Gulf Wars 24

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I went on our annual trip (annual when we can afford it, that is; we’ve missed the past two) to Gulf Wars, a week-long SCA event just south of Hattiesburg, MS.

I had every intention of taking lots of pictures and some video, but between taking classes, teaching classes, and getting a cold partway through the week, I took almost none. (We were not with it this War. It’s like, after missing two years in a row, we forgot what we were doing. We waited until the absolute last minute to pack and did a half-assed job with stuff we normally take more seriously.)

But, we did manage to get a few pictures (and I’ll add in some old ones, so you can see a little more).

HomeSo, to start with, here is our home away from home. We’re still in the process of setting up, so there’s no furniture in it yet, but when it’s fully set up, we have a full-size bed (with a real mattress), a clothes rack, pantry shelves, and a dressing table and stool. Oh, and we also use a propane heater when it’s cold (we only used it the first night to burn off the damp; the rest of the week it was plenty warm–even hot, during the day).

While setting up, Stuart managed to pull an entire water spigot out of the ground. Hitting water lines/sprinkler systems with tent stakes, backing over spigots, etc. is so common in the SCA, we jokingly refer to these incidents as finding a “miraculous spring.” Stuart might have a first for ripping up a spigot with his bare hands, though.

Holy Well

The Miraculous Well of the Blessed St. Stuart

 

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The Miraculous Well of St. Martin. Note the sacred pick-ax (painted gold) and the reliquary box (which contains broken pieces of PVC pipe).

Some folks down the road built a shrine to their miraculous spring (although it wasn’t out this year; I guess they couldn’t make it to War).

While almost everyone camps in tents, a few enterprising people have built themselves houses (this is next on mine and Stuart’s to-do list).

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(Not being the carpenter/constructor types, we plan on buying a pre-built storage building and altering it to appear medieval.)

Some encampments have fancy gates.

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There are even a couple of large, public buildings on site:

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The Viking longhouse. (It’s very neat on the inside. In the evenings, they build a fire in the central hearth and there are seat/bed platforms around the walls where you can hang out and chat with people.)

The Green Dragon. This is a semi-functioning pub (alcoholic beverages aren’t sold). They have different performances every evening–sometimes two per evening. (Inside is also very neat. They have a tiny musician’s loft above the bar. The doors have medieval counterweights to make them self-closing, and when it’s cold, they’ll light a fire in the big cauldron in the middle of the floor.)

We eventually want to put a gate up on our land, but our house will probably end up happening first. (Again, no carpentry skills–not to mention, it’s an 8+ hour drive for everyone in our camp, which means we can’t just run down there for a work weekend and throw up a gate.)

But, that being said, we did have one work weekend year-before-last, when we built ourselves a fire pit.

Child Labor

Hmm… maybe this is why we can’t get anything built in a timely fashion. …We need more child labor!

 

Pit

The finished fire pit.

So, now that you’ve seen how we live, let me show you what we do.

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But, it’s not all fighting. There are massive amounts of classes, Arts & Sciences displays and workshops, dancing, parties, fencing, hound coursing, and equestrian (to name a few things).

There is also archery and thrown weapons. Stuart bought a new longbow at War and went to the archery range to try it out.

ArcheryWe also spent some time at the falconry tent

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I had assumed that people hunted with birds for food–that the birds would get you a rabbit for your dinner. But, in reality, you end up feeding them pretty much everything they catch, and then some (they don’t hunt with them at certain times of the year). The owners actually raise pigeons to feed the birds when they’re not hunting with them (pigeons and doves were commonly raised in the middle ages, too, and no doubt some of them went to the birds). If they catch anything big, like a rabbit, then that gets put into the freezer to be fed to them a piece at a time.

The purpose of hawking in the middle ages, then, wasn’t to use birds to catch yourself dinner, but just to watch them hunt and kill something. Part of the reason why only nobles could have birds (besides sumptuary laws, which strictly relegated who could own what kind of bird) was that they were expensive to maintain. Not only did you have to feed it when it couldn’t feed itself, but you pretty well had to have a full-time falconer to take care of your birds.

And these birds are not really tame–not like your cat or dog or even a domesticated bird. One of the falconers explained that they kept bells on the birds’ feet so that they could hear them if they flew away. She said that at a previous War, one man let his loose and the bird never came back. And she said she had one to get away from her when she was hunting with it. It got a squirrel and then decided that it needed to hide and eat, so he flew off into the brush. She was only able to track him down by listening to his bells when he moved his feet.

