Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Arms and armour: who wore what?

(From my class online with University of Leicester)

The popular image of knights engaged in combat on horseback offers a highly misleading perspective of medieval warfare. The great majority of combatants fought on foot. A range of weapons were used, the most strategically important of which was still the longbow, in use since before the Battle of Hastings.

Aristocrats and knights would indeed have been mounted, in full body armour. This was expensive, and also quite heavy, but it offered good protection against assault in the field. Foot soldiers were as well armed as they could afford to be; minimum body protection involved a helmet of a type known as a sallet; and a padded coat, or jack. A more substantial kind of body protection was provided by the brigandine, which consisted of a padded, quilted doublet, the cells of which were filled with iron plates. Circular shields known as bucklers were also carried for self defence.

More advanced technologies were available. Gunpowder, shot and cannons were introduced into medieval warfare in the course of the 14th century, but were usually still quite a small part of the battle agenda. They were heavy to move around and hard to control accurately; they played an increasingly significant part in siege warfare, however, and many castle and town defences were re-organised to cope with cannon bombardment in the later middle ages.

Effigies and brasses of 15th century knights provide important information about 15th century weapons and armour, as not many actual pieces survive. The illustrations of combat scenes in a manuscript of about 1483 known as the Beauchamp Pageant are another important source. We know about how the foot soldiers were equipped through muster rolls and records of levies. These men would have brought their own weapons, which they had used for local training – mostly longbows, but also billhooks, used in a military rather than an agricultural context. Other weapons in general use include staff weapons such as lances, poleaxes and spears, and swords and daggers, used in close combat. The use of maces seems more confined to the knightly class.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Definitely not in Kansas anymore.

And Clarise's aventures continue!

Did she really fall off the stupid horse? It felt like she had fallen off a roof top.  Slowly she got up off the ground.  It wasn’t the ground she was riding across moments ago. Thick trees and grass surrounded her and it was dead quiet..almost eerie. 
“No.. it couldn’t be…” She whispered to herself as she slowly got up and brushed the grass and pine needles off her clothing.  She had left the door open… and it was a full moon.  "ughhhhhh!" she groaned. Just what she did not what to do.  She spotted a few yards over the war horse, happily grazing. She had been caring for him ever since Will had vanished.  Prehaps she could reunite the two and head back home somehow.  She whistled to him and he came trotting up to her.
“Well boy, where ever we are, we best go find someone who can find your master.” She said as she climbed up on him. She definatly wasn’t any where near home. Where, she did not know quiet yet. Some how the door still worked even with her just in the yard and in the middle of the day. It bewildered her.

She found a path and diligently kept to it, yet the more they rode down it, the longer it seemed to go. Animals seemed to hop or leap out of no where as the trotted along. They came to a crossing in the road. There was a sign, she couldn’t read it. It was in a language very not familiar to her, she decided to go right as the path looked more traveled. Perhaps there was a town or something up above. 

They rounded a bend in the road and she came upon a familiar sight.  A church. The church looked like the one in the village that she lived in. But something about the church was different. It was actually busy and it seemed new, or in much better keep. She rode the horse up to what looked like a hitching post and got off. She felt bad tying him by the reins. She had always been told that was a no no in the USA… but she had nothing else to secure the horse with.  There were a few people tending the the church garden, they all seemed to stop and do what they were doing once they saw her making her way towards the church. As she walked, she studied their clothes and quiet quickly realized, this was not home or even close.  Most definately the middle ages, actually quite early middle ages by looking at the gardeners clothes. There was nothing elaborate about their modest outfits and they actually seemed to look at her in fear. A thought raced across her mind, she soon dismissed it and kept walking to the big large wooden doors.

She pushed open the doors, they were quiet heavy.  To her surprise there was a group of nun’s praying at the front of the church. She stopped in her footsteps in astonishment. One of the nuns stood up. Her clothing was a bit more regal than the rest. She spun around and dropped her rosary.

“His holiness! What have you brought to our church?” She looked Clarise up and down and gasped.
“A witch……” She gasped as she held her hand over her mouth in shock.

