Hobby Lobby had some medieval-looking ones), but the instructor also showed people how to make their own stencils using plastic sheets, like you use on an overhead projector. (I believe you can also get stencil plastic, which would be a bit sturdier and last longer.)

For the wood block printing, a few people brought their own (I got one at the Nashville flea market, but you can find them online at places like eBay; they still do a lot of block printing of textiles in India), but most people made their own. They just cut their desired shapes from thin craft foam and glued it onto a scrap of 2×4. Boom, instant “rubber” stamp.

In both cases they painted with undiluted latex house paint. The teacher absolutely swore by it; she said it never came out. Some of her dresses on display were more than a decade old, had been worn and machine-washed many times, and had not been retouched. Of course, the drawback to that is if you make a mistake, you probably aren’t going to be able to get it out, so make sure you have some paint on hand that matches the color of your fabric; you may have to paint over a mistake.

50 Year Display

There was a display in one of the big halls that showed the evolution of the SCA. Each kingdom had a booth in which they displayed the history and best artistic achievements of their kingdom. If you proceeded around the hall counter-clockwise, you moved through the kingdoms as they formed, with the oldest first and the newest last. There was also a large embroidery done Bayeux Tapestry style that documented some of the more notable events in the history of the SCA. And there was a display showing the evolution of armor. Several booths had recorded music from their best musicians, video interviews with residents or people recounting the formation of their kingdom, or archival footage of old events and fighter practices.

There was no way to get a picture of everything, but I managed to get pictures of the most impressive displays.

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Cooking Demo

My husband got to hang out with some of the folks doing open-fire cooking and they swapped info and compared equipment.

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I am going to try to make it a point to take more pictures when we go to events to document what we do. The SCA is not public, like a Renaissance Faire; we do not perform for other people or for money. Even other non-profit historical reenactment organizations tend to be a bit more public than us–after all, it’s kind of hard to hide a few thousand Civil War reenactors shooting at one another. We’re a bit more in the shadows, despite being a very large organization. And a lot of people are dismissive of what we do as “playing dress up.” But a lot of good research on the middle ages has either been done by reenactors or has been driven by reenactors.

For example, what we know about armor has grown by leaps and bounds because reenactors put on replica armor and started to use it as it was intended. That was when it was discovered that museums had put straps in the wrong place or pieces were upside down. (Surviving medieval armor tends to be found sans the leather and canvas that held it together–it’s just a pile of metal pieces–so it can be hard to figure out what went where.) Also, reenactors snap up any sort of research on the middle ages; there are people who have gotten their PhD’s published simply because there’s an actual market for their research on 14th century clothing in English or wooden boxes of the Norsemen or whatever other obscure thing you can think of. You wouldn’t believe the ecstasy everyone was in over the finding of 15th century underwear a few years ago. People were on it with high power cameras and rulers like ducks on June bugs. Then everyone ran off and started to experiment with fit and then started to publish material.

So I will try to share more pictures in the future to raise awareness (if you will) about what reenactors do. I can talk from personal experience about the SCA and, to a much lesser extent, Rev War/18th century reenacting, but there historical reenactors from all different eras. You can reenact the WWII Invasion of Europe, or attend a Jane Austin-themed Regency ball. The two things everyone has in common is 1) we love history and 2) we want to be a part of it.

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Medieval Monday: Heretics, Protestants, and Inquisitions. Oh My!

Michaelangelo The Renaissance

The Renaissance begins in Italy in the 14th century. Technically, “the Renaissance” only concerns art. Classical works were rediscovered and studied and a new era of realism in art began. Social and political changes come later and more slowly than the art revolution.

Useless Trivia: In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg invents the printing press. The first book printed on it: the “Gutenberg” Bible. The printing press has the biggest impact on European society since the Plague because it allows the common person to become literate and allows ideas to flow freely. No longer will the Church alone be the guardian of knowledge in Europe.