The only reason why any of them stay with their human handlers is because they know they can always get a free and easy meal. I seem to recall, from a conversation I had with one of the falconers several years ago, that they were only allowed to keep some of the endangered ones for a few years, while they were juveniles (because juveniles have a high rate of mortality in the wild). After that, they had to release them. And, in fact, barring age or injury, any of these birds could go back to the wild at any time–unlike truly domesticated animals.

I asked the falconer one year how they managed to gentle the birds, and he said that after wild-catching one, he would sit in a recliner in his basement, take the bird out of its box, and hold it until it quit beating its wings (while watching TV–because it could take a while). When it had tired itself out and calmed down, then he would feed it. After that, he would feed it and handle it regularly and it would quickly come to associate people with food, so it wouldn’t fight when it was taken out of its box. When it was pretty well-behaved, they could leave it out on a perch in the house, where it would spend additional time around other people and around the other birds. (The smaller birds are naturally afraid of the larger ones, but after a while, when they figure out that the large ones can’t get to them, they calm down around them.)

Unfortunately, after we got home from War, we found out that the people who owned all the birds, save the male hawk, had a car fire on their way back home. They managed to get out of the car in time, but all of their birds died. A couple of different groups of people are working on raising money to help them replace their birds. (They are licensed to wild-catch some species, but some of the ones pictured are not native to their part of the U.S. and have to be bought or traded for.)

My PINK Cotehardie

I keep fighting to establish a routine in my life–like blogging once a week–but I keep getting distracted. Before, we lived far from our friends and family, and a good 30 minutes’ drive from the nearest city; it was easy to sit down and write a book or blog because there wasn’t much else to do. (That, and I had down time at work–something I never have now.) Now, we’re near almost all of our friends and my family, and everyone wants to visit with us, and when we’re not being social, we’re usually eating out or going to a movie (how novel!). And we’re also going to events again–now that we have money and live in a central location–and meetings and fighter practices.

At some point–surely–the new will wear off of us (and off the city) and we’ll go back to staying home most of the time. Then, maybe, I can blog again.

To catch up a little, I’ve been doing some serious sewing lately. I have gone to handsewing all of my clothing (with the exception of a quickie dress I’m making right now; I’m cheating and using knit velvet). One benefit to having high speed internet is that I have access to all sorts of new documentaries on Nextflix, Hulu, and YouTube; I love to watch (or more like listen) to documentaries while I work. It makes the project seem to go by faster, plus I learn stuff as I go. (The drawback to having high speed internet is CandyCrush.)DSCN0183

I made this pink dress like the yellow one I did last year. Here it is, inside out, on my dummy, with the lining partially attached. Unlike the yellow dress, which has a muslin lining, this one actually has a linen lining. And I don’t like it as well. Sure, it’s period-correct–unlike the muslin–but linen stretches. And when you sweat in it–as is wont to happen in Tennessee in the summer when it’s 90+ degrees outside–it stretches even more. Which means you end up with a lot less support in the bust at the end of the day and you start looking like you’ve melted–literally and figuratively.

I think I’m going to go back to muslin linings for all my dresses except the ones I enter into competitions. At the very least, no more linen linings in summer dresses; I think they’d do alright in the winter, but not the summer.

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Here is where the lining is sewn to the armhole. Check out that shoulder seam; it looks machine sewn. It’s not!

I really like half-lining or bodice-lining my dresses. It gives me the look of a lined dress without a lot of extra fabric. I learned to appreciate the beauty of a lined garment when I was at The Original Re-Enactor’s Market in England and everyone was wearing lined garments. However, it gets very hot in Tennessee. The first time I wore this dress, it was in the upper 90’s, with a heat index (thanks to the humidity that we have in abundance) of 104 (that’s 40 degrees Celsius for the non-Americans). When I lived in Ireland, by contrast, I wore a light jacket to the pub on the Fourth of July, made my mother mail me my flannel footie pajamas (which I wore all summer), and the hottest it got the entire time I was there was about 89 degrees (32 C). That lasted one week, then it went back to being comfortable pants and long-sleeve shirt weather.

And that was in Kilkenny, which is one of the driest, warmest parts of Ireland. I have a picture of me, in the middle of August–at the same time I would be melting in 95-degree, 80% humidity weather in Tennessee–wearing a zipped up coat and sitting huddled on a rock in the Burren on the west coast.

So, unfortunately, I can’t get away with wearing all the layers and linings that people in Europe can wear. Hence why I half-line.

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And here’s a picture of the sleeve. I learned my lesson from the yellow dress and flat-felled all my seams before I put in the lining.

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Here is is completed and right-side out. The vertical slits are called “fitchets.” This is the first time I’ve put any in a dress, and I have to say I like them. While they don’t have to be a contrasting color, I like the extra splash of color.