Clarise didn’t know what to say or do. She stood frozen in the isle. Just what she needed… to be called a witch and all she did was walk in to a church.. but in modern clothing. This was going to be interesting. The middle ages... this was going to be fun.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Are DaVinci’s Demons Really Demons?

Popular belief vs. reality. A brief study of beliefs in the middle ages/renaissance

The last few nights I have been watching “DaVinci’s Demons” via iTunes. The show is rather fascinating. It is based around the earlier years of Leonardo DaVinci and his struggles to find a benefactor for his works. The show also has its setting in the middle of the vast conflicting and complex world of the Italian Renaissance. So far in watching the show, I can see perfectly where Shakespeare got his inspiration for “The Merchant of Venice” and “Romeo and Juliette.”  Feuding and back stabbing gain a new meaning in this show.

In episode 3, “The Prisoner,” we gain a glimpse of how medieval or in this case renaissance society perceived mental illness or any illness that effects ones psyche versus popular belief, which was if you had something going on in your head, you were possessed and or a witch.  In this episode it isn’t just normal peasants who are the ones doomed.  But ones close to God. The people who are being possessed by the so-called “devil” are the nuns at a near by convent. 

Word gets out that some thing is a miss and Leonardo and his crew are asked to investigate and later are joined by the Pope’s excorsisum team.  Which seem to do more harm than good.  To them the ill are damned, possessed and there is no other reason for their maladies, but a result from sin. Leonardo at a few times himself suggests that it is something else making the women sick, but the head priest simply denies his ideas.

What does this tell us about medieval society? A few things actually. It shows how easily, even a some what educated populous can be convinced of a popular notion by a powerful entity, that it is the devil’s work and there can not be a scientific explanation. Which later Leonardo does prove is the cause of the demonic possessions (red ergot poisoning which is a fungus on the statue).

Now why did this happen what lead people to think this way? It gets down to power and control. The church at the time was all across Europe was if not richer than the kings and queens, but the most powerful entity in existence. How did they get this way; through deception, and influence, as well as making sure the masses i.e. peasants or common folks believed everything they were told so they would get their backing and funds.  And to put it simply, everyone wanted to be saved by God at the time of final judgment.  The sheep followed their shepherd quiet close during this time. The easiest way to do this was make people believe, what they said by all means possible, even if that meant installing fear in the uneducated, and making examples of those who where so called “damned.”  Exorcism, execution of witches all were used to show society and teach that sin was bad, and those who walked on the line of thought or ideas outside of the norm whether they were ill or not, needed to be cleansed, and this was the means that these measures were carried out.  If the church exorcised or cleansed a witches soul via penance, which resulted mostly in death, they gained salvation.  But they had to let a person from the church do this. 

There was a general fear that by denying someone’s means to salvation, was just about the quickest way to get any person to follow the word of God. The common peasant isn’t going to think of a cause for an illness or an event like Leonardo did; but they will believe the misfortune that falls upon them was the result of the unknown, something they did, or someone they wronged or damned. Because most of the population was not educated to what we would think of today, convincing a popular belief was quite simple and easy to manage.

This episode was only a brief glimpse of how close church and society were intertwined in the middle ages and well into the renaissance, but it also shows how a society we have evolved to not just believe what is said, but to look and delve for the answers that we cannot necessary see.

~ Andrea C. S. McMillin  B.A. Medieval Studies/History UC. Davis

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

What is your idea of a perfect world?

Today is one of those days I just have way to many hamsters at the wheel.  So I thought to just post something silly and fun.  So I have asked myself this question many times.  The bard in me comes up with multiple answers and parodies. Wait till I find my Top 10 Reasons to be a Medieval Studies major:) So here are my hypothesizes:

If I lived in a perfect world that red Camaro I saw at work today, would be MINE.

If I lived in a perfect world, “The White Queen” would have been a much longer show.

If I lived in a perfect world, I would have known I was related to all kinds of famous historical dead people.

If I lived in a perfect world, me and my 11 other fellow colleagues aka Dirty Dozen would all be famous by now.