Age of Discovery

In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella financed explorer Christopher Columbus who wanted to sail due west over the Atlantic Ocean to get to the spices and exotic goods of the Far East. Columbus would ultimately make four trips, discovering Cuba, Haiti, and other Caribbean Islands. A master sailor, one of his voyages was the fastest to ever cross the Atlantic until the advent of steam power. His navigation skills left a little to be desired, however, because he never realized he wasn’t in Asia. It would be Amerigo Vespucci who would finally figure out that everyone was exploring a New World.

Columbus

Useless Trivia: No medieval person thought that the world was flat; like the Greeks and Romans and Egyptians before them, they were quite aware that the world was round. The myth that medieval people thought the world was flat appears to come from an 18th century biography of Columbus.

Inquisition

One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Spain

Spain quickly planted its flag in North, Central, and South America, sucking out prodigious amounts of gold that would make Spain fantastically wealthy and a major power in Europe. At home, Isabella and Ferdinand were waging war on the remaining Moors, finally driving the last of them out of Spain, and Spain was united for a time under their joint rule. In 1478, they asked the Pope to begin an Inquisition in Spain to root out lapsed Jewish converts. In 1492, they expelled all the Jews. Many Jews would flee to Portugal, only to be expelled from there a few years later. In 1502, all remaining Muslims were expelled. The Inquisition would later turn on heretics—specifically Protestant heretics—and would keep an iron grip on the Catholic country for centuries to come.

Methinks He Doth Protest Too Much

In 1517, Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses (which he sent to a superior by letter; his nailing them to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral is apocryphal). The letter condemned the Church and the Pope for excessive wealth, the selling of indulgences (“get out of hell free” cards), and general corruption. This was actually not the first time that someone made similar condemnations of the Church, and it was certainly not the first time that someone demanded reformation. However, a combination of the press and a favorable political situation in the German states allows Martin Luther’s demands to evolve into a movement. The protesters become known as “Protestants.”

Useless Trivia: Prior to the Reformation, the largest supporter of the sciences was . . . the Church. The study of genetic traits and even an early attempt at flight (hang-gliding, really) were done by clergymen. Science was seen as proof that the Universe had been made by a rational and orderly Creator. It was only when the Church came under attack and felt its power slipping that it circled the wagons and clamped down on anything that it perceived to be a threat to its authority—including any new sciences.

Medieval Monday: A Thorny War

History Repeats Itself, Folks

There is a pause in the Hundred Years’ War when England experiences a succession crisis. Edward III’s heir, the Black Prince, predeceases his father. When Edward III dies, his grandson, Richard II, is crowned. Edward II had been a king in the mold of Longshanks: strong, an able commander, successful, and fair to his subjects. Richard II, unfortunately, was in the mold of King John: weak, tyrannical, and sometimes mentally unstable.

In 1381, the peasants of England revolt against the boy-king and his counselors, who, among other things, have instituted a poll tax. Richard rides out to meet them and diffuses the situation by agreeing to their demands, but their leaders are later captured and killed instead and the remainder are forced to disband.

Peasant's Revolt

Eventually, Richard becomes more tyrannical and his nobles rise up against him. He had no children of his own, but he had no shortage of uncles and cousins, and it was one of his cousins, Henry Bolingbroke, who deposes him in 1399 when Richard takes away his inheritance. Richard dies in prison of starvation.

England’s Holding Manhoods Cheap!

Henry V succeeds his father and restarts the war in France, giving the French their worst beating yet at Agincourt in 1415. The French King, Charles VI, is forced to agree to peace terms: Henry will marry his daughter, Catherine, and he will delegitimize his own son and make Henry his heir.

Charles VIUnfortunately, Henry dies two months before his father-in-law. His infant son, Henry VI, inherits the thrones of both England and France.

Useless Trivia: King Charles VI was undoubtedly the source of Henry VI’s later madness. King Charles sometimes refused to allow anyone to touch him because he was convinced he was made of glass and might break.

The Maid

In 1429, Joan d’Arc appears with a divine message for the disinherited French prince: he is to reconquer France. Together, they begin to wrest control of France from England—to the point that the Dauphin is able to have himself crowned Charles VII.