The yellow around the front of the dress and neckline is a tiny piece of braid made from embroidery floss. Despite my best ironing efforts, the lining wanted to roll up and show around the edges. On my yellow dress, this isn’t a problem because the lining is beige muslin and the linen is a pale yellow; you don’t notice it. But on this dress, the lining is a natural wheat color and it does show around the pink. So, in an effort to hide it, I braided the thread and sewed it onto the edges. This is meant to simulate the card-woven edges that were found on some woollen garments. (The purpose is to make sure the wool doesn’t fray on the edges and become fuzzy and ugly.)

While it was meant to be corrective, I ended up liking the bit of yellow trim around the edges. It gave it a very finished look.100_6710This purse was something of a first for me, too. I’ve made exactly one purse for myself and that was 11 years ago, when I first got into the SCA (and I almost never used it). Fitchets, however, make it a lot easier to wear a purse. Just tie on a belt under your dress, attach the purse and pull it through the hole. (If you expect cut-purses, though, you can keep it on the inside.)

The design on the purse is block-printed and I’ve never done that before (block-printing is period, although it seems to have been largely imported into Europe from the middle east and India–where it’s still done by hand today). I bought a block at the flea market in Nashville and this was the first time I tried to use it. It was harder to use than I expected; it wasn’t like using a sponge or rubber stamp. I guess the paint didn’t lay on the wood as well as it does on rubber, so it was hard to get the print to transfer without overloading it with paint and creating a blob instead. There was definitely a sweet spot that you had to hit with how much paint  you put on it. I found that putting my fabric on top of another piece of fabric–creating a soft work surface–helped. I guess the springiness of sponge or rubber helps transfer the pattern, too; since wood lacks this, you have to make up for it. Still, I made a number of impressions before I had one I was satisfied with (I used the second-best print for the backside of the purse).

In period, it’s unlikely that your purse would have matched your dress that well. It likely would have been made from a really nice fabric or embroidered, and most women would probably have only had one. So it ended up being worn with all your outfits, whether it matched, coordinated, or clashed spectacularly. (Although I’m not sure if medieval people had a sense of “clashing;” some of the combinations of color and prints you see in paintings really makes you wonder.)

I kind of don’t like how matchy-matchy the purse is, and yet I couldn’t think of anything else to make it out of that wouldn’t clash, and I hated the idea of clashing even worse. But if I do fitchets again–and I’m planning to in my next dress–I will probably make a purse that doesn’t match.

Speaking of my next dress, here’s the material for it:

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This is a light-blue and white Celtic key pattern. This is actually the reverse side. The front side is kind of a synthetic-looking chenille, but the back is a very heavy, nobbly cotton that passes for wool unless you touch it. It will make me a very nice, heavy winter dress (which I will like, since I get cold easily). I was just thinking that I might trim the neckline in white fur.

And, before I go, here is me wearing the pink dress. (Our camera lens was very dirty, so that’s why there’s a blur, even after I ran the pictures through Photoshop.)

Devious Altered

My yellow underdress is synthetic and barely stretches at all, so I managed to keep a decent-looking bustline all day at this particular event. But the first time I wore it, when it was so bloody hot, I wore a cotton gauze chemise under it that provided very little support on its own, and coupled with the stretchy linen, gave me what I termed the “melted birthday cake” look.

Good Picture Altered

In the 14th century, women often posed with their hands on their abdomens and their elbows pointed out. I learned, while wearing a sideless surcoat, that the reason for doing this is to allow the contours of the waist to be seen; if your arms are hanging down at your sides, it hides your curves and can make you look fatter. One of the reasons why I like the fitchets is that it gives you a place to put your hands, while creating that medieval silhouette. (Other people say that they’re nice in the winter for keeping your hands warm. I’ll find out in my next dress–especially if I trim the holes with fur. Mwahaha!)

Medieval History in Books

Well, so much for my resolution to be super-productive in the midst of a move.

I’ve come to the realization that if you work all weekend, you have to have some down time to chill, play games, watch TV, and generally goof off (some of us need more recharge time than others). Since I spend my weekends packing and moving stuff, this downtime has to come during the week. So most nights, after work, I go to my apartment and crash. I don’t write, I don’t proof, and I don’t blog (but I am up to level 117 on Candy Crush, which may or may not be saying something).

I’m also working a full 8 hour day. There’s no feast or famine where I might have stretches of time when I have little, if any, work to do. No, around here, every day is a feast day. I have enough special projects lined up to keep me busy every day for the next two to three years. It feels good to be indispensable (especially after being laid off twice), but all that work has definitely curtailed my blogging activities.