If I lived in a perfect world, I would have a farm… or a castle.

If I lived in a perfect world, Henry Tudor would be dead.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

“Reign” does it really reign?

So it seems in the midst of this summers historical movie, miniseries craze, all of which total are my cup of tea, the CW network has created a new series called “Reign.” Now I have to admit, when I first saw the trailer for the show I was like “Oh YES! This will rock!” but when the show finally aired about 3 weeks ago, I had some very mixed feelings.

The idea and the theme for the show is excellent but as we approach episode 4, there are some hitches that I hope are neatly stitched up before the season finale. 

The costumes. Umm I could really tear the show to shreds over the costumes, but I am going to gracefully decline and tell myself, this is art, and this is the CW’s producers interpretation, let them knock their socks off.  Also, the show is geared towards a younger audience and I applaud them for this move. History is important, kudos to the CW in making the story of Mary Queen of Scots appealing to the younger generation. I know I can let my girls watch the show, and its overall pretty clean.

Scenery, based in Ireland and Toronto I am told is beautiful, that alone makes up for the missing pieces.  The musical score by Trevor Morris of course is superb. Mr. Morris has a lengthy score bio including some recent works The Tudors, and the new show Dracula.

The story. It is believe able yes. Does it fit historical accuracy, not entirely. I haven’t found any source that states she was hidden in a convent, even wiki states otherwise. She did live in France for 15 years after the age of 5 before returning to Scotland to claim her birthright.  She was very much French as she was Scottish, as most her tutelage was learned in French court.  As the show progresses, what historical versus artistic interpretations remain to be told.  We will see what the screenwriters have in store for us.

Now to one of the most important factors of any new show; the acting. I really like the girl who is playing Mary (Adelaide Kane) . She is a gem, very pretty girl. But you can tell she is green. She doesn’t quite captivate you yet. We will have to watch.  The king of France, he might be a good actor, but the person does not fit the part at all. I am having a hard time believing a medieval King of France; Henry II would look like a football player. Bash (Sebastian, Torrance Coombs) and Francis (Toby Regbo) are lots of fun to watch. Then Queen Catherine, who is played by Megan Follows. I did not recognize her at first, but I have to admit she does play a very good snooty Catherine. Overall, the cast is okay, not superb and nowhere near the caliber of say, “The White Queen,” but it is not supposed to be.

As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how the ratings fair out with this show. For the fans, and for those who want a fun history based show it would be nice to see it make a second season. Kudos to the CW and their writers for having the integrity taking on the medieval times.

~Andrea C. S. McMillin, BA Medieval Studies w/ History U.C. Davis and current scholar 
November 5, 2013

image source:  http://ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BNDY4NTgzNjQyNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTgzNDIxMDE@._V1_SX214_.jpg

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Door ( an intro)

Clarise Stewart was taken aback by the relator’s remark.

“They vanished..” Mrs. Huntley stated.

“Someone doesn’t just vanish..” she replied curtly.

“Well the owner just up and gone one day. But I am glad you like the place, the keys are yours, but let me tell you, there is a story in these walls; I can’t quite put my finger on it. But I am happy that you are happy with your decision.” She said smiling.

Clarise had been out of veterinarian school for about 5 years.  Her move and her new practice brought her over seas from her native California roots to England. East Anglia to be exact. She loved the area.  As a child, she had visited many times and was fortunate to have the support of her family to move and start her practice here.

In her hands she held her new sign, black and gold:


She stared at it quickly again, and then her attention drew back to the real estate agent, as a bunch of keys landed in her hand. They were all cold.

“How long has the house been vacant?” she started looking around the kitchen they just entered.

“Over a year, dearie. The bank took ownership. Before you not many really showed interest.”

She had gotten a good deal on the house, now she understood why, least she though. A brief glance out the window proved its lack of occupancy. Gardens overgrown, roses higher than herself, and the lawn looked like a field of alfalfa. The old barn adjacent to the driveway that she planned to make a horse hospital, looked dusty but not as bad as the yard. Just needed new red paint but, it was very empty and lonely as the house was, which seemed to speak to her as well.

