Sunday, January 25, 2015


Credo in Deum Patrem Omnipotentem
Creatorem coeli et terrae
Et in Jesum Christum Filium eius unicum, dominum Nostrum
Qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto
Natus ex Maria Virgine
Passus sub Pontio Pilato,
Crucifixus Mortuus, et sepultus
Descendit ad inferna
Tertia die resurrexit a mortuis
Ascendit ad coelos
Sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis
Inde venturur judicare
Vivos et mortuos
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,
Sanctam Ecclesiam Catholicam,
Sanctorum communionem
Remissionem peccatorum
Carnis ressurectionem
Et vitam aeternam.

I beleve in God, Fader almyghty,
Makere of heven and erthe,
And in Ihesu Crist, his onely sone oure Lorde
That is concyved by the Holy Gost,
Born of the Mayden Marye
Suffred under Pounce Pylate,
Crucifyed, Ded, and beryed;
Descended to helle;
The thridde day he aros fro dethes
Styed [rose] up to hevene
Sitte on his Fader half [side]
Schal come to deme [judge] The quick and dede. I
 beleue in the Holy Gost,
Holy Chirche, That is alle that schulle be saved,
And in communion of hem,
Remissioun of synnes,
Risyng of flesch,
And everlastynge lyf.

Translation from Book to a Mother, ed. Adrian James McCarthy, Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies 92 (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1981), 1.

Ave Maria

Ave Maria, gratia plena
Dominus tecum
Benedicta tu in mulieribus
Et benedictus fructus ventris tui.

Heil Marye, ful of grace
God is with the [thee]
Of alle wymmen thou art most blessed
And blessid be the fruyt of thi wombe, Ihesu.
So mote it be.

Translation from Book to a Mother, ed. Adrian James McCarthy, Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies 92 (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1981), 1.

Pater Noster

Pater noster, qui es in caelis:
sanctificetur Nomen Tuum;
adveniat Regnum Tuum;
fiat voluntas Tua,
sicut in caelo, et in terra.
Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;
et ne nos inducas in tentationem;
sed libera nos a Malo. Amen

Fader oure that art in hevene
halwed be thi name,
thi Kyngdom come to,
thi wille be doon
in erthe as in hevene,
oure eche daies bred gif us to day
and forgive us our dettes,
as we forgive to our detoures
and lede us nought into temptacion
bote delivere us from yvel, Amen.

English translation from MS. G. 24, ,of about AD. 1400, in St. John’s College, Cambridge:

The Month. 1882. London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co. p.281

George Silver and John Smythe Did Not Like Rapiers at All

In his Paradoxes of Defence, George Silver wrote:
…when the battles are joined, and come to the charge, there is no room for them to draw their bird-spits, and when they have them, what can they do with them? Can they pierce his corselet with the point? Can they unlace his helmet, unbuckle his armour, hew asunder their pikes with a stocata, a riversa, a dritta, a stramason, or other such tempestuous terms? No, these toys are fit for children, not for men, for stragling boys of the camp, to murder poultry, not for men of honour to try battle with their foes.
Sir John Smythe, in his Certain Discourses Military of 1590, didn't care for them either:
 … our such men of war, contrary to the ancient order and use military, do nowadays prefer and allow that armed men pikers should rather wear rapiers of a yard and a quarter long the blades or more than strong, short, arming swords… a squadron of armed men in the field, being ready to encounter with another squadron, their enemies…being in their ranks so close one to another by flanks, cannot draw their swords if the blades of them be above the length of three quarters of a yard or little more. Besides that, swords being so long do work in a manner no effect, neither with blows nor thrusts, where the press is so great as in such actions it is. And rapier blades, being so narrow and of so small substance, and made of a very hard temper to fight in private frays, in lighting with any blow upon armour do presently break and so become unprofitable.
Of course, Smythe was something of a crank, an unreliable ranter overly quick to dismiss changes in military technology since the 15th c. It's just as well he couldn't post on the internet.