I would like to aim for one post a week, just to keep connected with everyone, but that’s still tentative at this point.

Speaking of blogging, I ran across an interesting article on the “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books” blog entitled Top Medieval History Facts You Won’t See in Romance. Of course that article piqued my interest, so I decided to compare their list to what happens in my upcoming romance, The Flames of Prague.

The Whole ‘Washing’ Issue, or; The Heroine Smells Like Lavender / Orange Blossom / You Pick The Scent

In the middle ages, they did not wash as much as we do.  It’s a lot of work to haul water and, in the winter, heat it up.  So the hero might have a hard time detecting the heroine’s pretty floral ‘perfume’ amid the general body aromas of the time.  A faint, lingering scene of lavender might not measure up to hard-working B.O. 

Then again, there were no processed foods, no pesticides/herbicides/antibiotics/etc being ingested by plant or beast, so I suspect the odors were much less . . . well, odoriferous.  And those hard-working field hands were not eating much meat which would also make them stink less. 

And the medieval person did wash, more than we might assume.  You can find pictures in illustrated manuscripts of people bathing, even with little canopies over them.  A man and a woman might bathe together, each in his/her own tub, toasting their good fortune in having servants to carry the heated water up the stairs.  There were also public baths, a left-over custom from the days when those communal-bathing Romans played with their weapons in the cold, dark north.

medieval-bath-1My hero, Jakub, takes two baths during the story (that the reader knows about; it’s implied he has decent hygiene). One bath is mostly off-screen, but the second one is shown from the beginning. We see multiple people lugging buckets of water up the stairs until they’re exhausted. Jakub gets a bath, then Alzbeta (the heroine) takes her bath in the same water. Yeah, when hot water is a precious commodity, you share it.

While it’s not shown in the book, Jakub mentions going to a feast which was served in bathtubs. He also recalls going to one of Prague’s “fabled bathhouses.”

Bath 1But no, my heroine is never mentioned as sweet-smelling, except immediately after she eats, when Jakub can smell spices on her breath (more on spiced food later).

It’s interesting that SB Sarah, author of the article, mentions that people might not have had the same body odor as we have, due to eating less meat and having all-organic food. Someone I knew who does 18th century reenacting told me that she had read an article by a scientist who said that the bacteria on our skin (specifically that in the arm pits)—which is what gives us that B.O. funk—has evolved over time, and it’s possible that people’s body odor smelled quite different in the past—and may have even been non-existent.

People’s noses become accustomed to common smells. (Anyone who has had a horse can tell you that they became largely immune to the smell of horse manure.) Only unusual or very strong odors will get someone’s attention. So medieval people—if they had body odor—likely didn’t notice it. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t smell at all. We know from accounts that they complained about the smell from tanneries and butcher shops; those businesses were usually relegated to the furthest corner of town, or outside the walls altogether.

Dig Your Privacy?

Too bad.  In a romance, the hero and heroine usually get a lot of alone time.  Their bedchamber is a place of privacy.  But that was not always the case.  Early on, privacy was considered rude, and even without the social strictures, these were usually cramped quarters, even in castles.  Rooms were small—easier to heat—and people got together for almost everything.  Often, even nobles had big old beds so that hero, heroine, their children could sleep together

Yes, very early in the middle ages, everyone from the king to the kitchen pages slept together in the main hall. (The king and queen typically had curtains around their bed to allow for some privacy, but everyone else had to get it on with no more than a blanket hiding them from everyone else.)

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The spacious royal apartment in the Tower of London (you are seeing approximately 1/2 of the total room).

But by the 12th century, we start to see the development of the concept of privacy, with the lord and lady getting a room of their own. Eventually there were additional rooms for guests and a solar—the medieval living room reserved for the family (and, if it was a small household, for their staff).

The Flames of Prague is set in the late 14th century. Jakub has his own bedroom, complete with a small table (which he rarely uses; he prefers to dine with the rest of his household). There is also a small solar used by not only him, but by his steward, chatelaine, and his two squires.

I disagree that rooms were small. That was true early, but not by the high middle ages. The king’s bedroom in the Tower of London—which was used as far back as the 13th century, if memory serves, was very large. The later the middle ages, the larger private bedrooms/apartments became. By the Tudor period, the king and queen had so much room, they could dine with a small retinue or receive visitors in the living area of their apartments.

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Many people lying together in the same bed in a hospital (no, that didn’t spread communicable diseases or anything).

But it is true that many people would have shared a bed. In the late 14th century, the Goodman of Paris tells his wife that she should keep her young maidservants in the bed with her. The Goodman traveled a lot, so it’s probable that the maidservants slept with the mistress while he was gone, but went to separate quarters when he was home. This was a way to ensure the virtue of all the women involved, which is why Queen Elizabeth was said to have shared her bed with some of her ladies.