But shortly after seeing her king crowned, Joan is captured by the English and turned over to the English church courts to be tried as a heretic. The French king did nothing to try and ransom her back, and the English burned her at the stake. She would not be canonized as a saint until 1920.

Weekend at Henry’s

Meanwhile, in England, the gentle and pious Henry VI was suffering from fits of madness where he would become catatonic for months at a time. His queen, Margret of Anjou, attempted to rule in his name, but his nobles disliked her immensely. Soon his royal cousins are fighting to have wardship over him—and control of the kingdom. This leads to civil war—known as the War of the Roses—and eventually, after being passed between the factions numerous times, Henry is murdered in the Tower while at prayer. His only son predeceased him, leaving his Lancastrian and York cousins to squabble over who was the rightful heir.

Henry Vi

Useless Trivia: The Lancaster badge was a white rose; the Yorks had a red rose. When Henry Tudor (a Lancastrian on his mother’s side) finally ended the war (namely because no one was left to make a rival claim) and married Elizabeth of York, he put the two roses together, making the Tudor rose, as a symbol of unity.

Medieval Monday: The One True Century

It’s So Cold, You Can See My Rivets Through My Surcoat!

Depending on who you ask, global cooling began to happen sometime between the late 1200’s and 1300. And, also depending on who you ask, this either begins the period known as the Little Ice Age or it ends the period known as the Medieval Warm Period. But either way, the weather in Europe becomes cooler and wetter and this is disastrous for their grain crops—especially wheat, which accounted for about 2/3rds of the medieval peasant’s calorie intake.

The population was also at its maximum and, even when the weather was good, it was everything the land and crops and technology of the time could do to adequately feed everyone. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, reoccurring famines throughout Europe become the norm.

The Poker Goes WHERE?

Edward II was almost as bad a king as John. His penchant for setting men of no standing over his nobles and swirling rumors that he was homosexual caused his nobles to rebel against him (twice) and throw down his favorites. His wife, Isabella, was likewise incensed when he ignored her (and gave her jewels to his male favorites!). She eventually took a lover, Roger Mortimer, and together—and in conjunction with many of the other nobles of England—they deposed Edward. Edward died later in captivity—murdered, so it was said, by a red hot poker up the bum.

Edward II

 

The Trinitarian Papacy

In 1305, a Frenchman was elected Pope Clement V after a contentious conclave. He decided that he didn’t need to live in Rome, so he set up his court in Avignon. The Papacy stayed there for a total of seven papal reigns (67 years) and became infamous for its corruption and the undue influence of the French kings.Popes

Pope Gregory XI finally moved the Papacy back to Rome in 1376, but his successor proved unpopular with the cardinals, some of whom elected another pope, who set up a rival papacy in—you guessed it—Avignon. Before the Great Schism was over in 1414, there would be multiple popes and anti-popes—sometimes as many as three at one time.

The Hundred Years (More or Less) War

Edward’s son, Edward III, is crowned king at 14, but his mother rules as Regent with Roger Mortimer as a close advisor. Roger is soon as unpopular as Edward II’s favorites had been and after Edward III turns 17, he throws off his mother’s regency—putting her under house arrest—and has Roger executed.

In 1337, Edward makes a claim to the French throne through his mother, beginning an on-again, off-again war between the two countries that will last for a little more than a century. And, for most of that time, France’s wealth pours into England, making it very rich.

Plague

In 1346-47, a new disease came from the East and entered Western Europe through a port in Italy. Thanks to weakness of the population due to the famines and a series of animal plagues (murrains), Plague spread over the entirety of Europe and into the westernmost parts of Russia. It ravaged the population severely for three consecutive summers, then continued to make localized and somewhat less severe appearances for the better part of a decade. After 1360, Plague would be a reoccurring feature in Europe, but more akin to other disease outbreaks, such as smallpox. It is estimated that in the initial outbreak, Europe lost between 1/3rd and 2/3rds of her population. Europe would not regain her population numbers until the 17th century—and, in some places—not until the 18th or even 19th centuries.Plague

Useless Trivia: “The Black Death” is actually a post-medieval term. In period it was known as “The Great Pestilence” or “The Plague”. Incidentally, the medical term is also just “Plague.” Bubonic Plague is actually just one of three manifestations of Plague.