Say what you will, Mr. Silver had a gift for invective.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Shooting Speed of Longbow and Crossbow

This video suggests that with a belt hook, the disparity in shooting speed was not as great as commonly supposed: four shots in 30 seconds for the crossbow vs. nine for the longbow. Of course, a windlass crossbow would be much slower.

Ca. 1400, minutes and seconds are things known only by the very learned. A first person portrayal of an English bowman might  say " I can shoot six times in the time it takes to say the Lord's Prayer, and get off nine shots in the time it takes a crossbowman spanning from the belt to shoot four"

"But, if I shoot as fast as I can, I'll use a whole sheaf of 24 arrows before French men-at-arms on foot, starting 200 yards out, are still more than 60 yards out. And this is not to be thought on, since everyone knows that an archer does the greatest injury at close range.  So I will shoot more deliberately at long range, especially since there is much advantage to marking where your first shot falls before firing the second, which can scarcely be  done if you shoot when your first shot is still in the air."

An English bowman who shoots his arrows wisely will shoot his last arrow only a few seconds before he drops his bow and takes up another weapon.

In these videos Tod Todeschini shoots heavy crossbows spanned with a belt and pulley and a goat's foot lever, getting off about three and five shots a minute respectively.  I don't think he's trying to shoot as fast as he possibly can. The belt and pulley is, of course, somewhat more cumbersome than a simple belt hook, but allows a heavier draw.

Note Tod's superior biomechanics compare to the first video: he presses downward with one leg rather than lifting his entire body as he spans the bow. The downward leg press is often visible in medieval images of crossbowmen spanning from a belt.

In comments, Jason Daub says that he can get off six shots in 34 seconds with a 240 lb. bow using a simple belt hook. It is well to know that the draw weights of crossbows and hand bows are not directly comparable, since the crossbow generally has a much shorter power stroke. A 240 lb. composite crossbow might put no more energy into the missile than an 80 lb. hand bow. And crossbows with steel prods suffer further  in comparison, because much of the stored energy goes into accelerating the relatively heavy prod.

Friday, January 23, 2015

SCA Errata Sheet: Knighthood and Fealty

In the SCA, all knights must swear fealty to the crown. This is not what was done in the actual Middle Ages. The order of chivalry was entirely distinct from the question of who owed fealty for what. You could have landless knights who owed no fealty to anyone because they had no fief. You could have men that already held land in fief to the crown and had already sworn fealty. And you could have men that held land in fief, and swore fealty to an intermediate overlord.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

SCA Errata Sheet: "Only a Knight Can Make a Knight"

There is a very old tradition within the SCA that "only a knight can make a knight"

I am reliably informed that Queen Elizabeth I did not believe this at all, nor did any Pope since knighthood became a thing.

SCA Errata Sheet: Precedence

In the SCA, the members of the Order of Chivalry, of the Laurel, and of the Pelican are members of the peerage. In some kingdoms they outrank barons.

This is quite ahistorical. In medieval England the lay peerage was composed of barons and higher titles, and knights without a higher title were not peers. The French peerage was even more exclusive.

Knights had high status, but there were many ways to achieve status outside the  hierarchy of nobility and the crown as the fount of honor.

In John Russelll's mid 15th c. Boke of Nurture, the following were all ranked equal in estate to a knight: unmitered prior or abbot, dean, archdeacon, Master of the Rolls, under justices and Barons of the Exchequer,  Clerk of the Crown,  Mayor of the Staple of Calais, Doctor of Divinity or Both Laws (i.e, civil and canon), provincial, prothonotary, or Pope's collector.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SCA Peerage Kerfuffle

If you have no interest in the Society for Creative Anachronism, move along, nothing to see.

If you do:

The following is an excerpt of a message was sent out to the SCA, Inc. Announcements mailing list.

The Board Votes.