Out of the whole she liked her kitchen. French country was her favorite. The white and blue tiles and white rustic cupboards really played the theme well.  She had decided, the kitchen was her new favorite room of her old little house.  She glanced around again but an out of place locked door a blue door, more like a cupboard, or maybe a small door or closet drew her eye towards it.

“Mrs. Huntley? What is that door to the garden,.. there on that wall, by the dinette area?” she asked walking towards it.  

“Oh that door? I don’t know. It has been locked since I have showed the place. I guess you could take it out and repaint if you don’t like it.” She said briefly.
“No, it gives this room character. I kind of like it.” She said as she walked towards the door.

“A key for it should be on that ring I gave you…” Ms. Huntley said pointing to the keys Clarise held in her hand while looking up from finishing up the closing paperwork. Clarise looked at her keys again. There were five.

“Alrighty, then the place is yours Miss. Stewart. Wish you luck. Here are your copies of the deed and everything. Now don’t you go vanishing on me too.” She said with a wink.

“Oh I won’t. Maybe the barn with some horses in a few months.” She laughed.

Ms. Huntley shook Clarise’s hand and saw herself out to her little bicycle and carried on her way down the village road from Clarise’s new home.

Clarise looked at her keys, the paperwork on the table, and the boxes that had come so far.

“And there will be more.” She sighed.

Curiosity drew her to the door once again. She looked at the keys and tried some of them.  She went through four of the five she had.  None worked. The last one, an old fashion key, kind of like a key she remembered from a childhood movie, “Return to Oz” she tried finally. It worked.  The door opened. Expecting something, nothing happened as she opened it.  It opened to another entry into the garden.

“Old door you are in a funny place, but I like you.” she said to herself while closing the door back up.  She felt a breeze of cool air race in front of her as she closed it.

“Drafty.. Must be a storm coming.” she said, as she looked to the horizon.

There were not many clouds. She shut the funny blue door and left it unlocked. She was going to put some flowers in the entry and make it like a garden window she thought, out of place as it was.  She thought again. Enough fun time, time for boxes she though to herself, as she made her way to the back of the house to unpack 12 years of her life into her new home.

*      *      *

Dreaming never came easy to Clarise. She always had too much on her mind, but that night, with all that had happened, and unpacking, she did dream.  She was in a field with her childhood pony, Bucket. How she loved that pony. Dreams like this brought tears to her eyes when she woke up.  But it was the sound of breaking glass and a very real snort that quickly pulled her from sleep. 

Clarise shot up in bed and facing her was a huge black warhorse, armor and all. She pinched herself. No she wasn’t dreaming. There was a horse in her bedroom staring at her with black dark eyes wild.

“There is a horse in my house… and it has armor…” She muttered to herself.

Maybe this is why she got a deal on her house, it was haunted.  She put her hand out to touch the horses face. He was smooth as silk, mane wild and long. He was real.  He was defiantly not a ghost.

Monday, 4 November 2013

some more.. and yes I am quiet crafty

“Whoa…big horse in my room…” she said as calm as she could slowly climbing out of the warmth of her bed.  The horse had to be 16 hands tall at least. He was massive. She grabbed one of the reins that was haphazardly draped across his massive neck and slowly led him through the obstacle course of her room and down the hall to the kitchen. The kitchen she thought was closest to the barn.

“Where did you come from boy? Someone’s Renn faire?” She asked as smiled at him as she inched her way carefully through the house, with a horse that she had no idea how he got in.  She had no idea if there was even a Renaissance Faire going on in the area.  Loose horse maybe? She got to the kitchen, which seemed like an hour to reach and she heard a crunch beneath her feet. Glass.

The window next to the out of place door was broken and the door was wide open.  She almost fainted from shock what she next saw laying across her kitchen floor; a knight who obviously belonged to the horse, or the other way around.