Additional Reading:

A sample of medieval accounts of Plague and its social effects: Eyewitness to History

The DNA of Y. pestis: Nature

14th Century Reenactor Porn: Pinterest

Previous Posts:

All Roads Lead to Rome

The Dark Ages

Charles in Charge

Make Haste to Hastings

Now Boarding Crusades 1-9 (Part 1)

Now Boarding Crusades 1-9 (Part 2)

Medieval Monday: The Middle Middle Ages

Medieval Monday: The Middle Middle Ages

Medieval Mondays are back! And with (sort of) better illustrations. If you need a refresher:

All Roads Lead to Rome

The Dark Ages

Charles in Charge

Make Haste to Hastings

Now Boarding Crusades 1-9 (Part 1)

Now Boarding Crusades 1-9 (Part 2)

What a Tedious Little Man

Prince John comes to the English throne in 1199 upon Richard the Lionheart’s death. And pretty much everything you’ve ever heard about him is true. He was so tyrannical and money-grubbing that his barons rebelled and he was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215 to guarantee the rights of his subjects. However, he soon broke the agreement and a civil war broke out.

King John

Even though Magna Carta ultimately failed to rein in John, it did serve as a template for all future laws in England limiting the king’s power (and was the basis for our Bill of Rights). The coalition of barons also introduced the idea of nobles having a say in the government which would later develop into Parliament.

Shocking Trivia! The King of France—supported by some of the rebellious barons—invaded England and ruled part of it for a year. But after John’s death in 1216, the barons united behind young Henry III and his regent, William the Marshal, and King Louis I was forced to sign a peace treaty and leave. Why do you never see him listed among the kings of England? The treaty included a provision stating that Louis had never actually been a king of England.

The Mongol Hordes

Trouble wasn’t just brewing in England during the 13th century. Eastern Europe was having to deal with the Mongol hordes for most of the century. In 1223, Genghis Kahn invaded Russia. From 1238 to 1241 Genghis’ son, Ogedei, invaded Russia (again), destroyed Kiev, defeated a European coalition force in (modern-day) Poland, and reached the gates of Vienna. Only Ogedei’s death forced the Mongols to retreat.

Genghis Khan

Mongke, grandson of Genghis, succeeds Ogedei and he spends his time harassing Muslims throughout the Middle East—much to the delight of Christians there. The famous Kublai Kahn, however, only operates in the Far East, and after his death in 1294, the Mongolian Empire begins to fall apart.

Around the World in 35 . . . Years

In 1260, 6-year-old Marco Polo sets out with his father and uncle on a trip to the other side of the known world. He won’t return until 1295. His accounts include real things that he saw (such as paper money in China) and fantastical stories that he heard along the way (with no real distinction between the two). He is credited with bringing the pasta noodle to Italy from China, and his voyage marks the beginning of Europe’s exploration of distant lands.

Useless Trivia: In 1284, an Italian creates wearable eyeglasses (for reading).

Hammer of the Scots . . . and the Welsh . . . and the Jews

In 1282, Prince Llewelyn, last of the Welsh princes, dies in an ambush and the following year, Edward I of England—known as “Longshanks” for his great height—conquerors all of Wales.

In 1290, Edward expels all the Jews in England. They will not be allowed to live in the country again until Oliver Cromwell invites them back in the 17th century.

In 1292, the Scottish nobility ask Edward to mediate rival claims to the throne of Scotland. Edward gladly assists, then turns around and declares that Scotland is his vassal state. This gives rise to William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and the wars for Scottish independence that last into the early 14th century.

Bannockburn

Useless Trivia: Edward I has a fearsome reputation as an oppressor of everyone who wasn’t English, but he was very devoted to his wife. He appears to have never been unfaithful to her and after she died, he had crosses erected along the route of her funeral procession as a tribute to her.