The Board was split on the question of the rapier peerage. Three directors voted to approve the Corpora changes and the resulting establishment of a rapier peerage because they believe that while rapier should really be recognized by the Chivalry, trying to force inclusion in the Chivalry by Board fiat would not work, and they were willing to vote yes on the proposal as a good compromise. Two directors felt rapier should be recognized as part of a peerage that recognizes all non-rattan martial arts and not a separate peerage. Two directors believed rapier should be recognized in the Chivalry. So, with a 4-3 vote against the proposed Corpora changes, which would have established a separate rapier peerage, no change will take place at this time. 
The only other action the Board took concerning rapier in the SCA was removing language dating from 1979 saying that rapier was an “ancillary” activity of the SCA and, to make it clear that we are not discarding the traditions of Crown Tourney, the Board then made it very clear that only rattan combat may be used in a Royal list. This change to Corpora received the unanimous approval of the Board. 
Response to Social Media Discussions. 
First, the Board received commentary from less than 2% of the membership over the entire 3 years and all requests for comments on the rapier peerage issue. Many people wrote in more than once, but repeating an opinion doesn’t count as a separate opinion. However, it was not the lack of commentary that influenced some Board members to vote against the proposal; it was the fact that the small amount of commentary the Board did receive trended against a separate rapier peerage. The majority of comments received in favor of recognizing rapier with a peerage said that rapier should either be included in the Order of the Chivalry or in a new peerage that included all non-rattan combat. The result of such a relatively small number of people commenting is that the opinions the Board did receive were given greater weight – if a larger number of those who supported the separate rapier peerage had commented, a different result might very well have resulted. There’s no way to know that for sure, but it underscores the importance of writing in to let the Board know your opinions about proposed changes to Corpora. 
Second, the Board did not open the Order of the Chivalry to inclusion of rapier fighters. There is a 1999 policy interpretation from the Society Seneschal (upheld by the Board at that time) specifically stating that the Order of the Chivalry is intended for rattan combatants only. It would take a new policy interpretation (which would need to be upheld by the current Board) or other Board action to change that fact. The Board’s intention in removing the “ancillary activity” language had nothing to do with making rapier knights. The Board removed the “ancillary activity” language because it was simply no longer accurate or true. It may have been true long ago when it was added to Corpora, but times have definitely changed. Rapier has permeated the fabric of the Society, and the Board felt that the language needed to be removed. However, in order to clarify that we weren’t changing the rules regarding Crown Tourneys by the deletion of the “ancillary activity” language, the Board added language restricting Crown Tourneys to rattan weapons.
I think this was the right call. A bestowed peerage wasn't the only way to recognize excellence in the Middle Ages and it isn't the only way to do it in the SCA. And often it isn't the best way. For rapier combat, an officially recognized guild-like organization like the Company of the Masters of Defense of London seems far more historically appropriate. There's no reason why the masters of such a company couldn't be given social rank equal to the bestowed peerages if the kingdom desires to. And if the people of a kingdom don't think the best rapier fighters are equal to the chivalry in dignity, making them a bestowed peerage isn't going to change that.

We need to be more aware of the many ways that rank and dignity could be recognized in the Middle Ages. The Order of Chivalry was only one approach, and it wasn't considered a peerage. There were paths to high status that didn't involve the crown at all. You could rise through the church, civic government, law or academia and the crown often had little or no involvement in the process.

That said, I think some martial arts could be profitably recognized within the current Order of Chivalry.  it seems to me that a splendid horseman who is an average rattan fighter is a more fitting member of the Order, as a medieval knight would have seen it, than a splendid rattan fighter that never rides. And a cut and thrust fighter who has studied his Fiore well, and fights accordingly, is perhaps a more worthy knight than a man who fights well with rattan because he has tailored everything he does to the specific rules of SCA sport combat.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Medieval Chess

The following is based on Caxton's The Game and Playe of Chesse from the 1470s, a translation of the late 13th c. Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium super ludo scacchorum of Jacobus de Cessolis, probably primarily a translation of a French translation of the original. The book uses chess as the starting point for an elaborate allegory about medieval society.

So, I edited out most of the allegory to get to the chess rules. But the work also uses the allegory as positional notation: each of the eight pawns on each side represents a specific type of commoner. So I needed to add some explanation of the movement rules that doesn't depend on the allegory.

This is a slower game than modern chess. Queens and bishops (Alphyns or judges in Caxton) are much slower and weaker than in the modern game. Their powering up for the modern game started around this time in Iberia, Italy and France, but took time to spread .