Chapter 2

Clarise dropped the reins to the horse, who actually just stood there staring at everyone, snorting less, as she leaped to the obvious unconscious body on the floor before her.  His head was bloodied, and dirt caked his armor and mail. From what she could see the colors of his tunic were red, blue and white. He had a small emblem or shield sewn on his shoulder.  It was difficult to make out from the crusted mud, but she saw a gold lion on it.  His helmet was nowhere to be found and his sword was halfway across the kitchen floor. Clarise looked at it and noticed its size and decided not to try to lift it with all her 100 lbs. self.  She herself was tiny or petite. All her 5 foot and 3 inches never seemed to hold her back in vet school.  Her agility and way around the larger animals always seemed to help her when she needed it most.

She shook the unconscious knight by the shoulder. She hoped he wasn’t dead.

“Sir, … sir… are you okay? Umm your horse is in my house, as are you. Please wake up.” She pulled on him again. An arm moved.  Startled, she jumped back tripping on her night gown and fell backwards across the smooth floor. She needed a to get a rug.  Pushing her auburn hair from her face, she tried again.
“Sir. Sir. Please wake up…Are you hurt?” She heard a groan as the body in front of her began to move.
“What is it woman…where am ……how the Christ almighty… am I?” The knight said slowly coming to his senses, “This isn’t a trick is it?  I was traveling the wood…. I am on my way home from crusade…this is some kind of sorcery, is it not?” he muttered quickly and in quiet a different accent from what she was used to hearing.  She had to think twice about what he was saying, while she listened closely to him.
“Sir, you are in my house….” She said promptly.

The knight slowly sat up he didn’t look confortable, least she didn’t think so.

“What is the year?” He said slowly.
“2013…..” Clarise stated still bewildered. 

The knight rubbed his forehead and ran his hands through his hair. She hadn’t even bothered to turn on the lights because she was just in shock with a horse in the house, now a knight. She had no clue how they got there or why her door or window was open. 

She glanced out across her garden, the moon shown full. Very full, and bright. Great a full moon, that explains it. She thought in her head. Least it helped with her seeing in her kitchen. From what she could tell the knight was just about the nicest looking man she had ever seen she would guess in his thirties or so.  Hair thick and dark, and the glimpses of his eyes that she did see, blue and intense. Obviously he had been on the road or something, a shave was much needed. 

“Were you riding home from some Renaissance Faire or something and your horse spooked?” She finally asked.
“Renn.. What faire? My town, their faire is not till harvest time, before winter. It’s too early for such festivities…this is a strange house….”
“It’s my house..” She reminded him.
“It should be year of our lord 1191…..” he muttered again.
“Oh dear…are you mad?”
“Mad you say, perhaps it is you who is mad. Lady.”

Clarise frowned. She hoped he was jesting.
“I am sorry.. But its not 1191, its really the year 2013. I don’t know how to explain it to you. Does your head hurt?” Maybe he needed a CT scan, she thought.
“My lady, my head doesn’t hurt much, I have been through worse, with more stories than you can pathom.  This is obviously not even close to where I was from or going.”   

Clarise had taken a medieval history class as an undergrad and had done some reading. That was right smack in the middle of the conquests and crusades of King Richard the Lionheart.  Her mind started to flood with ideas about the door in her kitchen.  The idea smacked her right in the face…maybe it was possible.

“Sir knight, and nice horse… I think you jumped time through that door into my kitchen….That totally sounded insane..Ugh” She said looking at her funny blue door. Clarise didn’t really believe in magic, but obviously something happened, because there was a knight and his horse in her kitchen, and obviously were not from the town and he defiantly didn’t talk like a modern person, by any stretch of the imagination.

“I don’t know how, but I just moved into this house, and… the old owners just disappeared one day, I think I know how or why.. this door.. Its magic somehow. I opened it earlier with this key.. and now you are here in my house….” She grabbed her keys off the counter and showed him the key.  He looked intently at the key she used to open the door.

“Where did you get this?” he asked.
“You have seen it before?” she asked quickly.
“It’s familiar to me, yes.” He said.

Great, she thought; she had a magic key, and two unexpected houseguest. What a nice welcoming present and no idea what to make of the situation. She needed a drink.

(to be cont...)