Also note that Longshanks is known as Edward I, even though Edward the Confessor came before him. Apparently the Norman invasion reset the numbering system.

Additional Reading:

If you want to know the story behind the picture of Bannockburn, you can find it here on Scotland’s History. (What isn’t mentioned is that the Bruce and de Bohun had bad blood between them predating the battle; that’s why Henry charged the Bruce before the battle was even joined. Also, don’t let the word “river” fool you. Bannockburn is a ditch. Or, if you’re in a generous mood, it’s a creek. But it’s no river by any American standard. It is, of course, possible that it was wider and deeper during the middle ages; reclamation of swamps and narrowing of rivers to make more farmland is a very old practice.)

My 1370’s Blue Cotehardie

Wow, I do still remember my blog password.

Despite the fact that I haven’t been busy here, I’ve actually been quite busy in real life. My husband and I have been doing a lot of re-enactments lately and are very active in our local group. I’ve also been writing a monthly newsletter for two years, which has been really good, but something of a time and creative ideas suck. Stuff I used to do for Medieval Monday and other random medieval blog posts have ended up going into the newsletter instead.

But next month is my last newsletter, so maybe I’ll direct some of my writing back here (if I can get back in the habit of blogging; it’s kind of like exercise in that, if you stop doing it, you get out of shape and it’s really hard to start back up again). At the very least, I can share some of my newsletter articles here.

In addition to that, I’ve been editing The Flames of Prague. I think I have it where I want it and I have a proofreader lined up. I just need to get it sent off to her and let my husband have one last look through it to make sure a couple of chapters that I edited work. Once that’s done, I’m going to enter it into an Arts & Sciences competition. Depending on the comments it gets there, I may do some minor tweaking. But otherwise, I think I’ll publish it the end of January!

I’ve also been busy sewing. This is my newest costuming project.

Unfortunately, it was late in the day when we took these pictures, and we’ve misplaced our camera, so we had to use my husband’s tablet (so the picture quality isn’t as good).

The dress is a medium-weight wool, half-lined in linen. It’s from English Gascony around 1370. (Since most far-western European fashion came out of Paris at this time, my dress is a bit more fashion-forward than that of my contemporaries still living in England. Their necklines won’t drop that low for about another decade.)

JpegThis is configured as a hunting outfit. The dress is just off the ground, so I’m less likely to step on it. The skirt is full (man, is it ever! I thought I was never going to get that thing hemmed!), which makes it very easy to ride (almost all women rode astraddle at this point in time). And my [husband’s] bycocket hat–while worn by men in all sorts of situations–seems to be associated solely with hunting or traveling when worn by women.

I’m dressed for a summer hunt (summer in Europe; this was not terribly fun to wear on a 93 degree day in Mississippi), wearing only my chemise under it. However, I will be making myself a pair of detachable red sleeves that I can pin on which will convert it to winter-wear.

The entire dress is completely handsewn. All of the seams in the wool are sewn open and have a red wool yarn edging decorating (and protecting) the raw edges. (If we can ever find our camera, I’ll take some pictures of the inside.) The lining seams are all flat-felled.

JpegAt the very last minute, I entered this into an A&S competition. I didn’t make this dress to be an entry, but I was so happy with the way it fit, I entered it into the “Costume Review” category, which specifically looks at period patterning and fit. I scored really well on the fit (my documentation–aka research paper–was sorely lacking, since I hand-wrote it in the car on the way to the event without the benefit of a single book), so I’m going to take the time to do my documentation properly and enter it into another A&S competition.

I’d just like to brag that my perky bustline and cleavage is achieved without a bra or any modern undergarments; I’m held aloft by nothing but the two dresses. It’s taken me nearly 13 years of learning to sew and pattern to get to this point.

c 1380 Germany - Trier New York, Morgan Library & Musem MS G64

Some chunky German girls, circa 1380, showing the high bust and fitted dress.

St. Helena wearing a bycocket with a crown on top of it.

St. Helena wearing a bycocket with a crown on top of it.