The Game and Playe of Chesse

And in this playe we ought to knowe by the nature of hit how the kynge meueth hym and yssueth oute of his place/ For y'e shall vnderstande that he is sette in the fourth quadrante or poynt of theschequer. And whan he is black/ he standeth in the white/ and the knyght on his ryght side in white/ And the Alphyn and the rooke in black/ And on the lifte side the foure holden the places opposite/

For whan he wele meue hym/ he ought not to passe at the first draught the nombre of .iii. poynts/ And whan he begynneth thus to meue from his whyt point/ He may move ii points right or cornerly/ And thyse two maners of meuynge apperteyneth otherwhile to the quene/ and for as moche as the kynge and the quene that ben conioyned to geder by mariage ben one thynge as one flessh and blood/ therfore may the kynge meue on the lifte side of his propre poynt also wele as he were sette in the place of the quene whiche is black/ And hit happen that the aduersarie be not couered in ony poynt in the seconde ligne/ All these yssues hath y'e kyng out of his propre place of his owen vertue whan he begynneth to meue. But whan he is ones meuyd fro his propre place/ He may not meue but in to one space or poynt/ and so from one to an other/

Whan the Quene whiche is accompanyed vnto the kynge begynneth to meue from her propre place/ She goth in dowble manere/ that is to wete as an Alphyn And whan she is meuyd ones oute of her place she may not goo but fro oon poynt to an other and yet cornerly whether hit be foreward or backward takynge or to be taken/

The manere and nature of the draught of the Alphyn is suche/ that he that is black in his propre fiege is sette on the right side of the kynge/ And he that is whyt is sette on the lifte side/ And ben callyd and named black and white/ But for no cause that they be so in subftance of her propre colour/ But for the colour of the places in whiche they ben sette/ And alleway be they black or white/ whan they ben sette in theyr places/ the alphyn goynge oute of his place comyth two spaces cornerly.

After the yssue of the Alphyns we shall deuyse to yow the yssue & the moeuynge of the knyghtes/ And we saye that the knyght on the right syde is whyt/ And on the lifte syde black/ And the yssue and moeuynge of hem bothe is in one maner whan so is that the knyght on the ryght syde Is whyt/ The lyfte knyght is black/ The moeuynge of hem is suche/that they may go two points forth or back and one to the syde, or one forth or back and two to the syde.

The moeuynge and yssue of the rooks whiche ben vicairs of the kynge is suche/ that the ryght rook is black and the lifte rook is whyte/ And whan the chesse ben sette as well the nobles as the comyn peple first in their propre places/ The rooks by their propre vertue haue no wey to yssue but yf hyt be made to them by the nobles or comyn peple/ For they ben enclosed in their propre sieges/ And as fer may they renne as they fynde the tablier voyde whether hit be of his aduersaryes as of his owen felowship/ And whan the rook is in the myddell of the tablier/ he may goo whiche way he wyll in to foure right lignes on euery side/ and hit is to wete that he may in no wyse goo cornerwyse/ but allway ryght forth goynge.

 One yffue and one mouynge apperteyneth vnto alle the peple/ For they may goo fro the poynt they stande in at the first meuynge vnto the thirde poynt right forth to fore them/ & whan they haue so don they may afterward meue no more but fro one poynt ryght forth in to an other/ And they may neuer retorne backward And thus goynge forth fro poynt to poynt They may gete by vertue and strengthe/ that thynge that the other noble fynde by dignyte/ And yf the knyghtes and other nobles helpe hem that they come to the ferthest lygne to fore them where theyr aduersaryes were sette. They acquyre the dignyte that the quene hath graunted to her by grace/ And y'e shall vnderftande/ whan thyse comyn peple meue right forth in her ligne/ and fynde ony noble persone or of the peple of their aduersaries sette in the poynt at on ony side to fore hym/ In that corner poynt he may take his aduersarye wherther hit be on the right side or on the lifte.

 Jacobus, de Cessolis, William Caxton, and William E. A. Axon. 1883. Caxton's Game and playe of the chesse, 1474. London: E. Stock.