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.)

History, History, Ra! Ra! Ra!

The other night, my husband and I were talking about basic medieval history that every medieval re-enactor should know. I thought that would make a good class to teach at one of our re-enactments, but my husband said it’d be tricky to present the information and not make it like a boring history class full of names and dates and stuff no one cares about.

Boring history class?

I understand these words individually, but I do not understand them when they’re placed in that particular order.

I guess I was lucky that I had a string of teachers–Ms. Charlotte Church in elementary school, Mr. Randy Littlefield in high school, and Professor Joe Leedom in college–who always made history interesting. Mr. Littlefield, especially, always threw out interesting tidbits of history. He was always good for gore, horror, and scandal (all the things that titillate teenagers).

So, how to follow in their illustrious footsteps and give people an overview of history that’s interesting enough to remember? I think it might work if I keep it short (one page per important bit) and add stick figure dramatization

So, although the idea is still a work-in-progress, here’s the start. Tell me if it’s sounding stuffy and boring.

All Roads Lead to Rome

 Rome is Vandalized!

In 406, Vandals crossed the Rhine—the Rio Grande of its day, separating the Roman Empire from the Germanic barbarians. In 410, Rome itself was sacked.

In 476, the last emperor of Rome was deposed, technically ending the Roman Empire in the West.

Name that Emperor: Ironically, the last emperor of Rome was Romulus. Romulus and Remus were the twin brothers who supposedly founded Rome.

It’s All Downhill from Here

It used to be that historians called the entire period between Rome and the Renaissance “the Dark Ages,” but that’s not terribly PC anymore (namely because things weren’t so bad as the name implied). Some people (including me) limit “the Dark Ages” to the very, very early medieval period, which was pretty chaotic post-Roman collapse.

Things that are Important to Know: While 476 is a nice, tidy date to end the Roman Empire, it was seriously in decline before that point, and life continued on more or less normally afterwards. This was not a giant upheaval or revolution, á la the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917. This was a steady, fairly quiet decline.

Long before Romulus was deposed, wealthy Romans began retreating to their estates in the country where they ruled more or less independently of the government. This would later evolve into the medieval feudal estate.

The Holy Roman Empire continued to exist in name throughout the middle ages, albeit under the leadership of Germanic peoples. It quickly ceased to have any real resemblance to the Ancient Roman Empire.

In 395, the Roman Empire was permanently divided into East and West. After the fall of Rome in the West, the Eastern Roman Empire became known as “Byzantium.” In dress and government and culture, it continued to resemble Ancient Rome for quite some time.

Yeah, I didn’t draw this one.

Useless Roman Trivia:  “Barbarian” is a Greek word that basically means anyone who is not Greek. Romans used it to indicate anyone who wasn’t Roman.

The Rubicon was a small river that once marked the northernmost boundary of Italy. No Roman army was allowed to cross this border. Thus, when Caesar crossed it with his legions in 49 AD, it was an act of revolution. The idiom, “crossing the Rubicon” means a point of no return.

Rome is situated on 7 hills. No one outside of Italians and Classics majors bothers to learn the names of them, but you should know there were 7. Everyone who is anyone knows there were 7.

Learn More

The Rubicon
Decline of the Roman Empire

Causes for the Fall of the Roman Empire
The Hunger Games (no joke–the society is based on the late Roman period)