From Magna Carta to Agincourt to My 600th Post!

This is my 600th post, so I thought I ought to do something special for it. I thought about the fact that June 15 is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta–a date which is almost upon us. But October 25th is the 600th anniversary of Agincourt, which obviously ties in perfectly with it being my 600th post.

Eh, why not feature both? I’m an over-achiever anyways, and you can never have too much history.

Magna Carta

(This is an article I originally wrote for my local SCA group’s newsletter.)

June 15, 2015 will be the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. But, while you may have heard of it, you may not know what it did or why it’s gone down in history as one of the most important documents in Western civilization.

From the time of its formation, England was unlike the other kingdoms of Europe. The Anglo-Saxons brought to Britain an idea of kingship by election or right of arms. A king was only king so long as he had the support of his people and he was answerable—at least in some way—to them. If he failed them, then another powerful leader would emerge and challenge his right to the throne. There was no idea of divine right before the coming of Christianity.

In Anglo-Saxon times, kings made promises to their people in their coronation oaths. Later, the Normans—desperate to maintain their control over the Anglo-Saxons—began writing these oaths down as charters. They spelled out and made legally binding (theoretically, anyways) the rights of the nobles, and sometimes also addressed the rights of the Church and even freemen of the realm. Rather than rule with absolute authority—as the kings of France would later do—the kings of England had to barter with their people for their power.

In 1093, William II (the Conqueror’s son) issued a deathbed charter. It’s been lost, but it’s believed that it granted pardon, forgave debts, and promised that his heir would maintain all the currently-existing laws—in short, that he would not renege on anything his father passed which was beneficial to the people. William ended up not dying, though, and it appears that he himself reneged on the charter.

Later, in 1100, his nephew, Henry I, took the throne, even though his older brother was presumably still alive (albeit on Crusade). The previous king, his eldest brother, William Rufus, had not been popular, and the barons—the most powerful nobles in the kingdom at that time—were distrustful of Henry and his motives. So Henry created the Charter of Liberties (also known as the Coronation Charter) as a peace offering. In return for their support, he guaranteed certain protections:

  • The king would not take or sell any property from a Church upon the death of the abbot or bishop.
  • No baron or earl would have to purchase his inheritance.
  • While the barons and earls were supposed to consult with the king regarding the marriage of their kinswomen, the king was not allowed to block any “prudent” marriage. Widows were likewise to consult him regarding their remarriage, and likewise he would not block them if their choice was reasonable. The only thing he barred outright was the marrying of any of his “enemies.”
  • A baroness or countess who was widowed was not to be denied her dowry. The men appointed to oversee the inheritance of minor children were not be impeded.
  • Barons had a right to give away their possessions to charity, so long as they didn’t impoverish their heirs.
  • If barons committed a crime, they were not allowed to buy their way out of it by paying off the crown; they had to stand trial and answer for it as legally proscribed.
  • Knights who rendered military service and provided their own horses were not be required to also give grain and farm goods as a tax.

With the one exception made for the Church, all of Henry I’s guarantees were for nobles only. But it did limit the power of the king by enshrining certain rights. Rather than everything belonging to the king—to give and take at his pleasure—it allowed that at least some people (and the Church) had a legal right to their property—both real and personal; they could give it away or they could freely leave it to their heirs. They also had a right to their own bodies, as evidenced by the fact that the king could not marry the women against their will (“she [the widow] shall be allowed to remarry according to her wishes”), nor could he block a marriage unless it was beyond reasonable.

Unfortunately, the Charter of Liberties was forgotten until King John (of Robin Hood infamy) took the throne and drove a significant number of his barons to the brink of war in 1215 by excessively taxing them for a war in France which he subsequently lost. Also, like his immediate predecessors, he ruled with the idea that he was above the law and could therefore change laws arbitrarily as it suited him. This led to a lack of stability in the kingdom, since no one knew how to plan or act, since what might be legal now may be made illegal tomorrow without warning.