In some households, the servants slept on the floor of the master’s bedroom; in other households, they might have had their own space. In Jakub’s household, his cook and her daughter share a small bedroom off the kitchen, while his squires sleep together on a mattress in the great hall (this despite the fact that he has a vacant guest room). When Alzbeta stays the night, and the guest room is unavailable, Jakub bunks with his squires and gives Alzbeta his bed.

Dig meat?

Unless you were rich, too bad.  Not much of that.  The good news is, that’s a good beginning to a heart-healthy diet, all those grains and vegetables.  But not raw.  Raw vegetables were thought to be bad for the digestive system. 

Correct on all fronts. Fish was the poor person’s meat, and it was usually saved for holidays (although, admittedly, there were a lot of those). Eggs would have been a common source of protein in the spring and summer, and, to a lesser degree, milk, butter, and cheese. Only animals too old to work would have been killed and eaten by the commoners. Male animals frequently ended up the table, too, (since you don’t need as many male animals as females) but they were more likely to have been sold to more well-to-do people than kept for the peasant’s table; it was old, gristled animals for their meals.

Dig your dog? 

Let him sleep with you?  Feed him off the table?  Sure, why not?  Well, then why make him go outside to relieve himself?

They didn’t back then.  Thus, those rushes on the floor (and in winter, straw), scattered through with herbs and flowers to alleviate the stench. 

And while we’re at it, bring in the horses, and your prized hawk too.  Because the lord of the castle was a bird-loving man.  (Stop.)  I mean a hawk-loving man. And he had a relationship with his hawk.  (Stop that.)  It was very common to have Hawk with him all the time.  On a perch behind his seat (or on his shoulder) at meals. In the bedroom. Wherever. And birds definitely do not get potty-trained.

I have to disagree with this in part. I don’t think people routinely let their dogs shit on the floor. I think that would be stinky even to a medieval person, and it’s certainly messy when you step in it—especially when you consider they all had leather-soled shoes.

Tile

This personal chapel was attached to the king’s bedroom in the Tower of London. I seem to recall that the tile floor was a later addition–14th or 15th century.

Yes, sometimes floors were covered with rushes or straw, but we see that more in the early part of the middle ages because most floors were dirt; the rushes/straw kept it from turning to mud as people tracked in water, the roof leaked, stuff was spilled, etc. It also serves as insulation in the winter (just as walking on carpet is preferable to walking on a cold tile floor), and it made clean-up easier. For instance, Jakub has his servants put down straw before holding a banquet for his tenants. Food and drink that are spilled are largely caught by the straw. It’s then swept out when everyone is gone and there is limited need to get down on one’s hands and knees and scrub up dried food or try to get ale stains out of the wood floor. During normal times, however, there is no straw on Jakub’s floors.

Straw under a leather-soled shoe is slick as snot. (Go ahead: ask me how I know.) And by the 15th century, illuminated manuscripts are showing us decorative tile floors in wealthier homes. Why would they have used expensive painted tile, only to cover it up with straw?

Incidentally, Jakub has hunting dogs, but they stay in the barn. Just as today, some people then were dog people and some were not. Jakub’s dogs are not kept as pets, hence why he doesn’t have them in the house. (He does, however, adopt a kitten, which he keeps as a pet inside the house.) A man who had a favorite hunting dog or two might have kept them in the house (the Goodman of Paris mentions such a situation), but the entire pack wasn’t likely let inside unless it was a very large castle. Later in the middle ages, though, we see women keeping lap dogs strictly as pets.

Birdcage

13th century manuscript showing what appears to be a parrot in a cage.

Some people might have kept their hunting birds indoors (and during the taming period, that’s a requirement), but I think that would have been the exception, not the rule. Lords and ladies who had hunting birds had special buildings where they were kept and attended by a trained handler at all times.

(Jakub is not rich enough/ of enough status to have a hunting bird; ownership of birds of prey was highly regulated throughout the middle ages.)

The Goodman of Paris instructs his wife that if she ends up keeping small birds as pets, she should make sure that the servants clean their cage daily—giving us evidence that medieval people, like modern people, most commonly kept their birds in cages.

To Be Continued…

In the meantime, check out this awesome, awesome site: HowToHistory.com They have videos of people demonstrating medieval crafts and basic modes of living. This is a great resource for medieval writers, as well as re-enactors. They’ve added a number of videos since I first found them last week, so even if you don’t see a tutorial for something you want to learn, check back often.