Runnymeade

Runnymeade. (The monument was actually placed by the American Bar Association)

At Runnymeade, the Archbishop of Canterbury persuaded the two sides to meet and create a new charter that would avert open rebellion. However, both sides quickly reneged on their promises, the Pope (an ally of the king) revoked the charter, and a revolt happened anyways.

When King John died, his son, Henry III, was still in his minority. The regency government (under the leadership of William the Marshal) reissued the charter (minus a few of the most controversial bits) in 1216, and when peace was finally established in 1217, it officially received the name we now know: Magna Carta. In 1297, Henry’s son, Edward I (Longshanks), reissued the charter and declared it a permanent part of English statutory law.

King John

King John is forced to sign Magna Carta

After Parliament was established and began to issue laws, Magna Carta gradually lost its legal relevancy, although it gained a near-mythic status. When James I and Charles I, in the seventeenth century, tried to claim an absolute monarchy, such as the kings in France had, Magna Carta became a rallying cry for everyone who wanted to keep the power of the king in check. When Charles I refused to accept any limits on his sovereignty, he was executed. The monarchy was restored after the Commonwealth period, but all subsequent kings ruled with the knowledge that they were only there by the will of the people, and the people could withdraw their support if the king didn’t hold up his end of the social contract.

The idea of a government that was limited and that guaranteed certain rights to its citizens was the spark that began the fire of the American Revolution and subsequently generated the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. That is why a copy of one of the Edward I versions of the Magna Carta is housed in our capital alongside our other important documents. Although nowhere near the scope of our own founding documents, it certainly was the seed for all of them.

A Selection of Magna Carta Guarantees and Regulations

  • Guaranteed the freedom of the Church
  • Forbade the exploitation of a ward’s property by his guardian
  • Forbade guardians from marrying a ward to a partner of lower social standing
  • Guaranteed the rights of a widow to promptly receive her dowry and inheritance.
  • Forbade the forced remarriage of widows (also renewed the right of the king to forbid the remarriage of baronesses, within reason)
  • Protected debtors from having their lands seized, so long as they had other means with which to repay their debt
  • Prohibited lords from levying an “aid” (a one-time tax levied solely for the benefit of the lord) on their freemen, except to ransom themselves, pay for their oldest son to be knighted, or pay for their oldest daughter’s wedding.
  • Established a permanent location for the kingdom’s court of law (instead of having court wherever the king wished it)
  • Defined the authority and frequency of county courts.
  • Set standard measurements for wine, ale, grains, and cloth
  • Forbade the trial of anyone based solely on the word of a royal official
  • Forbade the sale of justice, its denial, or its delay
  • Guaranteed the safety and right of free entry and exit to foreign merchants
  • Permitted freemen the right to leave England for short periods of time (wartime being excepted)
  • Encouraged the lower lords to adhere to the same laws as the king

And compare our Constitutional Amendments with these from Magna Carta:

Articles 28, 30, 31: No constable or other royal official shall take corn or other movable goods from any man without immediate payment, unless the seller voluntarily offers postponement of this. No sheriff, royal official, or other person shall take horses or carts for transport from any free man, without his consent. Neither we nor any royal official will take wood for our castle, or for any other purpose, without the consent of the owner.

Amendment 3 and 5: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law. …[N]or shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Article 39: No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

Amendment 6: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Article 20: For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a villein the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.

Amendment 8: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

As part of the celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, all four remaining copies of the original 1215 version will be on display at the British Museum this year.

Bibliography

Agincourt

Agincourt is the battle which features in Shakespeare’s Henry V.

When Henry V came to the English throne, he made a claim to the French throne as well–as most of his predecessors had done. And, like his predecessors, he was willing to waive his claim to the throne in exchange for money, recognition that English holdings in France were indeed English, and, in his case, a marriage contract with Princess Catherine (which included a hefty dowry). But when the French countered with a marriage contract at half the amount of dowry asked for, no payment of gold, and no recognition of any English lands beside the Aquitaine, Henry was insulted and his Council and Parliament granted his request to declare war against the French.

In the middle ages, wars were almost exclusively waged in the summer when the weather allowed armies to move, food was readily available, and there was little for men to do on their farms. Campaigns generally ended in the fall when it was time to allow the men to go back to their land to get in their harvests. But Henry’s campaign into France didn’t start until rather late in the summer–August–and it began by besieging the port city of Harfleur. The city held for a little over a month, and by the time the English army had come to terms with the city and broke camp, it was October 8. But Henry couldn’t be sure that Parliament would grant him war taxes again the following year for another campaign–especially as taking only one city was hardly the sort of stuff to inspire people to endure another year of war and taxes. So instead of returning home, he headed towards Calais, seeking a richer prize before winter.

But the siege had created disease in his army (as sieges often did, mainly due to poor sanitation), and his army–which had never been terribly large–lost a lot of men along the way to dysentery, poor rations, and the hard marching conditions in increasingly bad weather. In fact, many of the men were so plagued by “the runs,” they stopped wearing underwear and rolled their hosen down to their knees or ankles so that they could squat on the side of the road and go without impediment.

Henry’s army had only 6,000-9,000 men when they were stopped by 12,000-36,000 French soldiers in a narrow strip of farmland between two forests and the road to Calais. There was nowhere for the English to go and there were even more French troops on the way. There was nothing for them to do but fight.

But, while it initially looked like the French had bottled up the English–giving them no choice but to stand and fight while still weak–the terrain actually worked in favor of the English, because–like the Spartans holding Thermopylae–the great numbers of French troops were funneled into a relatively small front, keeping them from outflanking the English army and negating their superior numbers.

Also, Henry’s army was made up primarily of longbowmen–anywhere from 3/4ths to 4/5ths of the soldiers were archers. The French were forced to come at the English while under constant arrowfire. The average English archer was capable of shooting up to 10 rounds per minute. Imagine, if you will, some 48,000 arrows flying through the air every minute, and you will understand why medieval witnesses to such battles said that the sky was darkened by arrows.

The French sent in their cavalry (as in most medieval battles, the bulk of the French knights fought on foot, so the cavalry was just a small portion of their army), but they found the English archers were well-protected behind a wall of sharpened stakes, which kept the knights from mowing down the lightly-armored archers. The French horses, however, were also lightly armored, and it was they who took the brunt of the archerfire. Wounded, the horses panicked, and the ones who didn’t go down, taking their riders with them, bolted back towards the French lines, where, instead, they mowed down their own troops as the first line of French infantry were moving up.

The horses also tore up the ground–which had been plowed post-harvest–and made even muddier by heavy fall rains. The French infantry found themselves trying to slog through mud said to have been knee-deep in places–all while under a constant rain of arrows. Then, to compound matters even worse, additional French foot soldiers were sent in too soon behind the first wave. The first men, slowed by the mud and their own dead and wounded, were soon joined by even more men trying to walk through even worse mud and even more dead and wounded. The press of the living and the dead slowed them up even more and sapped them of their strength. The heavily-armored French knights began to literally drown under the weight of their own armor as they were knocked down or struck by an arrow and found they were not able to get out of the mud under their own power. Contemporary French chroniclers said that there were knights who drowned in their own helmets because they became stuck, face-down, in the mud.

Those who survived the 300 yard death march found themselves in a meat grinder–engaging the English men-at-arms at the center of the English lines while the longbowmen on the edges of the line continued to fire at their flanks at near point-blank range. At such a short distance, the arrows were able to pierce all but the hardest and thickest pieces of armor (typically the helmet and breastplate), making the armor all but useless.

When the English archers ran out of arrows, they switched to their side swords, axes, maces, etc. hand weapons, and pushed in to the fray. Their light armor made it easier for them to cross the muddy fields and the French were so exhausted by this point, it was easy for the archers to hack down the flower of French chivalry.

The battle lasted approximately three hours. In that time, it is estimated that 7,000-10,000 French soldiers were killed while only 112 Englishmen were said to have died. And a portion of those dead were the members of the baggage train, who were attacked by a small French unit which managed to get behind the English army.

Bibliography